Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

24 Responses to “First Reactions to the Maliki Nomination”

  1. JWing said

    I think you have consistently gotten U.S. policy wrong on formation of a new government. For example you wrote,

    “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).”

    From what I’ve read the U.S. wanted to keep BOTH the Supreme Council and Sadrists out of government, by having Maliki and Allawi share power, which is what you have been pinning for since the beginning. The coalition would also include the Kurds, and probably the smaller parties.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Jwing, that is probably the impression you may get in the newspapers but not if you talk to officials of the Obama administration. Apparently, they never seriously thought of excluding ISCI. Rest assured that I have investigated this point in detail given that, as you say, I have (or had) a certain predilection for the Iraqiyya-State of Law scheme. That scheme was never on the cards in the bilateral form, only as a first step towards a four-party coalition. In fact, just a few weeks ago, Amb Hill publicly (MSNBC) confirmed he expected the NA to form the govt.

  3. observer said

    Reidar, I agree with you on Hyder al Mulla!!! He does not represent that thinking of the leadership, but there is certainly too much noise and so many news outlets that it is not possible to figure out who is who. I have been told that only Masyoon Damalooji is authorize to speak officially on behalf of the leadership of Iraqiyya and note that she has been silent the last couple of days.

    Barzani is the key and I am keeping my fingers crossed that Hakim and Barzani will stick by Iraqiyya. Here is my preferred scinario. Talabani gets elected president. He gives the right to form the government to Iraqiyya block – Iraqiyya will then give the PMship to Abdul Mahdi as part of a larger coalition that puts together Iraqiyya/ISCI/Fadhiela and Kurds (i.e. >163 parliamentary block. This will preserve the idea that the largest block gets to form the government not the largest winning block. Recall that if we stick with the largest winning block, then in the future there will always be a super she3a alliance to preserve the “largest winning block” ,

    That is an unintended consequence of constitutional court “decision”. It has made it important that in the next elections we have a super block that not only has SHe3a, but sunnies and Kurds (an all Iraqi party list). Then we can see an “Islamist” block and a secular block fighting for the parliament. Islamists (she3a and sunna) will have to stick together and Seculars (including Kurds) will have to stick together. we may have a working democracy in 8 years with a two party system!!!

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, I like that optimistic vision. One minor quibble is about Abd al-Mahdi. Note that the right to be the PM nominee is given to a “candidate of a bloc”, rather than to a bloc to do with the nomination as it sees fit. So in order to clinch the nomination, Abd al-Mahdi would have to be the candidate of Iraqiyya (or, alternatively, of the super-bloc you envisage):
    مرشح الكتلة النيابية الاكثر عدداً

  5. observer said

    good point reidar. So the current meetings have to yield a super bloc and declare that Mahdi is the candidate of the bloc and then that bloc can be the core for the future Iraqiyya list running for elections both locally and federally. How great would that be. Chalabi defeated at his own game !!!!

  6. Thaqalain said

    So are things settled or still Al-Maliki’s nomination can be forced to overthrow due to jumping defectors!

  7. Reidar Visser said

    Things are very far from being settled. Even at the formal level, Maliki would have to be formally appointed as a candidate by parliament after the president had been selected. He would then have the task of putting together his government within a month. Only at that point would there be a decisive vote in parliament.

    As I have indicated earlier, additional hiccups are to be expected since the Kurdish demands are likely to be very high, which may slow down things and lead to other scenarios being considered and perhaps all of them disintegrating in the end, with a need for reshuffling the cards again.

  8. Kermanshahi said

    I don’t think the Iranians pressured Sadr to accept al-Maliki, they hate him. What ISCI has been doing, most of all represents the Iranian Regime’s position.

    Personally I see this as bad news, it’s a pitty Sadr was willing to so easily accept a Maliki Prime Ministership while there were still plenty better options. He backed down to early and basicly ruined the whole INA plan. But on the other hand, I don’t see how a parliamentary majority is going to accept him as PM. ISCI doesn’t want him, Fadilah doesn’t, Iraqiyya doesn’t, Tawafuq doesn’t and the chances of the Kurds joining the government of anti-Kurdish Maliki and Shahristani, while their only friend inside it (ISCI) left seems quite small.

    But if the Kurds do join, than Maliki is in. The main issue here is, what will he put first, his hunger for power, or his ideals. If he wants to become PM so desperetly he’ll give the Kurds Kerkuk (and the other disputed areas), he’s in for good, and he can do this since Iraqiyya isn’t part of the government and most of the NA isn’t very much against this. But will he? Cause basicly he’ll be selling out by doing so.

