Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for October 13th, 2010

Three Competing Paths to the Next Iraqi Government

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 13 October 2010 15:36

Today, there are apparently three races going on in the struggle to form the next Iraqi government.

Firstly, there is the Maliki project. This is based on his recent success – apparently with a little help from Iran and the Sadrists – in strong-arming parts of the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) to accept him as the premier candidate for an all-Shiite National Alliance (NA) that also has the backing of Maliki’s own list State of Law (SLA). Quantifying the exact level of support for Maliki among non-Sadrist INA deputies is an inexact science, but it is thought that he has got at least the 89 SLA deputies, the 40 Sadrists plus Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Ahmad Chalabi on his side – which would bring the total number to a minimum of 131. On top of this, Maliki is obvious angling for the support of the Kurdish parties (58), which would easily bring him above the magical 163 mark required to have a majority in parliament. Additionally, it seems clear that Maliki is also hoping to lure a new coalition between Unity of Iraq and Tawafuq  into his coalition (10 deputies altogether with promises of more), in order to serve a symbolic “Sunni representation”. Importantly, even though Maliki is clearly trying to satisfy the Kurds when it comes to their long list of demands for supporting a government, he is not particularly positive to the idea of making constitutional changes (such as limiting the powers of the premier) as a basis for government formation. Still, it is noteworthy that the project involves two “regional” kingmakers: The Sadrists with Iranian support, and the Kurds and perhaps especially Jalal Talabani, again with an apparent nod from Iran.

Second there is the Allawi project. This appears to consist of a competing path to hit the 163 mark: First building a coalition between Iraqiyya and as many INA breakaway elements from the NA as possible plus Tawafuq and Unity of Iraq; then convincing the Kurds that this kind of coalition would be favourable compared to a deal with Maliki. Again there is the problem of estimating exactly how many NA deputies can be trusted to join: ISCI including Badr account for around 18 deputies (19 with “Hizbollah in Iraq” which is also part of this family), Fadila have six, and one Shaykhi deputy from Basra is reportedly leaning in this direction too. That would add up to around  26 on top of the 91 Iraqiyya deputies, thus 117 and still some way to go to catch up with Maliki, and there is the added insecurity about what the Badr representatives (and “Hizbollah in Iraq”) would ultimately do if it came to a vote: All of the ISCI-affiliated parties were traditionally close to Iran, and whilst the current level of protest against what appears to be increasing Iranian support for Maliki is unprecedented, many commentators still believe that  ultimately some of these elements will fall back into the NA fold. The latest twist relating to this project is the apparent willingness of Ayyad Allawi to let Adel Abd al-Mahdi of INA/ISCI be the premier candidate in a move that could perhaps make this kind of alternative more attractive to the Kurds, and might also serve to compensate for the inability of Iraqiyya to meet Kurdish demands on oil and Kirkuk (which would bring them into trouble with their own electorate). Still, one should probably not discount entirely the idea of a more straightforward Iraqiyya-led government under Ayad Allawi as at least a theoretical possibility. It is interesting, too, that if carried out the reported threat by the Kurdish Goran list to withdraw from the Kurdish coalition in protest against the electoral law for the Kurdistan provincial elections next year would create yet another medium-sized bloc in parliament potentially open for grabs for would-be premier candidates.

It is important to note that both these projects are competitive. Each of them pays lip service to the idea of all wining blocs eventually joining, but it seems perfectly clear that in reality the Maliki alternative will marginalise Iraqiyya and the Allawi alternative will marginalise State of Law: The “invitation” to their main opponent to join is mostly tongue in cheek. By way of contrast, the Americans still seem to be hoping that all the original four big winning blocs – Iraqiyya, SLA, INA and the Kurds – will somehow eventually get together in a single coalition to form the next government, preferrably without the Sadrists in a too-dominant role. In this third approach to government formation, the Americans are actually raising the threshold in more than one way. Firstly, a four-way agreement is logically speaking more difficult to achieve than a three-way one. Secondly, and this has perhaps not received the attention it deserves, almost all American proposals on the subject of government formation seems to involve simultaneous measures of constitutional reform, since redefining the powers of the presidency now appears to be an aim after the initial failure to resuscitate the dormant Iraqi national security council as a way of appeasing Iraqiyya. Constitutional reform, in turn, can be achieved in one of two ways in Iraq: Either under the transitional article 142 of the constitution, according to which a single batch of changes can be approved by an absolute majority of parliament (163) but then would need popular approval in a popular referendum where a two-thirds majority against the changes in any three governorates can torpedo the whole project. Alternatively the changes can be passed with a two-thirds majority in parliament (216), to be confirmed in a general referendum,  this time with no special-majority requirements.

The more general point is this: Any government-formation involving constitutional reform is risky and potentially time-consuming business. If the route to constitutional reform under article 142 is chosen one needs to remember that the Iraqis have been working on this package of reforms since 2007 without being able to agree on it. The other alternative, however, involves a special majority in parliament of 216. The question then is, even if Washington should succeed in pushing for a move that would strengthen the presidency to such an extent that it becomes attractive to Iraqiyya, is it not likely that Iran would seek to introduce counter-measures if it felt threatened? It would then need only 109 deputies on its side to derail the whole project and everything would be back to square one. Have we already forgotten what happened in Iraq in February and March this year, when almost the entire Iraqi system succumbed to the pressures from Iran and Ali al-Lami, the great de-Baathification leader? And then of course, there would be the long wait for confirmation in a referendum and the concomitant risk involved for the party that is banking on an empowered presidency: What if the referendum disapproves of the changes and the presidency remains in its current form, with symbolic powers only? Clearly, it would be unconstitutional and therefore quite impossible to “upgrade” the presidency before any such a move had been approved by the population in a general referendum.

The bottom line is that any government-formation process involving constitutional reform (i.e. the “broadly inclusive” policy of the Obama administration) is likely to take many months, with no realistic prospect for a referendum on the required changes until some time in 2011, at best. For this reason alone, the more straightforward but competitive attempts at acquiring absolute majorities of 163 in parliament seem more realistic in terms of timely government formation in Iraq.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 56 Comments »