Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for October 3rd, 2010

First Reactions to the Maliki Nomination

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 3 October 2010 18:29

Gradually the dust is beginning to settle after Friday’s somewhat abrupt nomination by the all-Shiite, theoretically 159-man National Alliance (NA) of Nuri al-Maliki as premier candidate for the next government. For months there had been discussion of consensus procedures, with intricate formulas involving 80% and then 65% agreement in a committee of so-called “wise men”. In the end, Maliki was simply adopted by acclamation by the parties that were present at the final meeting – basically the three Daawa factions (including Jaafari), the Sadrists, the Iraqi National Congress (Ahmad Chalabi), and Hadi al-Ameri of the Badr brigades. The only NA factions that had no representatives present were the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and Fadila.

The exact position of ISCI/Badr (18 seats) remains unclear: ISCI is still publicly negative to Maliki, but some in Badr are showing a willingness to preserve the NA at any cost. Similar tendencies apply to Fadila (6 seats), which however today announced that it remains part of NA. The Kurds are obviously signalling great interest in developments: Due to the defections from NA they are now needed to form the government and thus finally achieve the kingmaker position they have been seeking from the start but which was always going to be secondary to the triangular struggle between the two Shiite blocs and Iraqiyya. Positive noises have also come from some in Tawafuq, whereas Unity of Iraq – which was once closer to Maliki – recently said they preferred his defeated rival, Adel Abd al-Mahdi of ISCI.

Most interesting, of course, is the reaction of Iraqiyya, which lately has promised to never take part in a government led by Nuri al-Maliki. The first element of their response strategy is positive: It consists of building an parliamentary alternative to State of Law by reaching out to ISCI, Fadila, Unity of Iraq and possibly Tawafuq. Few other things than hatred of Maliki bring these groups together, but this kind of alliance would at least signify some kind of Iraqi reaction against developments where Iranian pressure on the Sadrists to accept Maliki as their new PM favourite seems to have been a key factor – and in the case of ISCI would also mean some kind of definitive Iraqization after a long period of close coordination with Iran. Together, these parties might be able to convince the Kurds that there could be advantages in keeping Iran at an arm’s length in the coming period, although the Kurds are probably equally interested in concessions related to more local demands concerning Kirkuk and oil.

The other aspect of the Iraqiyya reaction, unfortunately, is amateurish and childish in the extreme. It involves a challenge to the legality of the new incarnation of the National Alliance based on the withdrawal of ISCI and Fadila after the first meeting of parliament!

واعتبر المتحدث باسم العراقية حيدر الملا مساء الجمعة أن “موضوع الكتلة النيابية الأكبر (في إشارة إلى كتلة التحالف الوطني) قد انتهى بانسحاب المجلس الأعلى وحزب الفضيلة .

وقال الملا ان ” اتفاق ائتلاف دولة القانون والصدريين على ترشيح المالكي بمثابة وثيقة تثبت انتهاء التحالف الوطني

What this does is essentially two things: Firstly, with it, Iraqiyya implicitly agrees with the concept of post-election bloc formation to which it has objected so strenuously ever since the federal supreme court explicitly enabled it when the results of the 7 March elections were announced. Secondly, Iraqiyya is making up the rules. The truth is, there are no laws governing kutla (bloc) formation and kutla secession which can take place whenever and wherever the parties themselves want: In this matter, it is the president that designates the nominee of the “biggest bloc” that will effectively serve as the constitutional court. It is pretty obvious that parties may be allowed to secede from NA just in the same ways that they seceded from Tawafuq in the previous parliament (and in the same way that Fadila and ISCI might join Iraqiyya if they so desired). Just like in the case of the videotapes of early constitutional committee meetings, Iraqiyya is wasting its time and pursuing a dead end in this case; it would probably gain more from the other, bloc-building strategy.

But as ever, the most hopeless reaction is from the Obama administration. Even after Maliki’s candidature had been announced, it managed to reiterate a desire for all four blocs coming together in a single government – but at the same time indicated concern about having the Sadrists in a kingmaker role! When will Washington realise that as long as the premier comes from the entity called NA, it is impossible to not have the Sadrists in a kingmaker role? The main cleavage inside the NA is between Maliki and Hakim (and not between Maliki/Hakim and the Sadrists, as per the USG utopia) so whoever wants to emerge victorious within the NA setting will need the support of the Sadrists, period. Only the alternatives of Iraqiyya and State of Law forming a government of their own (now increasingly unlikely) or the new alternative of Iraqiyya joining in a bloc with NA defectors, Unity of Iraq and Tawafuq (if the Kurds agree) would constitute true alternatives to NA and the concomitant Sadrist kingmaker role.

The next important question is whether the Kurds agree to start a parliamentary process of selecting the president, speaker and PM candidate right away or whether they prefer to embark on comprehensive negotiations with Maliki (and any competing bloc) prior to the resumption of the parliamentary process.

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Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues, UIA dynamics | 24 Comments »