Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Contours of a Deal in the Making?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 10 November 2010 11:15

UPDATE 11 November 13:55: The deputies have arrived in parliament but today’s session has been postponed until 6 pm Baghdad time

UPDATE 2, 11 November 16:25: The session has been postponed until 7:30 pm Baghdad time

UPDATE 3, 11 November 16:45: It’s underway now

Reporting on yesterday’s meeting of the political blocs in Baghdad is like reporting on an end-of-the-year high-school prom. Most of what took place consisted of uninteresting formalities; however towards the end of the evening, people that had known about each other for a long time suddenly started to talk seriously. The exact details of what actually happened remain unclear.

Reporting on high-school proms is of course inexact science. Nonetheless, some of the basic facts – like who was there, and who wasn’t – are relatively easy to sort out. To begin with the absentees: Most notably Ayad Allawi and Tariq al-Hashemi of Iraqiyya failed to turn up. Adil Abd al-Mahdi of ISCI left early. But then, around 9:30 PM in the evening or thereabouts, something interesting happened. Most of the delegates adjourned for a break and sweets were served. But Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Rafi al-Eisawi of Iraqiyya went for a closed-door meeting. A little later, Salih al-Mutlak, also of Iraqiyya joined them. The talks between the three went on for maybe an hour and a half.

Today, the rumours of what took place differ wildly. The most extreme reports talk of a breakaway faction in Iraqiyya prepared to work with Maliki. We will not know for sure until we see who turns up at tomorrow’s session of parliament, if that session takes place at all. But at least some pretty interesting broad tendencies are discernable. Those who seem disinclined to go ahead with tomorrow’s meeting and any deal with Maliki right now include Allawi and Hashemi of Iraqiyya plus ISCI, which also today was absent at the meeting in the all-Shiite National Alliance. This is interesting, because these are precisely the figures the Kurds would have preferred to have inside the next government as a counterbalance against Maliki. Nonetheless, despite the absence of these figures, the Kurds seemed committed to continuing the process at the end of the meeting, with a final preparatory meeting scheduled for later today.

The other interesting thing is that Maliki bothers to talk to leaders of Iraqiyya like Salih al-Mutlak and Rafi al-Eisawi. Additional rumours suggest Usama al-Nujayfi could be interested in the speakership. This is not something Maliki is doing at the insistence of the Kurds, Iran or the United States: Mutlak, Eisawi and Nujayfi represent the “domestic” Iraqiyya rather than the leadership that returned from exile in 2003, and include people who are disliked by both the Kurds (for their nationalism) and Iran (for their supposed Baathist connections). As for their relations with the United States, they tend to get a lot less airtime than people like Allawi and Hashemi who are surrounded by professional apparatuses that make communications with Washington easier. To Iran and the Kurds it would have been more convenient with just the new “centrist” alliance (Unity of Iraq plus Tawafuq) constituting symbolic “Sunni inclusion”; to Washington a presidency, however imaginary, for Allawi or Hashemi would seem to satisfy the same requirement.

But to Maliki, people like Mutlak, Eisawi and Nujayfi might perhaps be interesting in a long-term strategy. Whereas he may see Allawi as belonging to the governing council clique of 2003–2004, Mutlak and Nujayfi are among the people he was reaching out to in early 2009 before de-Baathification became a major issue. Unlike Allawi, they seem more focused on specific positions and straightforward portfolios than on convoluted systemic change and complex power-sharing formulas as a requirement for seating the government, and for that reason may be easier to accommodate within the strategy he may have in mind. At the same time, they could offer a potential bastion of support in the future if Maliki wants to make a second try as an Iraqi nationalist, without relying so heavily on the Kurds, the Sadrists and Iran.

For now, though, Maliki needs the Kurds and the Sadrists for coronation purposes. Today he repeated his call for the meeting of parliament tomorrow to go ahead. The big question is how many deputies will heed his call.

32 Responses to “Contours of a Deal in the Making?”

  1. Tore said

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Note that that newswire report was written prior to the key meeting in Bagdhad today, which started less than two hours ago and is still ongoing. The statement by Kazim al-Shammari that he is ready to support Maliki is still interesting.

  3. Kirk Sowell said

    I’ve noticed the Maliki-controlled state television lately emphasizing that a quorum in parliament was just half plus one, to emphasize that those who talk about quorum not being met could be left out in the cold as the train moves on without them.

    The part about elements of Allawi’s bloc wanting to be in the government against Allawi’s preference I certainly believe. A couple of weeks ago when Allawi was trying to circulate a petition to investigate Maliki for torture, as I remember only 55 of his 91 were willing to sign up. And there have been more recent reports that he was pressured to take part for fear of splinters.

    I continue to hold to my theory that ISCI’s recent behavior is mostly theater. They were fine with reelecting Maliki for months after the election, drew the line against him when the Sadrists seemed immovable, and I think got burned because Sadr struck a deal first and got a leg up on them. I think the rest of this is part of their image makeover. I know that is cynical, but there it is.

