Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Ramadan Notice

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 10 August 2010 16:31

Ramadan will begin later this week and business – including politics – is expected to proceed at a slower pace in Iraq until mid-September. This is not to say that things necessarily will come to a complete standstill: In September 2008, for example, progress on the provincial elections law was made towards the end of the holiday period. Nonetheless, things are expected to slow down; so, too, will this blog pending any significant political developments.

As the holy month begins, the political situation appears fairly much the same as it has been ever since the 7 March elections, with all key players continuing to explore blind alleys that are unlikely to lead anywhere. Iraqiyya is still dreaming that INA will agree to the idea of a premiership by Ayad Allawi. INA, for its part, is saying very publicly that it ignores these overtures for all practical purposes and remains focused on seeking a compromise premier candidate for the would-be alliance of themselves and State of Law (SLA) headed by Nuri al-Maliki (they just want to get rid of Maliki himself). Maliki, meanwhile, has resumed his dialogue with the Kurds again, even though that in itself will take him nowhere since SLA and the Kurds alone are nowhere near a majority. Accordingly, the Kurds – who for a while seemed to be leaning in the direction of a “compromise” candidate from the putative Shiite alliance – have recently once more refused to rule out Maliki. At any rate, Kurdish support in itself cannot decide anything as long as the three big blocs remain in a stalemate situation.

In the midst of all of this, deciphering US policy in Iraq is becoming more and more of a challenge. It used to be quite simple: Earlier, Joe Biden repeatedly stated his preference for a grand coalition of Iraqiyya, SLA, INA and the Kurds. More recently, though, there have been repeated indications that Washington is finally showing some interest in the idea of Maliki and Allawi joining in an alliance. At first, alleged  American support for this kind of solution was described as a “plot” by the Shiite parties that are closest to Iran. Recently, however – especially after the last visit by high-ranking members of the US administration to Baghdad – sources within Iraqiyya and SLA seem to confirm the same tendency. Still, though, it seems there is a good deal of resistance within Iraqiyya, and also that some of the time  is wasted by exploring Byzantine arrangements involving non-constitutional institutions and positions  (including the national security council and multiple deputy premiers) instead of focusing on straightforward and existing ministries and positions. Ironically, too, much of the opposition to a pragmatic alliance with Maliki seems to come from Iraqiyya figures who hardly received any personal votes in the 7 March election!

Additionally, the possible new twist in US policy is not one hundred percent unequivocal. There is also the alleged letter from President Obama to the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani asking for some kind of unspecified intervention in the government-formation process. This would be more or less the antithesis to everything an Iraqiyya-SLA alliance connotes, since it would effectively mean a cave-in to religious Shiite forces, a soft variant of the Iranian governing system known as wilayat al-faqih, and the likely preservation of the pro-Iranian Shiite alliance that is challenged by the prospect of Allawi and Maliki going it alone.

Surrealistically, in the midst of it all, delivery of new Abrams tanks for the Iraqi army appears to be the only thing that is proceeding according to schedule.

27 Responses to “Ramadan Notice”

  1. Mosa said

    The Americans are very keen, behind the backgrounds, to get a government in place before combat troops withdraw. Iran is probably keen for them to miss this deadline. I believe a deal will be forced through during Ramadan, before the withdrawal, and it will look something like this:

    – SOL/Iraqiya/Kurds government
    – Maliki PM
    – Talabani President
    – Allawi head of the security council (or whatever name they will give it) which will take away some powers from the PM, pending legislation.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    That would be quite similar to the Khalilzad proposal that came out right after the elections…

  3. But this leaves the INA (including ISCI and the Sadrists, and Fadhila) completely out of the government? Are they – and the Iranians – truly going to take this lying down? Or will Iran be content to exercise influence via its connections through Maliki/Dawa and the Kurds?

  4. Jason said

    Obama bends like a tender reed next to Speaker Pelosi who has hijacked his domestic initiatives and turned them into payoffs to special interests, despite being in the same party as the President. It is laughable that his administration can or will bring any meaningful pressure to bear on Iraqis.

