Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

11 Responses to “Allawi–Mutlak: Consolidation at the Centre of Iraqi Politics”

  1. Sam said

    IIP/Tawafuq is down but not out. I think you have to include them in the list of medium-sized blocs–they’re at least as viable as Unity of Iraq, probably more so.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    I may be wrong, but I just thought the Tawafuq (re)-launch a couple of weeks ago looked somewhat anachronistic and almost verged on irrelevancy in its narrow outlook.

    From what I see in press reports, they seem to be struggling even in the Salahaddin governorate these days, where their governor was sacked and today is being reported as having been replaced by one Khalid al-Darraji, possibly from one of the smaller parties there. As far as I know, the speaker of the local council there, who is from Iraqiyya, has apparently been taking an anti-Tawafuq position lately.

  3. Rafiq said

    What about former Deputy PM Dr Rubai’s party? Any news with him? I know he contested the provincial elections with his list, Ibna Rafidayn and did poorly. Thanks.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Rafiq, as far as I can remember, he signed up for Hakim’s Iraqi National Alliance at some point after the list had been first launched. I’ll double-check when I have time, but I’m pretty certain I saw a report to that effect.

  5. bb said

    Assuming it holds together, this combination is the most interesting that has appeared on the horizon. On paper, one can add together Allawi’s 8%/25 seats to Mutlaq’s 4%/11 seats. Then there is a share of Tawafaq’s 15%/44 seats up for grabs, greatly helped if Hadba can be persuaded to join. The downside is that Maliki will no doubt try to hive off Allawi’s shia support with “neo baathist” charges. If the Kurd change party takes seats off the major Kurd parties, this bloc could emerge as the 2nd biggest to Maliki. Hadba seems to be emerging as a key broker?

  6. Sam said

    I’m more inclined to emphasize IIP/Tawafuq’s party infrastructure and assets in place than I am their ideology and rhetoric, however anachronistic that might seem. They are a far more disciplined and organized party than even the relatively established Allawi and Mutlaq, and especially the great unwashed of the Unity of Iraq. They have been wise and pragmatic in their courtship of local partners. I acknowledge they have lost Hashemi, a very charismatic leader, but the party is more than one man, unlike many of the rest of these parties.

    The IIP was also the top Sunni party in the provincial elections. Here are the seat counts, which are more relevant than vote counts (which I’ve also included in parentheses) because of the wasted vote:

    Anbar: 6 seats, 20.69% (16.32% vote)
    Basra: 2 seats, 5.71% (3.84% vote)
    Baghdad: 7 seats, 12.28% (9.04% vote)
    Diyala: 9 seats, 31.03% (21.17% vote)
    Ninewa: 3 seats, 8.11% (6.05% vote)
    Salah al-Din: 5 seats, 17.86% (14.18%)

    Assuming you have the same seat allotments per province as last time, here is what these percentages would translate into:

    Anbar: 2 seats
    Basra: 1 seat
    Baghdad: 7 seats
    Diyala: 3 seats
    Ninewa: 1 seat
    Salah al-Din: 2 seats

    Then if you take their roughly 7.2% share of all the PC seats nationwide (32/440) and apply that to the compensatory allotment of 45 seats you get three seats. That gives you 19 seats, or 7% of the COR. So yes, BB, I would consider a large share of Tawafuq/IIP’s current COR share up for grabs, but Reidar, they are still a medium-sized bloc and will stomp UOI, and any other Sunni/secular party besides Allawi/Mutlaq, assuming no more coalitions form between now and Sunday.

    People always underestimate IIP because 1) they don’t acknowledge the fact that IIP has actually cultivated a base and has actual party infrastructure and that the parachutist exile label no longer sticks and 2) they underestimate the fact that there are plenty of Sunnis in Iraq who want to vote for a moderately Islamist party and have no problem identifying themselves as “Sunnis.” That’s not anachronistic–that’s present-day Iraq.

  7. Reidar Visser said

    Sam, thanks, those certainly seem to be important points. They could become even more important if the bombs start exploding more regularly again. On the other hand, if security remains good, I would still suggest that many voters may see Tawafuq as essentially a downbound train. Yes, that is an ideology-focused way of looking at things, but good organisation after all did not prevent Tawafuq from being routed in Nineveh and marginalised in Anbar and more recently in Salahaddin. Lately they have avoided taking a nationalist position on Kirkuk, which adds to the criticism already articulated against them by forces like Hiwar. Also, if it was indeed Hashemi that broke away (and not the other way) might not that be an interesting indicator of how a very versatile operator sees the current situation and his own best options?

  8. Sam said

    Points taken, especially on Hashemi’s calculations. Was there any reason given for his departure? Your suggestion that it was an issue of political self-interest seems the most plausible, perhaps combined with some kind of internal personality beef or something. Someone also suggested that he may have left because the IIP was getting so much less Islamist (and Hashemi is definitely Islamist, or at least he has been in the past), but that explanation is not consistent with his flirtations with these various secular lists. Still, with Samara’i, Alla Makki, Salim al-Jibouri, etc. they’ve still got some of the more competent and experienced politicians in Iraq, and they have an impressive cadre of young, English-speaking aides. Up close they just seem more real and have their act together more than the other secularists/nationalists.

  9. bb said

    Thanks Sam! Good info.

  10. Saman said

    Any news on Iyad Jamal Adin? How do you rate him? Thanks.

  11. Reidar Visser said

    Have not heard about any new party affiliation for Jamal al-Din after he left Iraqiyya in the summer. He used to be a brave and vocal critic of Iranian influences in Iraq, and it is interesting that he managed to get elected in Dhi Qar despite his staunchly secular (and, for an Iraqi clergyman, probably not terribly representative) message.

    The other remnants of Iraqiyya – Izzat Shahbandar, Wail Abd al-Latif etc. – are already being coopted by the big alliances, State of Law and the Hakim list respectively. I think this signifies that the window for coalition-forming is about to close.

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