Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for July 19th, 2010

The Damascus Summit: Crunch Time for the Dialogue between Iraqiyya and INA

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 19 July 2010 20:01

Today’s meeting with Muqtada al-Sadr in Damascus means that for the second time within a week, Ayyad Allawi, the leader of the secular Iraqiyya party, has had talks with leaders of the Shiite Islamist Iraqi National Alliance (INA) that are described as “fruitful”.

Unfortunately, the initial reports from the meeting have been short on details about areas of agreement and with vague talk about “programme committees” dominating, but for Allawi the real answer should be utterly simple since there is only one outcome that can satisfy Iraqiyya in its dialogue with INA: That they declare the Shiite super-alliance between INA and State of Law (SLA) null and void, and accept the claim by Iraqiyya that they should form the government as the biggest bloc in parliament. Any other outcome, including a premiership by Adel Abd al-Mahdi or some other, less known INA candidate (as reportedly favoured by Syria and Iran) would be worthless: If next Sunday (when another meeting of political leaders has been scheduled) INA is not prepared to sign up for the practical scheme reportedly proposed by Iraqiyya for implementing their preferred vision – giving a second term as president for Jalal Talabani of the Kurdistan Alliance and the speakership of parliament to Humam Hammudi of ISCI within INA – Iraqiyya would be better off by returning to its negotiations with Nuri al-Maliki and his SLA. INA has been dithering in its attitude to the pan-Shiite alliance for weeks now, and if they cannot declare it dead then Iraqiyya is only deluding itself by continued talks.

Meanwhile, there are unfortunately signs that even as Washington is giving up its leverage in Iraq by the day, what little remains is being employed for entirely useless purposes. During a recent press conference, Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi made it clear that during his visit to Baghdad Joe Biden reportedly voiced concern about a government scenario in which none of the three leading positions (president, prime minister or speaker of parliament) would be given to a “Sunni personality”! In a healthy sign, Hashemi told him not to worry, reflecting the fact that with the exception of the Kurds, most Iraqis are generally unhappy about the idea of enshrining ethno-sectarian identities in the administrative structure of the state. Nonetheless, this is in fact the scenario that currently seems to be on the cards, and it is deeply worrying that Washington appears to spend energy at the highest level of government worrying about the least troublesome aspect of it all. It is of course not the least surprising after the string of failed US attempts at understanding sectarianism in Iraq: The search for a “Sunni region”, the Sunnis as the sahwat, achieving Sunni satisfaction through gas finds in Anbar, the importance of getting Tawafuq back in government, the Sunnis as Ayad al-Samarraie… The list goes on and on. But this situation is particularly disconcerting at a time when politicians from both Iraqiyya and SLA like Izzat Shabandar and Haydar al-Jawrani explicitly protest against the Biden paradigm when they advocate an anti-sectarian approach, Shabandar even making it clear that it is the perpetuation of Biden’s way of thinking in the shape of a “Shiite” alliance between his own SLA and INA that would cement Iranian dominance in Iraq.

There are many things to worry about concerning the proposed INA-Iraqiyya alliance, perhaps not least related to procedure: Is it really wise of Iraqiyya to surrender control of so much of the process (i.e. both the presidency and speaker of parliament) in a context when people may suddenly change their minds and the Shiite alliance could re-emerge? But few others than Biden need worry about the absence of a Sunni figurehead from the proposed line-up of state leaders; instead the key question should be whether INA is truly prepared to move in the direction Iraqiyya wants within the coming week.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Sectarian master narrative, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | 58 Comments »