Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

27 Responses to “No Realism in Government-Formation Talks”

  1. observer said

    I expected you to mention the delegation os Sadrists and SLA going to Tehran supposedly to meet with Muqtada!

    I find it laughable that INA officials talk about preventing outside influence (meaning US pressure) while there is blatant interference from Iran. I have no problem with understanding the need of Iran to “protect its interests”, but what I find ironic is that the Islamists, who would not have dreamed of governing Iraq, find American pressure unwarranted.

    I think Iraqiyya made a mistake by giving the leadership to Othman. They could have used that seat to call the parliament on time and prevent the “keeping it open until the cows come home” approach to forming Iraqi government.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    I saw those reports but found it hard to separate fact from fiction. Simultaneously, many were saying Larijani was about to arrive in Iraq.

    What I did find remarkable, at any rate, was that Khalid al-Assadi of SLA/Daawa mentioned the expected arrival of Larijani and his expected intention to discuss the Iraqi government-fromation process as a perfectly natural scenario. But then again he belongs to the wing of SLA that favours a merger with INA.

    PS I assume that by “Othman” you refer to Fouad Masoum above.

  3. Ali W said

    Hi Reidar, new job new email address ……..

    I’m not sure how feasible is it politically to give both the PM and Presidency to Shia Arabs. I now there is no constitutional requirement for the top positions to be shared out to Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups, however it could still be upsetting to the sunnis to if they dont have one of them somewhere in there (even though Allawi is there man).

    And what I’m surprised as well is that the other components within INM have not applied pressure on Allawi to compromise on the PM position, so at least they will have much more influence within the government.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, that was what I actually liked about the INM proposal, i.e. the apparent we-dont-give-a-damn-about-sectarian-quotas approach (since most likely all three positions would technically speaking go to Shiites, on the demand of a party perceived as Sunni-backed)!

    With respect to internal pressure inside INM, I suspect that there is more of it than we hear about in the media. Especially the Nujayfi, Mutlak and Turkmen Front blocs would gain far more influence under the SLA-INM scenario, and it was with these forces (who represent the “domestic” Iraqiyya perhaps more than Wifaq) that Maliki conducted some real dialogue back in March last year.

  5. JWing said

    Reidar, this is exactly what I told you would happen with these talks. The big hang up as ever is over who will be PM and nothing else really matters right now. Talks with Iraqiya are being used by the Shiite parties to pressure each other, etc. The soap opera continues.

  6. Salah said

    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

    I don’t what leverage they got by this scenarios.
    Inside Iraq most Iraqis get sick and tired of scenarios changing from day to day, but all they got same Maliki and same face ruled a country with not public service, wide spreading corruptions, no real security and more.

    So only answer to this delay with playing game is these guys looks to stay as much as they could to fill their pockets before leaving

    Let see the new next government what will say about the one leaving.

  7. mostafa said

    Today i read this article:

    Do you think that could be true?

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Well, that is the theory Faisal Kadri has maintained for a while, i.e. that Iran ultimately will agree to whatever PM candidate emerges as long as the Shiite alliance is maintained, i.e. even Maliki as per this scenario. And it is true that the latest public statements by SLA have focused on another attempt in this direction. But there has been so much wavering by the Sadrists on this issue – every week, it seems, there is a statement attacking Maliki followed by more conciliatory noises – so I think we’d better wait for something more than just rumours.

  9. khalid alhitti said

    Great analysis, Reidar. But why do you think Allawi with two seats over Malaki should concede premiership? Should it not be the other way around to really facilitate a SLA/INM coalition and play by democratic rules?

    Also, Malaki’s chances are virtually nil in an alliance with INA; in fact, it is more likely that Malaki and co will be prosecuted by the new government/parliament for alleged corruption charges. So, it should make sense to Malaki to get for example the presidency and major ministerial posts for his close allies if he joins Iraqia instead of going to jail if he continues to gamble on INA.

    You also mentioned that Iran will eventually force the alliance between INA and SLA without Malaki as a way out of the current stalemate. This is quite possible but definitely not guaranteed. Hence, it may be still prudent for Iraqia to hold out until Malaki is satisfied that his only real option is to join Iraqia by taking the presidency to at least protect himself from prosecution, especially now INA leaders are publicly talking about accountability for the $300bn spend by Malaki during his tenure.

