Biden Visits Iraq: Where Is the Government-Formation Process Heading?
Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 3 July 2010 20:52
The reality is that four months after the parliamentary elections and at the time of an unexpected visit by Vice-President Joe Biden to Baghdad, the political process in Iraq is almost at a standstill. Little in the way of real negotiations is taking place since no one knows which party will supply the prime ministerial candidate. Even if one month has lapsed since the final result was certified, players on the Iraqi political scene keep bending the constitutional framework according to their own preferences.
As of today, there is only one candidate that technically satisfies the constitutional criterion of being the “[premier] candidate of the biggest parliamentary bloc”: Ayad Allawi of the secular Iraqiyya. This is so because even though some Shiite leaders claim to have formed a bigger sectarian Shiite bloc through merging with each other, they cannot agree on a prime ministerial candidate and therefore do not satisfy the constitutional criteria for supplying one either. As of today, they simply do not exist as a parliamentary bloc in relation to the question of government formation, and at least members from one half of the new alliance – State of Law (SLA) headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki – increasingly recognise this fact and say a failure to produce a single premier candidate will effectively mean the end of their alliance. The other half, the Iraqi National Alliance, is prepared to accept any prime ministerial from within the alliance – as long as it is not Nuri al-Maliki, the sole candidate of the other side!
What this stalemate at least makes perfectly clear is that the dream of an “all-inclusive government of all the winning parties” is unlikely to come into effect in the real world, because someone will inevitably get offended along the way if the constitutional procedure is followed. If Iraqiyya does not get the premiership it will walk out or splinter; if Maliki is sidelined, the projected Shiite alliance will disintegrate. Of course, there are some – including most prominently the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) – that argue in favour of abandoning the constitutional framework altogether by for example introducing a roundtable, and there is already talk of “compromise” PM candidates from miniscule blocs within the INA that could emerge under this type of scenario. The defenders of this kind of unconstitutional approach might as well go all the way and try to stage a military coup, since they do not appear willing to take seriously even those parts of the constitution that are crystal clear.
In this kind of situation and at a time when the two main Shiite lists are still strong enough to vote down an Allawi government even if it gets formed, it is a refreshing sign that the “180 option” of the two biggest blocs in parliament joining together to solve the problem (Iraqiyya with 91 seats plus State of Law with 89 seats) is now at least being talked about openly in the Iraqi media. Predictably, Kurds and ISCI are condemning it, but they are of course incapable of presenting a constitutionally-based rejection, since the scenario is in fact perfectly constitutional. It will be interesting to see what the US position on this will be. So far, while in principle committed to a focus on timelines and the anticipated draw-down of US forces, the Obama administration has tended to publicly support the most time-consuming government-formation scenario of them all: A grand coalition that will have to overcome both an internal premier competition within the new Shiite alliance (which apparently cannot be won) as well as endless negotiations with the Kurds (over issues that cannot be solved within a short time frame). In a good sign, Ambassador Hill in a recent BBC interview at least acknowledged the scenario of an SLA-Iraqiyya government as an option. If the stated intention of Joe Biden to meet with Ammar al-Hakim on Monday is just meant to calm down Iran and Ahmad Chalabi then it can make some sense (INA is already talking about the SLA-Iraqiyya scenario as an “American plot” even though it has received no support previously); if on the other hand it indicates a continued US preference for an oversized government of “national unity” then that means Washington is itself effectively undermining its declared aim of a timely process of government formation in Iraq.
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