  9. Reidar Visser said

    Kermanshahi, I think there have been signs during September that the Iranian position on Maliki shifted quite dramatically, including a public statement by Ali al-Adib, I think, that they had secured Iranian backing for him. The original Iranian plan may have been someone from INA like Jaafari or Abd al-Mahdi but it seems they got concerned when Iraqiyya and Maliki were briefly discussing “taqasum” (carving up the cake) during the summer and shifted their bets as a consequence.

    The alliance between Maliki and Sadr really is so illogical after all that happened between 2008 and today that it is quite difficult not to see some kind of “invisible hand” at work.

  10. Kermanshahi said

    Reidar, Allawi has already said he was willing to accept an INA Prime Minister, this is exactly what the Iranians wanted, what happened now will be only counterproductive. If the whole ISCI and Fadhila blocs leave al-Maliki’s “Shi’a alliance” will be left with a mere 135 seats. Meanwhile if ISCI and Tawafuq now join al-Iraqiyya, ISCI can get the Kurds (which will get the Christians) and al-Tawafuq which means they will have between 172 and 178 seats (depending on if Fadhila joins). Unlike in the previous plan for INM-INA-CKL alliance, this time al-Iraqiyya will have such overweight, they will most likely have the PM position and the government will have at best 43 Shi’a against 140 Sunni (something the Iranians won’t be to thrilled about) and than there’s the question: will it last? This time there is no major chance any elements of the NA will defect to their side, there is however a major chance that in dispute between the Kurds and hardcore Arab Nationalist/Ba’athist, Sunni secterianist and Turkmen elements of Iraqiyya, either the Kurds (or some of them) or some of these Iraqiyya elements, will leave.

    If al-Maliki does manage to form a government, I don’t have much trust eitehr. He is a backstabber, he used the Sadrists to gain power in the UIA against ISCI, than used ISCI and Badr to crush the Sadrists (which were even left out the government) only to use Arab Nationalists to expell ISCI from almost every single provincial council, several months later and than another half-year later he biggest campaigner for a candidate ban on Arab Nationalist candidates and parties, becoming their biggest enemy. For the last 2 years he went against the Kurds to please the Sunnis, how he’s attempting to go the other way round?
    I think that if this government forms, eventually there will be problems between al-Maliki and al-Sadr and between al-Maliki and the Kurds. Sadr has left his government before and I think if this government is formed, it is more than likely he will leave it again, at worst, even a new armed conflict can start. By the time al-Maliki has secured his position as Prime Minister, he won’t care about the Sadrists or the Kurds anymore. If he plays his cards correctly, he can rule effectively without giving any of his allies what they want, if he doesn’t, his government will collapse and in 4 years time both Massoud Barzani and Muqtada al-Sadr (particulary the latter) will deeply regret what they did.

  11. Reidar Visser said

    So Kermanshahi what would be your next step if you were
    a.) Masud Barzani?
    b.) Jalal Talabani?

  12. Kermanshahi said

    For both, there is only really one option, that is wait and see who gives them the best offer. Now in Kurdish demands there is a minimun ofcourse, if neither are offering enough, don’t join any government. It would slow the government formation down another few months, eventually both Maliki and Allawi, afraid the other one might become Prime Minister, will give a better offer.

    But depsite ideological differentces, I would prefer joining Allawi’s alliance with ISCI and Tawafuq, than Maliki’s alliance with Sadr and Jaafari. If Allawi and ISCI can persuade more radical elements of al-Iraqiyya to accept a Kerkuk referendu, than join. If they can’t, but al-Maliki offers it, than join him.

    It all comes down to, what is more important to al-Maliki, power or ideology and what is more important to Iraqiyya, getting rid of Maliki and running the new government, or their feud with the Kurds. But the biggest loser will be Sadr, regardless of who forms the government.

  13. Jason said

    Kermanshahi, the things that you complain about Maliki, defying the narrow interests of groups (ISCI’s allegiance to Iran, Sadr’s mafia rule, the Kurds’ separatist designs) are exactly the reasons that he is acceptable to those of us that want someone that can hold Iraq together as a single nation.

    Many have posted about how Maliki has alienated every group in Iraq, but that is needed, to an extent, to prevent the country from splintering apart.

  14. Kermanshahi said

    Jason, opinions differ, some believe the straight lines in the desert that European imperialsts drew without any knowledge about or interest for the region in which they did so (and this happened all over the world and applies to many nations across the world) are holy and should be preserved no matter the cost (which thus far, has been milions and milions of people world wide), some don’t.

