Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for November 8th, 2010

Back to Baghdad

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 8 November 2010 14:56

The much-touted Arbil summit that took place earlier today as part of the “Barzani intiative” turned out to be a relatively brief event. Political leaders arrived from Baghdad in the morning, held a brief televised meeting dominated by boilerplate speeches on national unity and respect for the constitution, and decided to resume talking again tomorrow afternoon in Baghdad.

Beyond the nice talk about a “partnership government” there are two competing tendencies in motion here. On the one hand, Nuri al-Maliki seems focused on Thursday’s meeting in parliament at which he hopes to secure his own nomination as prime minister for a second term. In his view, all that is needed is agreement on the three major posts of prime minister, president and speaker of parliament. Based on his latest political moves, one would assume that he is aiming for himself as prime minister, Jalal Talabani for president and maybe someone from the new “Centrist” coalition of Tawafuq and Unity of Iraq as speaker, unless someone from Iraqiyya should signal their interest. This kind of scheme is sometimes labelled as a “political-majority” project, but that is misleading since it is based on an ethno-sectarian alliance full of ideological contradictions (on issues like state structure, federalism etc.). These issues would have been more pronounced had it not been for the invisible hand of Iran and its role in holding the alliance together.

On the other hand, Iraqiyya, apparently with increasing American support, is aiming for a power-sharing deal in which Ayad Allawi would obtain the presidency with enhanced powers. The main problem here is the constitution, which demands a special majority decision in parliament for this kind of constitutional change, to be followed by a popular referendum. Even if the other parties agreed on giving a beefed-up presidency to Iraqiyya, no one would know for sure whether the powers of the presidency would actually change until after a referendum some time in 2011.

The interesting aspect in all of this is the position of the Kurds. In theory, they could have picked a winner in the discussion; instead they seem to go on talking. Today they contributed an agenda reportedly consisting of 13 disputed points, including constitutional reform and revisiting the accountability and justice law! Evidently, they are fearful that Maliki is giving them empty promises and for that reason they would probably prefer to have ISCI and Iraqiyya inside the government to make it as polycephalous as possible. Their dilemma is that whereas this kind of posture may play well with Washington, it is disliked by Iran. Additionally, as time passes by, there is also the danger of growing revulsion against the extensive Kurdish demands for taking part in the government. The longer time this takes, the greater the likelihood of some kind of showdown in a sensitive area of policy, say, about who should be oil minister.

To Washington, this is a situation with no good alternatives. If it supports an early meeting of parliament, it will get the Shiite–Kurdish government that Iran has been working for. If it supports the Iraqiyya alternative, it may not get a new government at all anytime soon. Certainly, resolving all the issues between Iraqiyya and Maliki within three days seems unrealistic. Arguably, then, by continuing to lull Iraqiyya into constitutionally problematic scenarios, the Obama administration is becoming a spoiler in the Iraqi government-formation process against its own will. But since it never supported the viable alternative of a Maliki–Allawi coalition and instead pressed for a scenario which involves government formation and constitutional change at the same time, there really are no good alternatives either. The fear is that over coming months, the US government will spend most of its Middle East energies on partitioning Sudan and that once more, Iraq will get back-burnered.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 17 Comments »