No Realism in Government-Formation Talks
Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 16 July 2010 12:25
Everyone is talking to everyone in Iraq, it seems, but the kind of talk they are engaged in comes across as pretty futile.
Earlier this week, Ayyad Allawi emerged brimful with optimism after meetings with Ammar al-Hakim, apparently hoping that the Shiite Iraqi National Alliance (INA) alongside the Kurds would be prepared to endorse him as prime ministerial candidate. The only problem with that prospect is that INA leaders later in the week kept talking of what seems to be their real preferred scenario: Using the theoretical construction of a Shiite alliance including State of Law (SLA) to give them the right to form the government while at the same time marginalising the SLA premier candidate, Nuri al-Maliki to instead impose a compromise candidate through an informal (and unconstitutional) “off-the-record” meeting of parliament. Such was the plan detailed by Abd al-Hadi al-Hakim in an interview last week; the names of the possible compromise candidates included such celebrities as Bayan Jabr (minister of interior and various death squads in 2005) and Ahmad al-Chalabi, plus less known independents like Qasim Dawud and Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum (who was oil minister for a short period in the Jaafari government in 2005). In other words, there is every indication that INA are dreaming of a weak prime minister from a small political entity, and are not thinking of an Allawi premiership.
As for the slightly more hopeful attempts at dialogue between Maliki and Allawi, there really isn’t much good news to report, with both sides presenting distinctly unrealistic bargaining positions lacking in generosity towards the other side. For their part, SLA has reportedly offered Iraqiyya the speakership and the “presidency of the senate” (a reference to the still non-existent second chamber of the Iraqi parliament which is unlikely to come into existence until after the next parliamentary elections), or, according to some reports, leadership of the national security council. These offers – the first of which was publicly confirmed by SLA politician Haydar al-Jawrani – are pathetic non-starters as far as they relate to positions that have no existence in the real world (the senate) or the constitution (the national security council). Iraqiyya, in turn, has been equally unconstructive, with a very public rejection of a second Maliki premiership as well as a suggestion, reported in Al-Sharq al-Awsat, that INA and SLA divide the presidencies of the republic and the parliament between them in return for supporting Allawi as premier. The suggestion will no doubt raise eyebrows to the extent that it excludes the Kurds even though it is framed as a “national unity” project (rather than a “political majority” one), and it will likely fail to satisfy the aspirations of INA and SLA. It should also be added that even if the others were to go along, it would be distinctly foolhardy of Iraqiyya to surrender so much control of the process: First they gave up the premiership of the first session when the oldest deputy Hasan al-Allawi of Iraqiyya excused himself for health reasons and handed over to Fuad Masum of the Kurdistan Alliance; if this second scheme is brought to fruition they would elect both a speaker and a president from outside their list who might well create surprises along the way, including, potentially, a reversion to the idea of the Shiite bloc as the biggest in parliament.
In sum, although there appear to be some genuine enthusiasts for an SLA-Iraqiyya alliance on both sides, the leaders themselves seem to think of other scenarios and are mainly using the SLA/INM talks to gain leverage in their respective “plan A” machinations. Those plans, in turn, seem likely to remain frustrated since INA is not prepared to let neither Maliki nor Allawi become premier, ultimately meaning that a government of the “four big ones ” in fact remains quite unrealistic despite foreign players including both Iran and the United States clearly preferring this scenario. In brief, while the end goal is clear, the procedural obstacles seem unsurmountable. Probably the only thing that could help solve the stalemate within a reasonable time frame would be for Iraqiyya to stop thinking about “priority” (ahaqiyya) and premiership and instead focusing on the totality and what they would gain by leaving all the others aside and making a simple “political majority” deal with SLA. If they formed a bloc with SLA and gave the premiership to Maliki they could likely get the presidency of the republic, the speakership of the parliament and the key ministries of oil, finance and foreign affairs. And much more in terms of smaller ministries. This is far more in terms of overall policy influence (and reducing Iranian and other foreign interference) than they could ever dream of in a big coalition government headed by a Shiite Islamist from INA.
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