    Now it is clear that Sunnis and Shi’a Arabs want to be together in one unified state, even if it is an artificial one, but the Kurds don’t. If soomething can be worked out, it is fine. But to have an opressor hold such nations together by force, may his name by Saddam Hussein or Nouri al-Maliki, is just wrong.

  15. Jason,
    You are giving Maliki more than he deserves and totally ignoring his stepping over due process. Almost all Iraqi politicians except the Kurds do not want Iraq to disintegrate. Can Maliki stop a possible confrontation with the Kurds over their maximalist ambitions? I don’t think so. Can Allawi? Probably yes.

  16. Reidar Visser said

    Kermanshahi, don’t expect much airplay on this blog for comments featuring the unsubstantiated cliche that Iraq is somehow “artificial”. Yes, it is used by uninformed journalists, amateur historians and armchair generalists all the time, but that does not mean it has any empirical basis. You may be interested in the following article I wrote, “Proto-Political Conceptions of ‘Iraq’ in Late Ottoman Times”, International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies, vol. 3 no. 2, autumn 2009. Here is the abstract:

    This article criticises the so-called “artificiality paradigm” concerning the emergence of the modern state on Iraq, according to which the kingdom of Iraq that came into being in 1921 was nothing but a random collection of Ottoman provinces that had little in common. Based on documents from the late Ottoman period, the article shows that the opposite appears to be the case: In many ways, the modern state of Iraq had regional antecedents that predated the British invasion in 1914. The article shows that for long periods before 1914 there existed a pattern of administrative centralisation of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul under Baghdad as a paramount regional capital, that this regional entity was often described as “Iraq” in administrative and diplomatic correspondence, and that the local inhabitants often referred to Iraq in a patriotic sense.

    Anyway, let’s get back to the coalition-forming dynamics please. There is no escaping the fact that so far Kurdish reactions to Maliki have been positive, with even Barham Saleh describing the nomination as a positive step this morning. That’s certainly a contrast to the rejections by Iraqiyya and ISCI, but it seems to be in sync with Washington which elected to describe the nomination as positive even when it it simply could have chosen to shut up for the sake of greater neutrality!

  17. Reidar, Observer,

    What do you make of the below article. Is an Iraqiya-SoL coalition still on the table, and perhaps more importantly, why would Sadr want such an arrangement when it weakens his position?

  18. Reidar Visser said

    Mahmoud [note that there is a problem with your URL; please send it to me if you want me to add it; WordPress just says it has been “deleted”]

    This is interesting but I think Washington ignores several important points:
    -Iraqiyya resistance to Maliki the person.
    -The challenges involved in buttressing the presidency which would need constitutional reform and hence a special-majority vote in parliament OR a referendum.
    -The idea that Maliki will overtly exclude anyone (Iraqiyya) is probably a straw man. They will be invited; the question is, will they join under the terms proposed?
    -Talabani is probably not letting the presidency go easily.
    -The idea that Sadr/Iran should be the guarantor of Allawi’s enhanced power versus Maliki strikes me as somewhat Pollyannaish and may be based on a unreliable source.

    Washington still keeps hammering on about the four-party scenario (note that this is not a bilateral Iraqiyya-SLA deal; it is rapprochement between the two as a prelude to the formation of a more comprehensive government). To me the Iraqi realities look more like two government alternatives battling for Kurdish support, with the likely marginalisation (or fragmentation) of at least one of the four winning lists.

  19. Hasan said

    Hi Reidar,
    I don’t think (back to what observer said about the big all secular and all islamic parties) that he lives in this region… because he didn’t notice that the political division here is not about Ideas… its about political choices. he didn’t know that (Hizbullah, Micheal Own (too mush secular), Syrian Baathists, Islamic brotherhood of Hamas) is gathering in one front against (Hariri, Lebanese forces, Islamic Brotherhood of libanon, Baathists of Iraq, Saudi Arabia)…
    I think that the political choices is pretty much stronger than Ideology..
    If it was an Ideological problem it would be a lot easier to deal with. as shiite culture used to say (poeple always is divided into two parties Housain party and Yazeed party).
    For example, Is it possible to have Kurds agree on what Osama Alnojayfi does and become allies in Mosel just because he agrees with them in separating religion from government and they have a lot more in common with him than they have with ISCI or SOL.

