Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Iraqiyya Not Such a Big Bloc After All?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 28 December 2010 20:05

The past couple of days have seen two developments in Iraqi politics that haven’t quite received the attention that they deserve.

Firstly, as at least some of the media has noted, the all-Shiite National Alliance (NA) that leads the new Maliki government has selected Ibrahim al-Jaafari as leader of its parliamentary bloc. Many would say it was an obvious choice: Jaafari was reportedly favoured as premier candidate by both the Sadrists and Iran before Maliki managed to sway those forces behind himself instead. At the recent meeting of parliament where the new government was sworn it, Jaafari held a longish speech that seemed a little out of place at the beginning of the ceremony as if he was screaming for a role beyond that of an ordinary deputy: He may now have found it.

Even less noticed is the fact that the Nujayfi bloc of Iraqiyya, also known as “Iraqiyyun” (“Iraqis”), has elected Hasan Khalaf al-Jibburi to head their parliamentary faction of around 10 deputies (they sometimes claim as many as 20). This is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, the reason NA has gone out of its way to elect a single leader is the fact that it needed to do a merger between Maliki’s State of Law (89 deputies) and the Sadrists (40 deputies) to grow in size and trump the argument by Iraqiyya that it was the biggest bloc in parliament as it emerged from the elections with 91 deputies. Having lost that contest, it now appears Iraqiyya leaders are happy to revert to their constituent elements, and it will be interesting to see whether others (Hashemi, Eisawi, Karbuli, Mutlak etc.) will follow Nujayfi’s lead or stay loyal to Ayad Allawi.

A second interesting question is whether the grey-zone elements on the margins of the National Alliance, such as Fadila and ISCI, will fall in line with the rest of the Shiites or form their own smaller parliamentary blocs on the Iraqiyyun pattern.Regardless of the eventual outcome, the idea of a single parliamentary leader as a defining criterion for constituting a parliamentary bloc or kutla seems reaffirmed by these developments.

19 Responses to “Iraqiyya Not Such a Big Bloc After All?”

  1. Robinson said

    speaking of old names potentially popping up new places…say it ain’t so…

    أكد مصدر سياسي مطلع، الاثنين، أن التحالف الوطني سيعقد مساء اليوم، اجتماعا مهما لمناقشة عدد من المواضيع المهمة من بينها اختيار رئيس له، مؤكدا وجود توجه لترشيح رئيس المؤتمر الوطني العراقي أحمد الجلبي لمنصب وزير الداخلية.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    First it was Chalabi as minister of planning, now interior… He is still very much part of the game it seems. It would be interesting to see how the USG reacts, since it appears to believe that Iranian power in Iraq is limited to the person of Chalabi plus the Sadrist breakaway faction that they like to refer to by using the acronym “AAH”…

  3. JWing said

    2 points.

    1st since Iraqiya almost broke apart over Allawi’s refusal to initially join a coalition with Maliki it would seem natural if the list starts to fray more as time goes by.

    2nd, another issue of whether they will stick together is whether Allawi stays in Iraq. From 2005-2009 he was hardly in the country. Some say he’ll do the same again this time because he didn’t get to be premier and is a sore loser. If the National Council has some real power that could probably persuade him to stick around.

  4. bb said

    Remember well the strikingly moving moment when Jaafari shed tears as he was being declared PM of Iraq after the Jan 05 election. By many accounts I read of his PMship he was never caught short of a word and indeed could speak for more than an hour just making one point. So the NA parliamentary bloc might be in for some lengthy meetings. But it is good to see him being given his due.

    Was wondering what Chalabi would get – Interior, is it?

