Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Not Another Governing Council, Please!

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 6 April 2010 8:46

Among the several scenarios for a new Iraqi government that are floating around, one stands out as particularly unattractive and potentially destructive for Iraq as a state: The vision of a grandiose coalition combining all the blocs that won large numbers of seats in the 7 March elections.

This idea is becoming increasingly recurrent in Iraqi discussions. Early on, it was only Adil Abd al-Mahdi of the pro-Iranian Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) that talked about it, referring to a potential combination of his own Iraqi National Alliance (INA), Maliki’s State of Law (SLA), Iraqiyya (INM) and the main Kurdish alliance. More recently, however, also Ammar al-Hakim and other ISCI leaders have expressed interest in this kind of scenario, and no one in Iraqiyya has yet had the courage to rule it out. Predictably, decimated blocs (like Tawafuq) plus Unity of Iraq and the various minority representatives are calling for even bigger iterations of this scheme, including, unsurprisingly, themselves in ministerial roles.

Any government of this category would mean a sorry return to Iraq of 2003 and the “governing council” that was put in place by Paul Bremer back then. Its hallmarks will be indecision, incompetence and corruption – the inevitable characteristics of a government that has no single vision or unity of purpose, and basically has been thrown together with the aim of letting as many people as possible prey on the resources of the state in the hope that this will keep them from fighting with each other instead. Expect no progress on key legislation (since bills will never achieve consensus even inside the government), and no improvement of governance capacity (since ministers inevitably will be political appointees rather than technocrats). But above all, this will be a government defined first and foremost by its bigness, with an oversized cabinet and an additional number of ministers without portfolio.

Alas, this silly idea is likely to get an ecstatic reception in the international community. Few will be surprised that Iran likes it: Absent the creation of a purely Shiite or Shiite-Kurdish government, Tehran’s next best option for Iraq is an oversized government incapable of making decisions (which in the case of an oil law would directly threaten the Iranian oil policy of low output, high price), and with the sub-identities of the country’s population forming an implicit or explicit role in the dynamics of government formation (meaning Shiite Islamists will continue to dominate). But beyond Iran, the label that is being used by the Iraqi proponents of this idea – shiraka or partnership – will likely be welcomed also by Western players whose fear of exclusions and the concomitant creation of “spoilers” is such that it leads them to uncritically embrace the logic of “the more, the merrier” (or “inclusiveness” as they euphemistically label it). In their view, the only thing that matters is to keep the surface calm around the time of the US drawdown by the end of August, quite regardless of the potential for severe complications further down the road.

The big irony of this is of course that two of the prospective participants in such a government of national unity would in fact do a lot better if they formed a government alone. So why is it that SLA and INM cannot put aside personal differences and create a strong government (180 plus seats in parliament) that would have the potential to rule Iraq far more effectively? If Allawi and Maliki are to endure the discomfort of sitting in the same government anyway, why not ditch the two other and smaller partners – INA and the Kurds – whose sole contribution after all would be to create ideological contradictions along the centralism/decentralism axis and therefore a considerable potential for complete paralysis? With their common position on the virtues of pragmatism and a strong centralised state, such a two-party government would be able to push through legislation on the oil sector and revenue distribution faster than anyone else, which in turn would enable it to deal with more controversial issues in a less tense atmosphere later on. Crucially, with its strong popular basis from Basra to Mosul, this kind of government would have sufficient room for manoeuvre to offer generous concessions to Kurdistan without destroying the concept of centralised government in the rest of Iraq.

The problem is that because of personal differences, both SLA and INM have avoided the logical step of moving closer together, and instead invented rather strained discourses of mutual antipathy to justify their turn to less logical alliance partners (SLA and the Kurds; INM and INA). For example, Iraqiyya leaders criticise Maliki for concentrating power and for allowing Daawa to acquire strength in the public sector in undemocratic ways. True, these are valid and important points that need to be dealt with. But is the solution to add the Kurds and INA to the mix? With their ties to the Kurdish asayish secret police, the Badr brigades and the Iranian revolutionary guards, are these so much more democratic than the Daawa? Was it not INA that after all initiated the attack on INM through the de-Baathification process? Similarly, Iraqiyya has failed to give Maliki due credit for some of the good things he did back in 2008, including turning against Shiite militias, highlighting the significance of revising the constitution, and attempting to move away from power-sharing towards more ideologically based political alliances. For their part, the Daawa has not been sufficiently responsive to some of the positive overtures from the INM camp during 2009. Take for example the Hadba/Iraqiyun/Nujayfi bloc from Mosul, which has repeatedly called for more troops from the central government to the northern parts of the Nineveh governorate. This act of profound recognition of the Shiite-led government by a mainly Sunni party with strong local backing represents an important step forwards towards national reconciliation that has so far not received the attention it deserves in SLA circles.