    If these Allawi allies do join the government, I think especially for Najayfi it will be a short stay; once/if Maliki starts keeping commitments to the Kurds, like the Dec. 5 census with the ethnicity question, they will revolt.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Well, the pro-Allawi people are certainly taking part in today’s meeting, unlike yesterday. A few minutes ago there was even a report that Allawi had accepted the presidency of the much-touted but still pretty mysterious national security council, but I’d like to see that confirmed from somewhere else…

  5. Kermanshahi said

    “Mutlak, Eisawi and Nujayfi represent the “domestic” Iraqiyya rather than the leadership that returned from exile in 2003”

    The politicians that fled the country before 2003 did so because Saddam was going to kill them, people like the Nujayfis stayed because they liked Saddam’s regime and Saddam liked them, this is all but a positive thing.

    And how is al-Maliki going to justify, giving a Minister or even President position to Saleh al-Mutlaq, a man of whom he just a few mont ago, insisted that he had to be barred from the election because he was a Ba’athist, supposedly to dangerous to let into parliament? How hypocritical… If anything th is underlines what I (and many others) have been saying, that he is not Nationalist, not Islamist, but power hungry.

    BTW, couldn’t this bring a backlash? I mean, aren’t Muqtada al-Sadr, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani clever enough to see what’s happening here? After winning their support with fake promises with led them to believe this al-Maliki term will actually have something in it for them, al-Maliki is bringing in Tawafuq, the Awakening Councils, al-Hadba, Hiwar and al-Issawi to marginalize them. Clearly the Iranians will try to sabotage the deal, so what if Sadr (with INA + some Islamists from SLC who are unhappy about the way this is going) and the Kurds withdraw support for al-Maliki after al-Iraqiyya breaks up. Than they could still join up with the anti-Maliki part of Iraqiyya and the Kurds to form a government without him.
    My guess is that Sadr and Fadhila will stay with him until it is too late and than they’ll break with him (just like last time), basicly making the same mistake twice. But what do you think Reidar?

  6. Reidar Visser said

    Kermanshahi, my sense is that Maliki knows how to play this and he will continue to use the Kurds and the Sadrists until he has secured a second term. The prospect of an anti-Maliki alliance of the kind you indicate, perhaps led by Abd al-Mahdi, already seems a lot more distant than just a month ago. But note that all of Iraqiyya is participating in today’s meeting, including the ones that are more friendly with the Kurds like Allawi. Let’s wait and see what they settle for!

    Oops, Allawi just left the meeting, prematurely I think:
    عاجل … عاجل … علاوي يغادر اجتماع قيادات الكتل السياسية

  7. Reidar Visser said

    More drama, Mutlak, Maliki and Sunayd in separate meeting; joined by Muhammad Allawi (cousin of Ayad Allawi).

    10/11/2010 18:55:00

    محمد علاوي ينضم الى الاجتماع الجانبي بين المالكي والسنيد والمطلك
    10/11/2010 18:53:00

    عاجل … عاجل … المطلك باجتماع جانبي مع المالكي والسنيد

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Mutlak has also left now:

    10/11/2010 19:17:00

    عاجل … المطلك يغادر اجتماع قادة الكتل السياسية

  9. Kermanshahi said

    Well, I guess al-Maliki did pull it off again, eventhough he lost the election. But the thing is, how many chances is he expecting to get? Both Sadr and the Kurds joined him last time because they didn’t know what he would do, this time he managed to get them to give him a second chance. But this is his last chance, if he does backstab his allies again, they will join any al-Maliki government again (or they must be really stupid). The thing is, 5 years is a long time. Will the other Shi’a parties be able to stand up to him then or will they become even weaker than now (making him even stronger)? – After this election I thought the best thing for the INA was to go into the opposition, it seems they decided to go to the government again which likely willmake their popularity decline even more, next elections – Infact, will there even be new elections? Or will al-Maliki have become El Presidente for life by then? It could mean an inter-Shi’a civil war. We know that ISCI and Sadr have arms and the Iranain support but they’re both becoming weeker (both politicly and militarily) as al-Maliki is becoming stronger, will they use their arms during this term after fallout with al-Maliki? Will they use them next time when it seems there’s no other way to shift him? Will they even be able to do that by that time? A lot is uncertain, but one thing I can guaratee you, it’s been 7 years, if nothing is done to solve the current status quo in the next 5 years there will be a war over Kerkuk.

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Allawi is back now and they’re going to hold a press conference later:

    10/11/2010 19:28:00

    عاجل..علاوي يعود الى اجتماع قادة الكتل

  11. Reidar Visser said

    Al-Forat reporting agreement among the leaders to hold the parliament meeting at 11 am tomorrow.

  12. Reidar Visser said

    The lowdown of today’s action seems to be agreement to move ahead with the meeting in parliament tomorrow, apparently with Iraqiyya onboard and Allawi making a big gamble with the presidency for the national security council (which is not even in the constitution). What is conspicuously missing, so far, is unequivocal agreement on who the next speaker should be. A speaker is needed to confirm Talabani and Maliki, and although there are rumours about Usama al-Nujayfi from Iraqiyya, nothing has been confirmed as of now. If parliament cannot elect a speaker, then the other necessary steps towards forming a govt cannot be taken either.