  5. Reidar Visser said

    John, both the Daawa and the Kurds – especially PUK and Talabani – are susceptible to Iranian influence, although the Daawa also has a long history of quarrels with Iran. That’s why, in my opinion, if someone in interested in maximising the Iraqiness of the next government, it would be best to limit it to Iraqiyya and SLA only. That would create a greater likelihood of them developing real independence from Iran. With the Kurds inside, Iran is a little stronger; with INA inside, Iran is much stronger. The pan-Shiite potential and the Shiite-Kurdish axis would remain, and we would effectively be back in 2005 again.

  6. John said

    A succinct and clear summary of the current state-of-affairs Reidar – of course I often find myself in agreement with your analysis.

    One aspect left largely unexplored over the past seven months – indeed since the end of the CPA – is the lack of actual governance being conducted by the Iraqi parliament, state apparatus, and PMO – at least in their official capacities (as opposed to corruption, nepotism, illicit activities etc.).

    That a polity as moribund as Iraq, with its population seemingly left to their own devices to deal with day-to-day survival under immense pressures of humanitarian and security duress’ stands without a national government raises serious questions. Regional disparities abound with the KRG and several southern Governates standing out as moving forward in spite of central government indolence.

    While I understand the enormity of the many constitutional questions needing address’ by the next sitting government I am doubtful that this is what drives their seeming unwillingness and inability to organize the decision-making and operational apparatus required to run the ship of state.

    Clearly the current Iraqi political elite is ineffectual with structural constraints keeping them from developing a compromise – or ‘national consensus’. While personalizing the analysis or attacking various parties’ ideological commitments is engaging – it fails to address the potentiality for such a necessary compromise found at the basis of a sovereign polity.

    IMO the occupation’s basis – whereby it re-opened all political action from ground zero without taking account of either Iraqi historical understandings or the actual wishes of Iraqis in a post-Ba’thist Iraq set the stage for such gridlock [intentionally?]. In addition, foreign interference (i.e. American security preventing foreign invasion, but not massive internal violence), the largely exile basis of the political elite promoting economic rent accrual for themselves (as opposed to the development of a national economy), and their comfort level with the notion of acting as spoiler and pulling the entire exercise down if they are not allowed control is all cooked into the equation.

    So, the question becomes one of ‘what crisis could force such compromise’?

    Narrating it afterward will prove easy 🙂


  7. John,
    I sympathize with your sentiments but let me call a spade a spade.
    I don’t believe we have a crisis of compromise although a compromise could solve it. We have an incumbent who lost and would not let procedure carry on. There is nothing wrong with moving to the next stage of selecting a speaker and a president and letting the winner, Iraqyya, try to form the government for thirty days. All parties could negotiate then, that’s what it is for. Instead, we saw the Federal Court issuing a string of unanimous decisions thus demonstrating itself as “lacking of actual governance”. Your criticism regarding governance is important but when the Federal Court could not defend the constitution then the political process is in crisis. A compromise which allows the incumbent to manage the process is a capitulation.

  8. Reidar Visser said

    But Faisal, you are reproducing the fallacy of giving one party and one person (“the incumbent”, i.e. Maliki) all the blame for the stalemate and for failing to recognise Iraqiyya as the starting point for an alliance. INA, the preferred conversation partner of Allawi, is doing exactly the same thing! In fact, had INA recognised the right of Iraqiyya there would not have been any crisis. The reason things are at the standstill is that INA continue to withhold support for Allawi while Iraqiyya are dreaming that they aren’t.

    I thought it was symptomatic of the situation when an Iraqiyya MP the other day said “we want to ally with those who recognise the right of Iraqiyya to form the government”. Can you name one party that unequivocally does that?

  9. Reidar,
    I can name the only party which should: SOL. It is not up to INA or the Kurds or the others, they are not involved directly, they don’t even have to declare a position. The point I am trying to make is that the last constitutional arbiter to fix the situation in an impartial way, the Federal Court, is in the pocket of Maliki, and if he is allowed to run the political process and next elections then it is a capitulation, not a compromise.

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Faisal, with all respect, that is just not correct. If INA truly wanted to make an alliance with Iraqiyya and the Kurds under Allawi they could form a government tomorrow. The ruling of the federal supreme court does not mean much; it is the components of the putative Shiite alliance that make this decision themselves.