Once the idea of another “national unity” government gets going in earnest, things will really start to mushroom. Surely, in such a government there must be space for all the “components” (mukawwinat) of the Iraqi people? What about Assyrian Christians, Chaldean Christians, Mandaeans, African and Caucasian minorities? A previous Kurdistan regional government had 40 plus ministries, but why stop there? Maybe the next Iraqi government could have 50 ministries?

The big problem is that there are a couple of hundred influential people in the world that prefer this scenario. Partly they are Iraqis, who claim to speak in the names of the ethno-sectarian communities they refer to all the time. Partly they are outsiders, some of them Americans, who are terrified of any bold move that could be construed as a risk for their own plans of declaring Iraq “normal” over the coming months (actually, the chances of achieving real and enduring normality is probably a lot bigger with a truly effective government). The victims are the millions of Iraqis who do not care about the ethno-sectarian identities that are currently being used as basis for government formation, and just want a state capable of delivering security, jobs and services.

28 Responses to “Not Another Governing Council, Please!”

  1. Ali Wasati said

    Hi Reidar, hope you had a nice weekend.

    If you what you say actually happens, it would be a disaster, another 4 yrs of incoherent, inefficient over sized government that cannot achieve a thing. It would really put a nail in the coffin of what we call democracy.

    However it still does not solve the problem of who will become the Prime Minister?

    Also how likely is this scenario?

    It would also be a real let down for both the SLA and INM voters who both want a powerful centralised government.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, my sense is that both INA and Iran want to get rid of Maliki if at all possible and probably wouldn’t want to have Allawi/INM in a too dominant role either. So maybe they instead would try to push one of their own compromise candidates (Abd al-Mahdi? Jaafari?? Chalabi???)

  3. Reidar, this scenario presents Allawi with the most difficult choices and makes it virtually impossible for a vote of no confidence to succeed. A breakthrough could come if Maliki realizes it is impossible for him to continue as PM, and when Allawi realizes that Maliki has to be included in the government maybe Putin style. Personal differences have ways of working out accomodations.

  4. Ali Wasati said

    Surely Maliki would prefer to be the President of Iraq whilst Allawi as the PM if they work together, then having him pushed out because of INA and Iran, with the SLA only having 25% of positions in a national unity government when they can roughly gain around 40-50% of position with allying with only Allawi.

    I think that would be an amazing scenario if SLA and INM ally. I jsut cant see it unfortunately.

  5. Kermanshahi said

    Wouldn’t these parties first need to come to some agreements if they were to form a government together? In which case, how are they going to come to such agreement when the views of these parties are so different? The Kurdistan unity government which you mentioned could be created because the only dispute between the KDP and the PUK was which party would have more power, while I don’t think there is even one isssue which Maliki, Allawi, ISCI, Muqtada, Fadhila, PUK, KDP, KIU, IGK, al-Mutlaq, al-Hashemi, the ITF, all agree on.

  6. Reidar Visser said

    Kermanshahi, that’s my whole point, they don’t agree on anything except that they want power and they sense that this is the way they can obtain international support for their ambitions. On the other hand, INM and SLA share a centralist, pragmatic approach and could form a viable government on that basis.

  7. Cant say said

    Reidar, it seems Jafari is also jumping on the band wagon here calling for the involvement of everyone.

    I really thought that at least half of our politicians actually cared about Iraq and its people.

    I used to know Jafari very well, and many others who took part in the previous governments.

    Reidar, these individuals used to be amazing people, the most charitable and selfless, decent and honourable of all the ment I have ever met. But power corrupts everyone it seems. It eats away into your principles.

    My father was asked to join those parties in 2003 but refused, because he used to say that a successful politicians always means a failure with his family.

  8. Jason said

    This sounds like a move of desperation on the part of the ISCI, like they may be facing a possible shutout in the negotiations. If INM and SLA resign themselves that they will have to live in the same house anyway, they will no longer have any use (or room) for Hakim, or anyone else. Seriously, if Maliki and Allawi are going to have to share the posts anyway, why in the world would they choose a four-way split over a two-way split?

    Consider the identity of the messenger.

