Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for November, 2010

Why Iraqiyya Should Accept the Speakership

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 4 November 2010 12:56

[Update 5 November 19:30 CET: The meeting in parliament has been postponed until 11 November]

Fuad Masum, the temporary speaker of the parliament, has issued a call for the assembly to meet on Monday in order to select a speaker in accordance with orders from the federal supreme court. Iraqiyya is reportedly hunkering down and trying to make up its mind about what to do; the option of a boycott is reportedly on the table.

The best option for Iraqiyya seems perfectly clear: They should accept the speakership of the parliament offered to them by Maliki and the Kurds. Not with reference to the government-formation process, which is increasingly going in a direction which makes it futile for Iraqiyya to participate anyway. But because the position of the speakership offers an excellent opportunity for dominating the agenda of parliament and showcasing Iraqiyya as a nationalist party before the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for 2015.

By now it should be evident to Iraqiyya that there is no point in participating wholeheartedly in the next government. The last month has been a competition between Allawi and Maliki in giving further decentralising concessions to the Kurds, which is a game Iraqiyya can never win without stultifying itself vis-à-vis its own electorate. Iraqiyya is in principle against most of the 19 points demanded by the Kurds and it would be too much of an uphill struggle to try to pretend that there is agreement. Besides, all the miracles Iraqiyya had been hoping for involving regional and international forces seem to come to nothing, as expected. After all, there was no Syrian miracle, no UN Security Council miracle, no Saudi miracle, no international court on the Wikileaks, no Arbil meeting this week… The list could be made longer. And, now that the midterm elections are over, perhaps Iraqiyya leaders will also realise that there will be no shift in US policy towards greater intervention in Iraq, even after 2 November. The Americans keep telling Iraqiyya they should have a beefed-up presidency, yet they cannot explain how such a dramatic constitutional change would come about prior to the seating of the government. It is simply time to stop believing that Washington possesses any atomic option in this regard.

The decision by Masum of the Kurdish alliance to call parliament into session signals basic acceptance among the Kurds for a process that will eventually end up giving the premiership to Nuri al-Maliki, either by the creation of a new government or the continuation of the current one. It is perfectly conceivable there will be some further dithering from the Sadrists or even those Kurds that are most sceptical about Maliki, but that will be for the sake of extracting more concessions for their own personal gain and will not go to a point that will make it more attractive for Iraqiyya to participate. Instead, Iraqiyya should see the speakership as a unique opportunity for obstructing the legislative agenda of the next government, naming and shaming it whenever it tries to destroy the Iraqi state even further, and highlighting the unconstitutional nature of many of the Kurdish demands that will serve as its legislative programme. Instead of muttering in regional capitals, Iraqiyya could be centre stage, speaking with a clear voice and managing the discussion of laws on a Kirkuk referendum, oil and gas and constitutional revision under article 142.  In reality, there probably is no better vantage point for making a critical contribution to Iraqi democracy than the parliamentary speakership.

Of course, right now the other parties are offering the speakership to Iraqiyya on the premise of junior participation by Allawi in a Maliki-led government. But there is no problem in Iraqiyya accepting a couple of ministries and then resigning from them once the next government begins making mistakes, which will be soon after its formation. At that point, Iraqiyya can focus on the speakership as its main plank in Iraqi politics, and it will be difficult for critics to take it away from them, not least because the mechanisms for sacking the speaker in the bylaws of the Iraqi parliament are poorly defined. In sum it would be a much more honourable option than fighting for spoils in an oversized government defined by a pro-Kurdish agenda.

And one more thing: If possible, don’t give them a Sunni Arab. What better way for Iraqiyya of protesting the whole concept of ethno-sectarian quotas and its avid promoters across the globe than having a parliamentary speaker with some kind of complicated, unexpected and quintessentially Iraqi ethno-sectarian background?

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi nationalism | 48 Comments »

The Ominous Calendar

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 2 November 2010 10:56

Let’s face it: There won’t be a new Iraqi government until 2011. It’s just not realistic.

Here is why. Firstly, even if the planned “summit” in Arbil later this week should miraculously succeed in creating political agreement or even a prime ministerial nominee, it would be just the beginning of the process of actually seating a government. A main problem is that the architecture of the projected agreement consists of several castles in the sky. Towering high above the rest is the idea of a beefed-up presidency, enthusiastically supported by the Obama administration, uncritically embraced by Iraqiyya – and constitutionally impossible without a time-consuming referendum first. Another issue that has yet to receive the attention it deserves is the idea prevalent among the Kurds that they have veto rights against individual ministerial nominees on “sensitive matters” (i.e., everything), especially with regard to screening them for political correctness on the Kirkuk issue. What the Kurds seem to forget is that although many Iraqi politicians are cheap, not everyone is for sale. Even in the most pro-federal Iraqi parties, they will find resistance rooted in Iraq’s complex realities that defy the crude tripartite power schema for Iraq preferred by the Kurds. Have they already forgotten the problems they had in the past with people like Hussein al-Shahristani, Abd al-Hadi al-Hassani and Abbas al-Bayati, all from the supposedly pro-Kurdish United Iraqi Alliance?

The bottom line is that the current government-formation process is on an unrealistic course, fraught with potential for future derailment. Second, take a look at the calendar! It is lined up with Islamic holidays. First there is Eid al-Adha in mid-November. Then, towards the end of November, the Shiite holy month of Muharram commences; it culminates with Ashura in the first half of December but the celebrations will keep going well into January 2011 with Arbain marking the 40-day mourning period for the death of Imam Hussein. As a consequence, politics in Iraq will inevitably move more slowly again.

In this kind of situation, as the question of the 2011 budget approaches, two other scenarios will automatically make their way onto the agenda. Firstly, if parliament follows the orders of the federal supreme court and elects a speaker, then there is nothing that prevents the current Maliki government from continuing to operate for a long time. The fiction that it has a “caretaker status” would finally become deconstructed for the rest of the world and with an elected speaker its constitutional status would not differ one iota from, say, its status in March 2008. Secondly, once this is realised by those who dislike the current government, the only scenario that can do something effective about the problem – i.e. dissolution of the current parliament based on an absolute majority and fresh parliamentary elections – will again come to the fore.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 35 Comments »