    On this, Maliki and INA are on an equal footing.

  11. Reidar,
    “had INA recognised the right of Iraqiyya there would not have been any crisis”
    You can’t blame INA and the others for acting opportunistically in self interest, they are politicians.. The question is: Why can’t everybody move forward and carry the negotiations to the next stage? I think Maliki is to blame for this.

  12. Reidar Visser said

    What exactly can Maliki and or the federal supreme court do to prevent the others from moving forward if they want to do this?

  13. Reidar,
    My answer is: Time will tell, it may get down to the situation you described, but that is not the normal procedure.
    Since 2003 we had two incumbents, Jaafary and Maliki, who clung to power and refused to admit defeat, Maliki managed to control the Federal Court and this is undemocratic and bad precedent.

  14. Reidar Visser said

    Maliki is just performing his constitutional duty of remaining in office until such time that the parliamentary factions have managed to put in place a new government. Maliki is no worse than the others when it comes to inaction as far as the latter process is concerned.

  15. Mosa said

    It’s been mentioned elsewhere, but one has to recognise the fact that there are parts of the constitution, which when translated to reality, are meaningless.

    The idea that the PM comes from the largest bloc is such an example (there are several others) because the constitution requires a President to first be elected. In reality, that’s never going to happen on its own, it’s always going to be part of the larger deal to select the President, PM, and Speaker of Parliament. And so the rate limiting step is not which bloc is biggest but which bloc can get a majority of parliament to support it.

    Iraqiya, as Reidar has repeatedly explained, have failed to get the support of the majority of parliament. The same is true of all the other blocs.

    There is nothing in the constitution that forces one bloc to back the other. So if you can’t get one bloc to support you then you need to get other blocs to support you until you reach a majority. No one has managed to do this. This isn’t Maliki’s fault, it’s everyone’s fault.

  16. SK said


    You said: “With the Kurds inside, Iran is a little stronger”.

    I wanted to ask how it came to pass that the Kurds, once seem as doing the USs bidding in Iraq, who enjoy virtual autonomy came to be so influenced by Iran. How did the US allow this to happen? Negligence or have the Kurds simply opened up to the reality of post-Saddam Iraq?

    Juan Cole writes the following today in his blog-post:

    “The US military has consistently sided with the Kurds in both military and political affairs, so it is unsurprising that Zebari fears their departure. Without a US protectorate, the Kurds will face Arab Iraq alone.”

    Do you agree with this analysis. How are the Kurds playing the US and Iran simultaneously? Which of the two external powers holds more sway with them?


  17. Ali W said

    Its the constitution’s fault, Iraq is a new democracy whilst the constitution is designed for mature western democracies like the UK were you can get the most seats but can get gazumped by two others forming a government in a short speace of time.

    Iraq needs a process were the President’s position is seperate from the overall package and constitution that either forces another general election if a certain space of time has passed without a government or the party with the most seats get given the go ahead to try to form the government.

  18. Reidar Visser said

    SK, sorry to be so brief right now, but I think the reason for the dualism in Kurdish policy is as follows: In theory, the Kurds wants America to stay forever, but at least some of their politicians realise this is not the policy of the Obama administration. Their second-best bet is apparently to have a partnership with a pro-Iranian alliance based on Shiite sectarian identity, mainly to avert a reversion to what they fear the most: A strong nationalist government in Baghdad. There may be internal regional variations dictated by geography within the Kurdistan region that others know more about: Barzani perhaps leaning more towards Turkey; Talabani more towards Iran etc. But on the whole, secular and nationalist Iraqi politicians seem to identify the Kurds and at least some of the Shiite Islamist factions as Iran’s way of exercising influence in Iraq.

    Ali, again, a too big subject really, but briefly, I think Iraqis would be ill-advised to try to fix the constitution with the left hand and form a government with the right hand, all at the same time. Constitutional revision is needed for sure, but to do everything at the same time is probably not a good idea.

