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.
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