    I also see the merits of your suggestion to Iraqia to be “generous” by conceding premiership to Malaki against other major “total” gains. But Iraqia seems to be still waiting for Malaki to blink first as his prospects with INA are dimming by the day. It would be foolish to think that Malaki will sacrifice the potential gains with Iraqia and rejoin INA as a result of the pressure of Iran though I don’t underestimate such pressure at all. But I mean he, as a political animal, needs to think about his neck when forging alliances.

    surprises are of course possible one of which would be for INA to make a U-turn and allow Malaki to become a prime minister after some consessions; this would of course leave INM in the cold.

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Khalid, many thanks. I am aware that it may seem illogical to suggest that Iraqiyya surrenders the premiership. My reasons for doing this nonetheless has to do with the different alliance structures of SLA and INM and the greater versatility of Ayad Allawi.

    Firstly, I think it makes sense to say that the SLA vote, across the country, is a prime ministerial vote for Maliki personally to a greater degree than is the case for the INM vote. If you look at the other SLA candidates, they tend to get lower personal scores than their INM counterparts. SLA is Maliki to a greater extent than INM is Allawi, with Nujayfi, Mutlak, Hashemi etc. forming considerable bastions of support. In that perspective it would make more sense to give the biggest prize to SLA and several medium-sized ones to INM.

    Also, there is the fact that Ayad Allawi could become an extremely successful foreign minister, which I think would be more difficult for Maliki given his strained relations with Saudi Arabia in particular. I do not mean to belittle the potential premier qualities of Allawi and the considerable score he obtained in Baghdad; I just think this is the right time to maximise flexibility wherever it can be found to give the country as a whole a good government.

  11. Reidar Visser said

    Mostafa, here’s today’s “opposite” report of the Sadrists rejecting the Maliki candidacy, again…:

  12. Thaqalain said

    Visser what will be impact of Moqtada al-Sadr -Bashar al-Asad negotiations. Thanks for your continued analysis. The entire region is under turmoil from PAKAF-Iran to Western Iraq, while Americans are preparing to demobilize their last Soldier by 2011, Chinese, South-Koreans , French have invaded Iraq’s business. Will American allow them to give soft entry on once their bloody battleground?

  13. Reidar Visser said

    Thaqalain, it is interesting how different parties expect different things from Syria. For some time, Iraqiyya thought they might get some help for the candidacy of Ayad Allawi, but now apparently ISCI thinks Damascus might support Adel Abd al-Mahdi instead and maybe that is what Asad and Sadr were talking about, since it would require the consent of the Sadrists within INA. Of course, it would also require the consent of SLA and leave Iraqiyya out in the cold, but that is a separate matter…

    I thought it interesting that press reports mentioned the presence of one Mustafa al-Yaqubi as Sadr’s aide during the Dasmascus deliberations. I assume this is the same figure that was arrested before the uprisings in 2004 on charges of involvement in the Khoei murder.

  14. Thaqalain said

    On Humanitarian Grounds I don’t mind relationship with Syria. Damascus, it was, it is still a refuge place while Americans have closed/sealed Iraqi borders from Iran/Turk/Kuwait, it was only Syria who have given refuge to 10s of thousands of Iraqi refugees, I am sure, we have more Baghdadis in Syria then in the entire Baghdad and once Al-Maliki was having small shop,too.
    But Syria is the home ground and refuge place for Ba`athit’s too, so we should be careful not to allow enemy infiltrate once again after brutal and barbaric invasion.
    What I see enemies might be uniting on common grounds in an effort to say babye to last American entity on Iraqi ground.

  15. Reidar Visser said

    So, Allawi has arrived in Damascus to meet Sadr. I guess it is crunch time for the much-reported Iraqiyya-Sadrist dialogue!

  16. amagi said

    I don’t understand. What could they possibly have to discuss?

  17. observer said

    that is interesting indeed, if true. I had expected that at least some of the seats go to SLA, but the way it is developing SLA is going to be in the opposition. So does this mean that Iran could not muster enough pressure on the Sdris and SLA to back off their respective positions? Reider – I am interested to know what is your take on this.

    Frankly, i doubt that SLA will survive intact (or vis versa – Iraqiyya). While democracy, if it is to thrive in Iraq, requires the presence of a strong opposition to keep the minsters and the PM in check – somehow, I think Iraq is just not ready for prime time yet.