  5. M said

    In a previous long comment I wrote here I explained why it was highly predictable that the Shiite blocs would coalece eventually and Iraqiya would break down. For someone who is not only wittnessing Iraqi politics from the early 70’s but immeresed in the details and emotions of it would naturaly conclude that Iraq is not ready for the much-hoped for Arab nationalist trans-sectarian secular government “bannered” by a bloc of suspicious former Baathists and financed/operated by Saudi Arabia that cares about what US officials calls Sunni Restoration than a secular Iraq. Here is the fact that will ease our pain as we watch Iraq politics evolve. Iraq at this stage is a moderate Shiite state with Sunni accommodation, not a restoration. After the failure of Allawi to become a prime-minister and with it the failure of the Baathists to restore power, Iraqiyya will mean nothing to Nujaifi and Hashimi as long as they secure positions for themselves. For the pan-Shiites, it is still a matter of political survival and power retention despite their varied shades on the Shiite political spectrum. A hint of Saddam, a smell of Saudi Arabi will get them to hug and kiss again. So, at this point, we hope the Shiites will govern secularly and set the stage for a future sincere neogenerationl trans-sectaraian Iraq for people whose skins are not touched by sectarian wounds.

  6. Salah said

    it appears to believe that Iranian power in Iraq is limited to the person of Chalabi plus the Sadrist

    Is that means Da’awa (the two faction) out of the box here? is this really the reality on the ground?

  7. Thaqalain said

    Jaafari is most respected and honored person, I am sure his behind the scenes struggle in unifying factions and negotiating deals.
    He is not power hunger, in fact we need to see him guide us in the parliament, If it would not be him, IRAQ might have shatterd as per US Designs.
    Challabi was US DoD agent and now a lost USG Cartridge.He likes to have some senior role by any means since day one after 2003 fall.He can portray to be allied with any powered bloc for his own interest.
    When will you start righting about Saudi role in Baghdad and most drum beated insurgency funded by Royal Saudi Jordanian Kings.
    Why you always have trouble presenting Iran and ruling Iraqi regime to portray as they are foreign agents?

  8. Reidar Visser said

    M, there is nothing inevitable or natural about the pan-Shiite tendencies you describe. In fact, looking at the post-2005 politics as a whole, disintegration of sectarian fronts has been the rule rather than the exception. The UIA barely survived the 2005 elections, Maliki went nationalist 2008-2009, and although he relied on NA in his latest comeback he already seems eager to have the Sadrists in a less prominent role. The supposedly elusive and distant pan-Iraqi trend that you dismiss was well underway in 2009 when Mutlak, Abu Risha and Maliki talked about forming a front together. The budget trouble with the Kurds and Kurdish complaints about NA and Iraqiyya elements dominating the new government illustrate the continued relevance of Iraqi nationalism in all of this.

  9. Joe said

    Much thanks again. Your well-placed and correct references to recent indicators of Iraqi nationalism notwithstanding, M’s characterization of Iraq’s political landscape of the past 5 years seems the more accurate, in my view. As M noted, this is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as Sunni accomodation in some way leads to checks on Maliki’s power (which is still very much yet to be seen). As much as I would love to see Iraqi nationalism triumph from the ashes of the 2006-7 sectarian conflict, in the end it seems Maliki is intrested in Iraqi nationalism insofar as it benefits Maliki, and not necessariliy for nationalism’s sake. It is for this reason the (secular) Pan-Shiism M alludes to ostensibly emerged once again in 2010 – because Maliki, the pragmatist, sees Pan-Shiism as his ticket to further entrench his personal power. As the final disputes over the remaining ministerial positions are settled, we may see Maliki – the pragmatist – once again move toward Iraqi nationalistic goals vis-a-vis Kurdish ambitions and Sunni reconciliation. But I believe we will only see this if Maliki feels such moves will benefit him in the long term, and not before the remaining vacancies in his cabinet are filled with as many members loyal to him as he can muster.

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Joe, I am not surprised that you prefer M’s take, since it is what most Americans have been fed for the past eight years. It is the stereotypical Shiite-in-very-long-exile talking to Americans in a way they can understand. M has previously advocated weakening the centre and also offered the following on 7 October 2010: “One last point: let us not force union on Iraq. It is indeed divided along ethnic, geographic, and sectarian lines. These divisions are deep and still fresh.” That, too, was once a popular idea in Washington.

    I am not writing this blog primarily in order to provide readers with the comfort that comes with the semi-conscious reiteration of simplistic, pre-existing views on Iraq, but to highlight empirical details that you may not always find elsewhere.