  19. Salah said

    Additionally, the possible new twist in US policy is not one hundred percent unequivocal….a soft variant of the Iranian governing system known as wilayat al-faqih,
    This is not new or out of box now, this was clear from early days in fact after 2005 when Iranians hands let in to do the job for Americans in Iraq.
    I don’t know why this letter triggered you to state this now, Sistani was protected /supported from day one back to the days of Bremer followed by lifted him from Najaf to UK on claims of medical tests!, followed wide and long road of everything goes thorough him includes all Iraqi US poppet politicians also those UN and European mandate in Iraq who keep very close relation with Sistani. the rising of Mullah in Iraq was under the eyes and hand of US initially its not new these days, although they stating they don’t support of “ wilayat al-faqih by claiming they far from Iran Mullah style just fake claims as they most if not all midwife by Iranian, if you surrender / given power to them they you will see their real face without the veil on their ugly faces.
    Barzani perhaps leaning more towards Turkey; Talabani more towards Iran etc.
    This is due to historical untrusted relations between the two.

    the Federal Court issuing a string of unanimous decisions thus demonstrating itself as “lacking of actual governance”. Your criticism regarding governance is important but when the Federal Court could not defend the constitution
    The Federal Court failed to carry their duty correctly/ professionally in many case so the court lost that stand to defend in question Iraqi constitution.

  20. Salah said

    the Kurds wants America to stay forever, ??

    السومرية نيوز/ بغدادأعتبر القيادي في التحالف الكردستاني محمود عثمان، الجمعة، أن بقاء القوات الأميركية في العراق بعد موعد انسحابها المقرر في 2011 لن تكون فيه أي ضمانة أو حماية للأكراد، وأكد في الوقت نفسه أن بقاء هذه القوات سيزيد تعقيد المشاكل العراقية، محملا في الوقت نفسه الجانب الأمريكي المسؤولية في تقصيره بتسليح وتدريب القوات العراقية.
    وقال عثمان في حديث لـ”السومرية نيوز”، إن “على الحكومة العراقية والكتل السياسية العمل على تشكيل الحكومة المقبلة بأسرع وقت وتهيئة الجيش العراقي والقوات الأمنية لتحل محل القوات الأمريكية، وتنفيذ الاتفاقية الأمنية، وعدم الربط بين مسألة تشكيل الحكومة وبقاء القوات الأمريكية”، مؤكداً أن “هذا هو السبيل الأفضل للعراق للخروج من أزماته ومنها السياسية”.
    وأَوضح عثمان أن “الجانب العراقي قد لا يكون جاهزاً تماماً لملئ الفراغ الأمني بعد خروج القوات الأمريكية نهاية الشهر الحالي”، محملاً بذلك “الجانب الأمريكي المسؤولية في تقصيره بتسليح وتدريب القوات العراقية بالشكل الذي يجعلها قادرة على اخذ مكانها”.

  21. bb said

    Feisal Kadri seems stuck on the idea that just because Iraqiyya emerged as the largest bloc it is therefore entitled to form the goverrnment.

    This is not how it works. The only entitlement Iraqiyya has is to ATTEMPT to form the government. This is what it has been doing behind the scenes for the last 7 months, without success.

    If it can’t form the government, someone else will, or the status quo will remain.

    I think Khalizad (Mosa’s) outcome is the most likely and the most satisfactory. Alternatively the maitenance of the status quo – Maliki’s existing coalition. Both options would at least have the support of the 70% Iraqis who do not want – Sadrists in the government or ISCI playing a major role.

    It should be recognised that the spoilers in this whole saga has been INA. They refuse to recognise an Allawi led government, and refuse to recognise a Maliki-led government, thereby making govt-formation impossible.

  22. Salah said

    The only entitlement Iraqiyya has is to ATTEMPT to form the government. This is what it has been doing behind the scenes for the last 7 months, without success…. someone else will, or the status quo will remain.

    It’s not just “Iraqiyya” failed to form government, similarly and miserably all other parties failed to do so . Other parties proven been not well organized and haven’t the ability to form a bigger block, you don’t need to talk about the Iraqiyya at all here by putting all the blame on them.

