Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for April 19th, 2010

The Manual Recount in Baghdad: What Maliki Wants

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 19 April 2010 14:55

The announcement today that the some 2,4 million votes cast in Baghdad will be subjected to a manual recount means two things for Iraqi politics: A certain delay in the process of certification, which will now likely be pushed towards early May and possibly later (the recount probably opens the door for fresh appeals), as well as a possible delay in the process of unifying the State of Law alliance (SLA) and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) to a single Shiite bloc.

Prime minister Nuri al-Maliki and his SLA have been the driving force in demanding the recount. To better understand their aims it may be useful to revert to what a Maliki adviser, Ali al-Musawi, told media about their coalition visions back on 16 March, at a time when Maliki and Allawi were still neck and neck. He then said that SLA was looking to form a “political majority” with the “Kurds, parts of the Iraqi National Alliance, parts of Iraqiyya, Tawafuq and other small parties”. This would in many ways mean a return to the situation in 2007, after the defection of the Sadrists (November 2006, after the Maliki-Bush meeting) but before that of Tawafuq and Iraqiyya in the summer), though with Maliki in a relatively stronger position vis-à-vis the decentralisers among the Kurds and ISCI. It has also been suggested that the United States and Saudi Arabia would be happy with this kind of outcome, even though the ideological contradictions would still be much bigger than in a smaller, centralist Iraqiyya/SLA government, and to call it a “political majority” would be something of a euphemism.

It is of course somewhat ironic that the ruling by the election court comes just days after Maliki seemed to acknowledge defeat precisely for the vision of a “political majority” and instead for the first time began talking about the dreaded, oversized “national unity” government. As for the mathematics of all of this, the numerical margins, based on the final IHEC figures, suggest that the seventeenth INA seat in Baghdad might perhaps be the one that is most vulnerable to small changes in the figures (or, more correctly, it is the fifteenth seat of the initial allocation that is at risk, with a surplus of just about 1,000 votes). But that is probably not what Maliki is looking for: His aim is likely to win a SLA seat at the expense of an Iraqiyya seat so that he can avoid creating a bigger bloc in order to fight for the premiership. Iraqiyya, for their part, have warned about SLA putting pressure on the courts throughout and are likely to view the recount with suspicion. They still seem to be holding on to the dialogue with INA, but have been more upbeat about relations with the Sadrists than with ISCI lately (Ammar al-Hakim today for the first time seemed to rule out both Maliki and Allawi as suitable premier candidates).

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election | 33 Comments »

Does Saudi Arabia Really Want a United Iraq?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 19 April 2010 12:41

The list of Iraqi guests at the palace in Riyadh over the past weeks prompts numerous questions about Saudi policy towards its eastern neighbour. For several years now, Riyadh’s Iraq policy has been a lot more passive than that of Iran, characterised by more muttering than meddling, and with relatively few attempts to reach out more broadly beyond Sunni-oriented leaders. For a long time it seemed as if the Saudi leaders still held on to futile dreams of an Iraq where Shiites could be almost excluded, as indicated for example by reports that Riyadh played a role in scuppering the tentative but promising alliance between Abu Risha (the awakening leader of Anbar) and Nuri al-Maliki last summer.

But with recent visits to Riyadh by ISCI’s Ammar al-Hakim and Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Masud Barzani, it is clear that the problem does not have to do with insurmountable ethno-sectarian barriers, but rather with the Saudi choice of guests… Full story at the Gulf Research Unit blog, where Iraq articles with regional dimensions will be posted occasionally. The comments option remains open at this blog, below.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues, UIA dynamics, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | 7 Comments »