  11. M,
    “highly predictable that the Shiite blocs would coalece eventually and Iraqiya would break down”
    The mechanism of Shiite coalescing is built on fear, one day soon (I hope) there will be enough Shiites who will recognize that their fear is being stoked by their brethrens in faith, not by the Sunnis. The problem then will be a broken political process which can be tilted by Iran against the will of its opponents (at the cost of $200 Million dollars according to Wikileaks..) and the helplessness of the US to fix it. The confrontation will not be between coalescing Shiites and “Arab nationalist trans-sectarian secular government “bannered” by a bloc of suspicious former Baathists and financed/operated by Saudi Arabia”, it will be within Shiites and many will die, and the “block of suspicious former Baathists” will not be there to moderate and save the lives of “Pan Shiites”.
    What I am saying is: The failsafe mechanism of clean elections is eroded and the US is shrugging its responsibility to maintain it. The UN should run census and the elections.

  12. bb said

    With al-Mutlak going from de-baathified to a deputy premier in single bound, isn’t it likely that de-baathification has reached its apogee? But going by Faisal Kadris comment, the same can’t be said yet for the old Persian question. Is Faisal expecting another war?

  13. Jason said

    I think it could be argued that the “pan-Shiite coalescing” in 2010 resulted from a single, well-played card, de-Baathification, during the campaign. It remains to be seen whether that card holds any continuing power to paper over Shiite differences, whether it can be pulled out and played again with the same results in the future, or whether it is a spent force. I think it may soon be forgotten in the face of more genuine issues: Kurdish demands and Sadrist corruption. Can either resist overplaying their hand?

  14. Robinson said


    The Sadrists are a lot of things, but I’m curious, why do you suppose they are more corrupt than anyone else in the NA, or in the GoI/ISF for that matter?

  15. Bb,
    You didn’t get it. The tension I see is not inter-sectarian, it is intra-sectarian, within Shia, when Iran overplays its hand in response to regional pressure, which I see inevitable.
    BTW I meant to ask you, as a champion of perfectly clean elections, what do you think of the Wikileaks revelation regarding Iran’s M$200 influence over the last elections?

    As I understand it, M is saying there will always be another way of stoking fear, such as with de-Baathification, in order to coalesce the Shias. I am saying the threshold of boredom with repeated use will soon be reached.

  16. Salah said

    not inter-sectarian, it is intra-sectarian,

    Well said Faisal Kadri thank you, you got right and hope other they listen to what you said.

    Today there is an article in Kitabat talking in same means exploring more.
    لا طائفية في العراق إنما مصلحية

  17. bb said

    Faisal: Why would Iran spending 200 mill on the Iraqi elections be a surprise, any more than Saudi Arabia shovelling money and resources at their “side” be a surprise, as also revealed in Wikileaks?

    The test of the elections was were they fair, democratic and not corrupted by fraud? The answer to that is yes, since the results showed no significant departures from the results of the 05 elections and the provincial elections. That’s the great benefit of proportional representation: transparency and protection against gerrymader.

    The danger the current regime in Iran poses is not via sabotaging the elections (altho I’m sure they would like to change the system), but in using its Sadrist proxies to reignite the militias and turn the southern governorates back into sharia-imposed extensions of the tehran regime. Is this what you mean’t by “intra sectarian” shia tension?

  18. Bb,
    You got it wrong again, Bb. The surprise is not in spending M$200, if only spending brings results then Ayad Jamal Eddin would have won, instead he and other candidates not approved by Iran such as Mithal Al Alusi got nearly zero votes. A friend of mine commented: If only the immediate friends and families of these candidates voted for them then they would have one seats. The surprise is in the effectiveness of the Iranian influence given the clenliness and transparency of the election as you described. The point of the elections is to transfer power peacefully, your criterion for a good election is a rubber stamp. And yes, my concern is using proxies to impose Iran’s will on the south.

  19. bb said

    Faisal – dont know what you mean by candidates would have won seats “if only their immediate friends and families had voted for them”? Are you saying that immediate friends and family would be sufficient to ensure a quota for a single candidate?

    My criteria is only clean, transparent, democratic elections based on universal franchise and governments formed after those elections according to electoral law.

    As things stand at the moment, not sure that the prominence of Dawa and Iraqiyya in the new cabinet is a demonstration of the effectiveness of Iranian influence? Still, that might change when the security portfolios are announced.

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