  20. observer said

    Hasan – dude . I was expressing a “future” possible mode of survival of democracy. Be that as it may, you don’t want to believe what i have to say, then fine by me. Reidar knows who I am 😉 and what I do…

    Now back to the washington post article. All I am allowed to say at this point is that the battle has just been joined. All the stuff over the past thee to six months has been preliminary skirmishes. Everything and every possibility is being discussed. One thing I will not waver on, Barzani and Allawi are the key and they have to keep hakim immune to Iranian pressure. Talabani will undermine Allawi, any chance he gets. We may very well end up with Da3wa still part of the government, but I will say that it is quite possible that Sadir’s move has poisoned the well in DC and they are finally waking up to the fact that Maliki may not be their best of worse choices. But for now, they are busy with the elections in the US, and the dance in Baghdad will continue for another three or four months (i wish I were joking on this one!). Maybe, jsut maybe the only thing that would force a faster dance is the issue of the budget !

  21. Kermanshahi said

    So Reidar, you are saying the preserving of some administrative division of Ottoman times (which roughly coincides with modern day Iraq) is worth the loss of milions of lives? And that this is infact so valuable that milions of people (Kurds) should be forced (literally, by force) to be part of it against their will? Well I don’t share that view.

  22. Reidar Visser said

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that anyone needs to go to war. In fact, Kermanshahi, you are one of the few on this forum who constantly threaten with wars and violence. Your leaders seem more eager to somehow remain part of the Iraqi chaos, for better or worse.

    So let’s get back to the government-formation stuff. I’m surprised that you should appear to be in such a bellicose mode when after all the Kurds have seen a marked strengthening of their position during the last few days!

  23. Kermanshahi said

    I threatened to go to war? Am I a military leader? I’m not even in Iraq, how should I go to war there? I was not the one who said we should go to war to cleans Baghdad of all “rejectionists,” it happened though… I was just warning with what will happen if some of the selfish policies of certain groups get pushed through. In a country like Iraq, which is already unstable and were such large portions of people are armed, if anyone’s rights are violated it will result in bloodshed.

    In this case I wasn’t even particulary talking about what could happen but mainly about what has happened (in order to preserve Iraqi unity) and what is happening right now. The post-invasion insurgency and secterian war killed a milion people, another milion were murderd by Saddam’s regime in what were mostly ethnic and secterian conflicts.
    Many of you claim that keeping Iraq 1 nation is the top priority and no matter how many lives are lost the state must be preserved. What I am saying is: why actually? Why is such state worth more than the opinion of the people themselfes and why is it worth more than 2 milion human lives?

  24. Michael Knights said

    Dear all,

    a fascinating discussion with some memorable passages.

    Kermanshahi – the below paragraph was quite delightful. Very well written.

    “He [Maliki] is a backstabber, he used the Sadrists to gain power in the UIA against ISCI, than used ISCI and Badr to crush the Sadrists (which were even left out the government) only to use Arab Nationalists to expell ISCI from almost every single provincial council, several months later and than another half-year later he biggest campaigner for a candidate ban on Arab Nationalist candidates and parties, becoming their biggest enemy. For the last 2 years he went against the Kurds to please the Sunnis, how he’s attempting to go the other way round?”

    Political scientists say that there is often a role for the man who is “equally distrusted by everybody.” Maliki would seem to fit that requirement perfectly 🙂

    In talking to Iraqis with good political instincts over the last few days, I have been repeatedly told two things:

    1) Don’t count your chickens. The situation may still change again, turning against Maliki. See my closing comments below.

    2) Don’t overestimate the importance of personal animus against Maliki within the other factions: even members from the Kurdish, Sadrist and Iraqiyah lists privately accept that Maliki has the “habit of leadership” essential to rule Iraq and that he has done some impressive things since 2008. He is not, perhaps, the worst option for many of them.

    I think the first point – that it is not over yet – has been noted in the comments on this page. From my perspective, Maliki enters treacherous ground: can he trust Talabani to stick with him if Mam Jalal is re-appointed as president? What happens once the 30-day clock is ticking? That’s a lot of time to un-pick a Maliki-Sadrist-Kurdish alliance, and I bet it’s going to go to the wire (Day 28?) The leverage of Maliki’s allies increases the closer they get to a collapse of his first (and probably only) shot at government formation – why would they hurry? Likewise, why would he hurry to get speakers, president and prime ministerial nomination up and running? Better to pre-negotiate and then do as many votes as possible in one or two sittings?

    Would be interested in how the fellows of this board see the time line and sequencing unfolding in the coming months.



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