  18. Reidar Visser said

    Amagi, as you point out, there was always an ideological contradiction in the Iraqiyya-INA dialogue, but Iraqiyya has tried to justify it with reference to what they saw as the nationalist element within the Sadrists (and, also to some extent with the tendency of the Sadrists to reject Maliki more loudly than the rest of INA).

    We’ll probably get to see how realistic those ideas are during the course of the day. The piece in Al-Sharq al-Awsat cited by Observer indicates an alleged plan by Iraqiyya leaders to keep Talabani as president and give the speakership to Humam Hamudi of ISCI, leaving Daawa out in the cold. It is noteworthy that this approach would also reach out to ISCI rather than to the numerically stronger Sadrists within INA, which may not go down well with Muqtada. It also assumes that the Shiite alliance project will be declared dead, and that neither Talabani nor Hamudi, both of whom are considered pro-Iranian, will feel any temptation to rediscover it once parliament convenes. And finally it is predicated on a belief that Damascus prefers Allawi to a weak INA premier. The AA piece appears to be more about what some in Iraqiyya think than about the intentions of Tehran and Damascus.

  19. Salah said

    while Americans have closed/sealed Iraqi borders from Iran/Turk/Kuwait,

    Do have evidences that US did so? Do you had a link to prove your statement and supported.

    Looks some temptations by putting stories here and there for some reason and personal necessities.

    Let takes the destination one by One:

    Iraqi refugees are spreading between Iran, Syria, and Jordan why these land? Because these land opened for them why opened? Gods know.

    As for Kuwait’s there is no question should asked here why Kuwaitis not open their borders for Iraqi in facts some shoot down when they tried to pass the border do you think others will follow that road?
    May this refresh your mind and next time understand Iraqi refugees map better before making statements

    Anyway we wait your evidences and links for you claims.

  20. Reidar Visser said

    OK but not here please; it is not related to the subject matter of the original post.

  21. Ali W said

    That will be interesting, Sadr standing shoulder to shoulder with Allawi, the man who battled him twice in 2004.

    It seems this could answer the question as to whom Syria favors, however what I find odd, thats Syria and Iran, very close allies, seem to back two different opposite parties.

  22. Reidar Visser said

    Yeah, looking forward to that, we should have the details any time now (although some sources say Allawi and Sadr will just meet in private, which somehow sounds more realistic).

    I guess the key question is whether Syria supports Allawi or Abd al-Mahdi (or some other INA compromise candidate). The former would be a set-back for Iran, the latter would probably be broadly acceptable for them.

  23. Jason said

    This is so bizarre and screwed up. Imagine American Congressmen going to Russia or China for input on who should be our next Speaker. Americans would tell all of them to go straight to hell for considering anything other than purely American interests. Do these foreign meetings not arouse that sentiment in Iraq? Are there no Iraqi MP’s on television banging their fists on the table and screaming that these meetings with foreign potentates are selling out the Iraqi people in order to satisfy the contenders’ lust for personal power, and that any candidate that participates in them should be disqualified from leading Iraq? Is there no courageous MP that wishes to make a name for himself, or simply to drum the present contenders into line?

  24. Reidar Visser said

    Technically and formally they maintain a distinction. In theory, Assad and Allawi just discussed bilateral relations and never touched the subject of government formation in Iraq except tangentially perhaps. (Of course everyone knows it was the only thing they talked about.) Conversely, the Allawi-Sadr meeting is seen as an Iraqi affair in which the subject of government-formation is officially on the agenda.

  25. Thaqalain said

    For Sadrists its immaterial to chose b/w Al-Maliki & Allawi, they both acted for what was being asked by their masters.The amount of fatalities Sadr suffered is more in Maliki tenure, so they may prefer sweet poison of Allawi.

    Allawi being a senior politician and most heavy weight candidate whom Americans and western nations can trust. Moreover, you can expect anything from Allawi to get power himself or his party. He already visited Tehran and might be using private internal close direct relationships in Sadr’s family to convince Moqtada, he will be another Allawi this time. Wait & See outcome, to get power in Washington’s Baghdad any1 can meet any1 to cut-short road to power seat.

  26. Ali W said

    Reidar, have you seen the pictures?? They look very cosy together.

    I dont think much will come out of it, but its still good to have less animosity between our politicians.

  27. Reidar Visser said

    Yeah, but what is needed is a government, not courtesy, right? More in today’s post.

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