Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for October 27th, 2009

Allawi–Mutlak: Consolidation at the Centre of Iraqi Politics

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 27 October 2009 15:34

After the announcement last week of the Unity of Iraq Alliance, it has been a dizzying period for the remaining nationalist parties that are still trying to form some kind of large-scale coalition and/or considering joining either the Unity of Iraq Alliance or Maliki’s State of Law.

All the logically possible combinations have by now been exhausted more than once in press reports, so it was perhaps to be expected that the first step with some substance to it took place in the darkness of night yesterday, in decidedly low-key style. It consisted not of the announcement of another big alliance, but simply of a press release from the Wifaq movement of Ayad Allawi to the effect that it had joined with the Hiwar movement of Salih al-Mutlak to form a new entity, called the Iraqi Nationalist Movement.

The new movement (haraka) is referred to sometimes as a “party” (hizb) or “organisation” (tashkil), but is apparently not reckoned as an “alliance” yet, meaning negotiations with others are still going on – and may well continue until the expiry of the deadline for forming coalitions. “Others” in this case means above all Usama al-Nujayfi who is affiliated with the powerful Hadba movement of Mosul, but to some extent also Tariq al-Hashemi (who has broken away from the Tawafuq bloc, a more Sunni-oriented entity) as well as Rafi al-Isawi (the deputy premier, also a Sunni). Interestingly, the objections against the two latter individuals joining the alliance appear to have come above all from leaders in the Hiwar movement, who reject the way Hashemi and Isawi have been “playing the game of sectarianism and quotas [muhasasa]” by accepting high offices in the Maliki government in what critics say amounts to roles as Sunni figureheads.

Some of that criticism seems easy to understand, even if Hashemi at times has been a robust critic of the system “from within”. Hiwar, for its part, has been a prominent player in the 22 July front that has driven forward many of the important changes in Iraqi politics over the past year – such as demanding local elections on time and focusing on Kirkuk as an issue of national significance. Also Iraqiyya, especially since it left the Maliki government in August 2007, has increasingly contributed to this nationalist opposition which played a key role in changing the climate in Iraqi politics (and to some extent created space for the more nationalism-oriented Maliki to emerge in 2008). Against that background, the by far most important omission from the line-up is Nujayfi, whose Hadba movement totally overshadowed all the other nationalist parties in Mosul during the last local elections. In American discourse on Iraq, Anbar is often seen as the key to the “Sunni scene”, but Hiwar and Iraqiya probably realise that there is more to lose in Mosul, which historically is home to many of the important nationalist movements in Iraq.

Some will say that a simple merger of Wifaq/Iraqiyya and Hiwar was the very minimum a secular and nationalist Iraqi voter could ask for. That is true, but it is nevertheless important in itself that such an act of consolidation did take place, especially given the hopeless fragmentation of these forces during the previous elections in 2005. Back then, under adverse circumstances, the two managed to win altogether 34 parliamentarians; last January they won 45 councillors across Iraq from Basra to Ramadi. But with the emerging dynamic of perhaps five medium-sized blocs (The Kurds, the Iraqi National Alliance, the State of Law, the Unity of Iraq Alliance, and most recently the Iraqi Nationalist Movement with or without Nujayfi and friends) we could be headed towards a parliament with no clear winners. Right now no list looks like an obvious potential  winner in the way that for example a Maliki/Nujayfi ticket or Allawi/Mutlak/Bulani/Abu Risha would. Competing prime-ministerial ambitions may prevent such alliances from taking place, but the net outcome of a failure to coalesce could be that many of these parties gain no power at all. Which is something to think about as the coalition deadline of 31 October comes closer.

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