  9. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, the problem is, this thing is catching on, both among Iraqi party leaders and among Western diplomats. I think it is a case of everyone trying to avoid some hard decisions and thereby ending up producing collective irrationality.

  10. Kermanshahi said

    I thought State of Law, the NIA and the Kurds were making a coalition together, I know you’re not a fan of such coalition either, Reidar, but from the perspective of these parties, why do they now want to include Allawi into the coalition?

    On a side note, all Kurdish blocs (including 1 minority candidate) have joined together into one bloc and possibly Aghajan’s party is going to join, a unity government would ~310 seats, and Kurds have said they’d like to have Tawafuq included in a government, while SLC has shown interest in including Unity, there’s a actually possibility of a 325-seat “unity”-government. It will be a disaster.

  11. Jason said

    Maliki and Allawi will continue with this gamesmanship of courting of the Kurds/INA and hostility with each other until they have completely exhausted all possibility of forming a coalition that gives one of them the PM job.

    If they were to both fail, then an entirely new game with a new set of objectives/motivations will emerge. If that happens, ISCI will go the way of Tawafuq. And they know it. So maybe their call for a unity govt means that the negotiations may already be turning in that direction?

  12. Reidar Visser said

    Kermanshahi and Jason, as I read it, last week was very much about an attempt by INA and SLA to merge into a single bloc with a view to forming a bigger coalition with the Kurds (and maybe Tawafuq). Apparently, that didn’t work out well, and I think this prompted Hakim’s “surprise” support for Allawi by the end of the week. I think we need to remember that INA/SLA relations got really bitter during the second half of 2009 and there is a lot of damage to repair, and even then Maliki may suspect that the real goal of the INA is to get rid of him altogether.

  13. Kermanshahi said

    I realse that Maliki-Sadr relations have deteriorated badly since March 2008 and Maliki-Hakim relations have deteriorated badly since February 2009, but Maliki-Allawi relations have gone really bitter since the election campaign (and the de-ba’athification which preceeded it), his relations with the Kurds have gone pretty bad too. You think there is a chance of a Maliki-less coalition, since he’s made to many enemies?

  14. Reidar Visser said

    I certainly think one reason this strange scheme won’t go away is that some may be hoping they could squeeze out Maliki in the process.

  15. bb said

    Reidar – you hark back to Paul Bremer’s IGC but entirely fail to mention that both Allawi’s party and Accord were both part of Maliki’s governing coalition from 2006 onwards. Also included the Turkmen Front. Later both Sadrists and Accord left the coalition but nevertheless Maliki held his government together: quite a feat at the time of a raging insurgency.

    By and large that unity government worked pretty well, especially in its latter days. And Maliki proved himself a tough and dexterous operator.

    So there is a precedent for Maliki/Allawi/Kurds to be in government together. And when the dust settles I think that is the likely scenario. The Kirkuk question will be set aside and dealt with as issues arise, meanwhile maintaining the status quo. That seems to be the Iraqi way of dealing with contentious issues.

    “an attempt by INA and SLA to merge into a single bloc with a view to forming a bigger coalition with the Kurds (and maybe Tawafuq). Apparently, that didn’t work out well,”

    No doubt PM maliki is still telling his erstwhile partners that reunification will be on his terms, not theirs. As incumbent prime minister, Maliki is in the prime position here because all the others have to unite to depose him and that could take months, even years, meanwhile he stays in office.

  16. Reidar Visser said

    Well Bb, there may well be a job waiting for you as Maliki’s adviser in Baghdad since few others are able to single out the 2006-2007 period for its glorious progress (I assume this is what you mean, since Iraqiyya also left), and even his friends tend to admit that he is under a lot of pressure from hostile forces these days.

  17. bb said

    Under pressure he certainly was. He not only withstood that pressure – avoiding a no confidence vote in the COR – but he also brought the shia militias, financed and trained by Iran, to heel. Now, in this election he has turned ISCI/Badr into a rump inside the shia constituency and reduced his Dawa rival Jafaari to one seat, his own.

    His opponents have to agree between themelves before they can depose him. And deposing Maliki’s government before they have agreed on the alternative would lead to power vaccuum, maybe anarchy. Doubtful that the US would see this in its interests.

    As have mentioned before, it would be good to have an analysis of SOL and how Maliki achieved this feat to add perspective to the detailed analysis one receives of the sadrists.

    btw – 2006/07 was not a time of glorious progress. It was a time of defeating the insurgency and the militias.

  18. Jason said

    Whatever happened to Sadr’s referendum on who his followers wanted to align with? It dropped out of the news, and I never saw any result.

