Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for May 4th, 2010

At Long Last, Tehran Gets Its Alliance and the Clock Is Turned Back to 2005 in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 4 May 2010 22:28

Ever since the provincial elections in January 2009, Iran has worked steadfastly [PDF] to revive the then-defunct United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the sectarian Shiite alliance that was created back in 2004 and that largely collapsed in 2007. After Ahmad Chalabi played an initial role in bringing  the Sadrists and ISCI back together in the first part of 2009, the final reunification took place Tuesday night in Baghdad when the State of Law list headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki joined the other Shiites to form a single parliamentary bloc. The successful revival of the de-Baathification agenda was probably the key factor in destroying the promising tendencies of a more nationalist and less sectarian approach by Maliki in 2009.

Few details about the reunion have been published so far (and notably no PM candidate), but it is known that it was held at the house of Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Jaafari came out with the best result in the informal Sadrist referendum for the next prime minister that was held earlier.

It is expected that the new alliance (which so far does not appear to have a name or a bloc leader) will claim the right to form a government despite the fact that it was created after the elections and thus in disregard of the electorate (which was not told much about this prospect during the brief campaign). The all-Shiite bloc will likely turn to the Kurds next, but it is noteworthy that it is just four seats or so away from a parliamentary majority of its own so those smaller groups that dare will probably be handsomely rewarded if they opt to join and help the new alliance avoid painful compromises with Arbil. Of course, they also risk being labelled Sunni “stooges” of a sectarian Shiite government.

Under any circumstances, this seems to be a step backwards to Iraq and a return to the unhealthy sectarian climate that dominated much of the period between 2005 and 2007. However much they talk about “unity”, the members of the new alliance have little in common except the fact that they are mostly Shiites. It is a far cry from the situation just half a year ago, when Maliki was talking about political majorities and ideologically consistent cabinets.

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, UIA dynamics, Uncategorized | 76 Comments »

The Presidency Council Intervenes in the De-Baathification Debate

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 4 May 2010 17:20

The Iraqi presidency council, consisting of President Jalal Talabani, Vice-President Adel Abd al-Mahdi and Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, has today intervened in the de-Baathification debate in an interesting way: It expresses the view that regardless of the de-Baathification status of individual candidates, no votes shall be taken from lists. Also, in a move probably intended to highlight that demand and speed up the certification process, the council suggested that the Iraqi judicial authorities should proceed with certification of all governorates and only leave Baghdad open, where the manual recount is expected to last for another week or two.

These measures are helpful in that they could serve to bring some kind of closure to the de-Baathification process, which has long ago run out of control and has become an arena for settling scores and advancing party interests. The move protects the right of the Iraqi voters, and might go some way towards focusing minds on the necessary negotiations ahead. Nonetheless, it cannot escape notice that two of the authors of today’s decision, Talabani and Abd al-Mahdi, only a few months ago supported the first revival of the de-Baathification debate, partly directly and partly indirectly through the work of people in their own electoral alliances. In this way, the rise and fall of the de-Baathification issue looks very much like a trap designed to ensnare Nuri al-Maliki, whose consolidation of power was disliked by all three members of the presidency council. And to some extent, this succeeded since Maliki eventually gave in to the temptations of using the de-Baathification card, whereas the parties that initiated the campaign are now switching to a softer tone and are making all the sounds Washington wants them to make.

Of course, what the presidency council is doing here is somewhat messy in terms of its constitutionality. True, the presidency has a general task of safeguarding compliance with the constitution, but no specific powers or instruments to implement that task have been put in place except for the veto power of the presidency council. Indeed, when today’s press release calls for non-interference in the work of the Iraqi judiciary it all smacks of self-contradiction: Interference is precisely what the presidency council is up to! Nonetheless, the point can probably be made that the Iraqi electoral process long ago strayed from the legalist path, and in today’s situation any move that can serve to restore some credibility to the process should be welcome.

The United States is likely to second the move by the presidency council, since it has been pointing in that direction itself. However, if the political affiliations of the men behind today’s decision also suggest the contours of a new grand alliance in the making then this may not be such great news. Masud Barzani of the Kurdistan Alliance recently used the opportunity to renew his call for a tripartite federation of “Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds”, and Adel Abd al-Mahdi’s Iraqi National Alliance is making headway with its plans to absorb some or all of the other Shiite-led alliance, State of Law. That all sounds rather like 2005.

Posted in Iraq and soft partition, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 2 Comments »