  23. bb said

    Salah. If it were not for INA, and in particular the Sadrists, then Maliki would have been able to form a government months ago. It might not have been the govt you want, or Iraqiyya wants or Faisal wants but it would have been a democratically elected govt that commanded a majority on the floor of the parliament and therefore had majority electoral support.

    Sadrists and INA at the behest and probably direction of Iran are the one’s holding the formation of a functioning govt to ransom: waiting for the US withdrawal to reactivate the Mahdi army and probably the Badrist militias as well. That much is very obvious by now.

  24. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, just a detail, Maliki would still need to form a bigger bloc/kutla to be PM. Either with Iraqiyya (the most plausible scenario), or even with Unity of Iraq, though the latter might prompt counter-kutlas, say, INA and the Kurds.

  25. bb said

    Sure. But if it hadn’t been for Sadrists and ISCI blocking Maliki would have formed a govt by now of the shia parties, plus kurds, Tawa etc – very similar to his previous govt.

  26. Salah said

    You may not get my point here, it’s not Allawi nor Maliki or others, they are not convincing each others to form big block.

    Please don’t play here Iranian matter, Malaki/Da’awa1, Ja’afrai Da’awa2 and Sadrists and ISCI all are the Iranians spoiled boys no matter what they say and talk , Iranian all along playing their ugly game with Americans and Iraqis.

    The point is most those you called them ” a democratically elected ” they are not up to the job and responsibilities as governmental officials they are more thuggish, greed militia guys using all means to play with time as long as they could. So far we are near one year to pass after the election that means the next government will have 3 years to sty if they make the government soon.

    Bb, did you hear or read recent Power cut which triggered some demonstrations now the government/officials put the blame on the Iraqis, do you believe this?

    This is for Reidar with the Iranian Sistani and the wilayat al-faqih

    وهكذا فأن فكرة ( ولاية الفقيه ) لاترقى بأي حال من الاحوال الى تلك الفلسفة من حيث ان ليس لها القدرة على التعامل مع الواقع المتطور والنصوص بالصورة المذكورة أعلاه

    أما من الناحية الدستورية , فأن فكرة( ولاية الفقيه) وان كانت منسجمة مع نصوص الدستور الايراني, فأنها لاتتواءم مع نصوص الدستور العراقي , الذي يفترض أنه قائم على المبدأ الديمقراطي ولو يصورة نظرية

    اضافة الى ذلك , فيحدثنا التاريخ عن قيام دول شيعية , سبق وان استلمت السلطة , دون ان تكون بحاجة الى تلك الفكرة , كما هو الحال في الدولتين الفاطمية والصفوية , ولا أجد نفسي ملزما هنا لتقييم تلك الدولتين وفيما اذا كانتا شيعيتين أم لا

    وختاما أقول , ان استلام السلطة وخدمة الشعب لايكون بفكرة ( ولاية الفقيه ) بل بالمباديء التي تحقق العدالة وتحقق سعادة الانسان كأنسان , بجانبيه المادي والمعنوي , في زمانه ومكانه , واذا تم ذلك فسيرضى علينا الله سبحانه وتعالى وكل الانبياء والاولياء وال البيت والائمة والصالحين وكل الانسانية

    رحم الله شهداء العراق وأسكنهم فسيح جناته .. اللهم امين الى يوم الدين

  27. Thaqalain said

    Within 3 days , signals coming from clergy and cutoff of negotiations b/w Iraqiyah/SLA shows some breakthrough is on the way in next few days.


    Iraq looks to Shiite leader for a way out of political crisis
    Clerics close to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani have warned that he and the country’s three other grand ayatollahs could soon intervene.

    A spokeswoman for Iraqiya, Maysoon al-Damluji, said the bloc stopped negotiations with Maliki’s State of Law after he described Allawi’s group as Sunni, rather than cross-sectarian.

    “We demand that he apologises, not to Iraqiya but to the supporters of Iraqiya who voted for a national project and not a sectarian one,”

    Damluji said.

    Intisar Allawi, a senior Iraqiya official, said more than 26 of its 91 elected lawmakers were Shi’ite, as was Iyad Allawi himself.

    “So why does he call us a Sunni bloc? This is an insult,”

    she said.

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