  19. Reidar Visser said

    The result is supposed to come out at a press conference tomorrow (Wed) in Najaf. That’s according to Salah al-Ubaydi. We’ll see if they are better than IHEC in sticking to their self-imposed timelines!

  20. Jason said

    Joel reports a breakthrough on the latest de-Baathification challenges, with seats of disqualified candidates to be filled with new candiates from same list. Hopefully, there will be no more deBaath fires to interfere with the seating of the new parliament and formation of govt.

    It seems that the main proponents of aggressive deBaathification, Chalabi and ISCI now have paper-thin representation in parliament. (Maliki was for reconciliation before his hand was forced during the election) I understand that al-Lami did not even win reelection. Any new de-Baathification law or committee appointments will have to pass a new parliament with greater Sunni representation and (hopefully) weakened Iranian influence. Considering all those factors, is it fair to conclude that this will fade into the background, allowing greater potential for Sunni/Shia reconciliation?

  21. Hassan said

    I think what seperates SLA and INM is laregely the burden of history-Baath vs Dawa. In theory, their joining each other makes the most sense, not only for the prospect of a better-performing government but a government most effective in preventing and/or putting down violence. If you anatomize their vision, you would find it more compatible than otherwise-as you well put it Reidar. The problem with Allawi is history, the return of the Baathists, the Saudi and other Sunni states backing, and perhaps his overdose of secularization. All come at odd with Maliki’s own principles, history and his laregly anti-Allawi voters, besides his reluctance to yied his PM position to Allawi. Never the less, the marriage between SLA and INM carries the most desired vision of modernization, secularization, openness to and acceptance by the Arab and Western world, curbing Iran’s influence-all of which Iraq needs to move forwards, but it remains the most difficult scenario to imagine, however not impossible, if they decide to talk-talk alot.

  22. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, with respect to IHEC, if there was a breakthrough it was probably in an IHEC meeting last Thursday, after which several commissioners publicly reiterated the position that the chairman, Faraj al-Haydari, has been making for weeks (and covered here earlier), namely that the votes will stay with the winning lists instead of being cancelled. It could mean he won the internal battle in IHEC (where at least 3 out of 9 commissioners are thought to be leaning towards INA/Chalabi/Lami).

    Certification remains the key question. This is supposedly scheduled for next week.

    Hassan, I agree, let’s hope they talk *fast*.

  23. Ali Wasati said

    Hi Reidar, Allawi dismisses this notion of national government in this interview

    Whats your analysis on this, and how far can he go to stand up against INA’s vision.

  24. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, I think it is good that he highlights the potential dangers of an ineffective government of national unity. It is interesting that he focuses on the Sadrists as a potential partner; given the Sadrist “referendum” results reported today one wonders whether perhaps a re-orientation towards Maliki would be more realistic instead.

  25. Ali Wasati said

    Sorry Reidar, I’m trying to find the results but cant, can you post a link or tell us the results.

  26. Reidar Visser said

    Doesn’t the post show up at the top of the page?? Or here:
    Do let me know if there is a technical problem.

  27. Salah said

    I can see this:

    Not Another Governing Council, Please!

    Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 6 April 2010 8:46

    On top lines I can see this (but smaller font)

    « The Federal Supreme Court Goes Incommunicado over De-Baathification, Compensation Seats
    Jaafari Wins the Sadrist Referendum »

    The victims are the millions of Iraqis who do not care about the ethno-sectarian identities that are currently being used as basis for government formation, and just want a state capable of delivering security, jobs and services.

    Reidar, as you know and every one “the western media has engaged in a childish rant blaming the Iraqis themselves for the current state of affairs. The poor Iraqis apparently lacked the will to set aside their differences and establish democracy.”

    The big problem is that there are a couple of hundred influential people in the world that prefer this scenario.

    Reider, Please in your view what US up to for Iraq? after seven years of trials and errors scenario what you think the next US move for Iraq future?

  28. Kermanshahi said

    Bb, Maliki is not in such a great position at all, he lost the election and now he needs other blocs to remain PM, to persuade them to join his new government he will have to make concessions to their demands, if not, they won’t join and he’ll loose his position as PM. True, he remains PM until a new gov’t is formed, but if Allawi offers the NIA and the Kurds more than he did, they’ll join him, than he looses his position. The only reason he can still become PM is because he is more likely to give in to the demands of these blocs than Allawi, but to succeed, he’ll have to actually do so.

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