  13. Reidar Visser said

    عاجل/ إياد علاوي ومحمد علاوي يغادران اجتماع الكتل السياسية نهائيا

    There is another report now that the Allawis have left the meeting “for good”. No details are provided, but Iraqi news agencies seem to be reporting this toing and froing – especially the latter – as a possible indicator of dissent.

  14. Reidar Visser said

    10/11/2010 22:09:00

    عاجل .. قادة العراقية يعقدون اجتماعا جانبيا لتقرير حضور جلسة البرلمان او عدمه

    Iraqiyya holding a meeting on the sidelines to decide on participation in tomorrow’s session in parliament.

  15. Kermanshahi said

    I don’t think the Kurds would like al-Nujayfi as a speaker, specially with the Ninawa crisis still ongoing, if anyone from Iraqiyya were to become Speaker they wouldn’t want it to be him and how is al-Nujayfi going to nominate Jalal Talabani for President? This cooperation can be very problematic.

  16. Reidar Visser said

    Apparently MPs will get to choose betwen Hashemi and Nujayfi as speaker tomorrow. But why temporary?

    10/11/2010 22:47:00

    عاجل .. العراقية ترشح الهاشمي والنجيفي لاختيار احدهما لرئاسة البرلمان مؤقتا

    The main meeting is over it seems, Maliki has left, and at least one report says parliament tomorrow has been postponed to 3 pm Baghdad time instead of 11 am as originally planned. But it seems it will go ahead with some kind of Iraqiyya participation.

  17. Jason said,0,7469647.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+latimes%2Fnews+%28L.A.+Times+-+Top+News%29

  18. Kermanshahi said

    So in the end they made the useless unity government but with al-Maliki as leader which will mean no-one will get what they want except for him. This is not a victory for Iran or for the Islamists, this is a defeat for everybody except al-Maliki.

  19. robinson said

    علاوي يعترض على ترشيح النجيفي لرئاسة البرلمان ويرشح قتيبة الجبوري بدلا عنه

    allegedly over the objections of Mutluk, who backs Nujaifi for the position…

    Is this a late concession to someone? Allawi attempting to exert control over Iraqiyeh?

  20. Reidar Visser said


    عاجل … العراقية تختار النجيفي رئيسا للبرلمان والهاشمي نائبا لرئيس الجمهورية والمطلك وزيرا للخارجية

    More recent reports say Nujayfi was selected after all, but there appears to have been considerable dissension within Iraqiyya on the issue.

    Anyway, we’ll probably get to know the result in a couple of hours. Rumours say the NA are quarreling among themselves re the second deputy speaker of parliament and that’s the reason for the delay!

  21. Santana said

    Mutlaq will be the new Foreign Minister. Allawi to head the National Council.

  22. Kermanshahi,
    “no-one will get what they want except for (Maliki)”
    You sound like an Iranian merchant complaining after making a big deal 😉

    Perhaps the most powerful motivations of Iraqiya right now are to avoid getting blamed for delaying the formation of the government and to maintain some sense of party unity after the marginal members (Nujaify, Hashimi, Mutlak) succombed to Maliki’s temptations.
    Allawi’s big risk if he stays is that he loses his credibility as the leader of the opposition.

  23. amagi said

    Hashemi walked? Why?

  24. Reidar Visser said

    So Nujayfi won the speakership with 227 out of 295 votes. More later in separate post of course. Key question is whether election of president and designation of PM candidate will take place tonight or not.

  25. Reidar Visser said

    Iraqiyya and Nujayfi withdraw from the session, the others proceed to vote in Talabani for the presidency.

  26. Kairena said

    How can the Kurds think they will get their demands with this power configuration? And what does Sadr get in this deal that was worth his sudden backing of Maliki?

  27. Santana said

    Iraqiya is pulling out completely…at least temporarily..

  28. amagi said

    What caused Iraqiyya to walk?

  29. robinson said

    inauspicious start for one’s tenure as Speaker of the Parliament…

    وعلى خلفية انسحاب أعضاء القائمة العراقية الجلسة قرر رئيس مجلس النواب المنتخب اسامة النجيفي ترك قاعة مجلس النواب وقال أنه “لايستطيع ان يستمر في ادارة الجلسة لعدم وجود اتفاق على جدول اعمال الجلسة”.


    بعض اعضاء العراقية استمروا في الجسلة بينهم النائب حسن العلوي

    How can the parliament elect a President with the Speaker not present?

  30. Reidar Visser said

    With a little help from his deputies. You know, in Iraq there are many of them. They’re “counting” the votes in the second “acclamation” for Talabani now; I’ll be back with more extensive analysis soon; just need to see whether Talabani actually nominates Maliki, which is what is expected.

  31. Reidar Visser said


  32. JWing said

    AP reports that only 57 of the 91 Iraqiya members walked out.

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