Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Apparent End of the Strategic Policy Council

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 3 March 2011 13:58

The rumours began circulating yesterday and today they have been confirmed: Ayad Allawi, the leader of the secular Iraqiyya movement, no longer considers himself the candidate to the position as chairman of the projected “national strategic policy council”, a new political institution with ill-defined powers that was included in the grand political agreement on a new government by Iraqi leaders last November. It should perhaps be added that Allawi has gone far in dismissing the council in media interviews previously; his level of outspokenness on this occasion is however unprecedented.

The council, an extra-constitutional concoction created largely to compensate Allawi personally for his thwarted prime ministerial ambitions, was always going to be a difficult proposition. Unsurprisingly, from day one there was disagreement on its exact prerogatives, with Allawi hoping it would include executive powers in key areas of government, and with Nuri al-Maliki and his all-Shiite State of Law alliance taking the opposite view of it, i.e. seeing it more as a deliberative think tank. Marshalling the arguments of constitutionalism and separation of powers, State of Law had some success in making the case that it would be hard to accommodate an additional executive institution in Iraq’s political system. It should be added that even the draft versions of the law that did exist had watered down the powers of the council and Allawi’s role in it quite considerably: For example, an 80% consensus requirement for decisions to have executive force meant that the council would rarely have played an active role in shaping government policy anyway – and that Allawi’s personal role as chairman would not be particularly prominent. Symptomatically, perhaps, the latest rounds of debate between the blocs have focused on petty issues concerning Allawi’s precise ceremonial status in relation to the existing ranks of leadership positions. It is to be expected that the whole project will founder if Allawi is no longer interested.

Even as Allawi is making this dramatic decision, it is hard to follow his attempt at reorientation. The eminently logical thing for him to do would be to take as much of Iraqiyya as possible into a purely opposition role in parliament, where the bloc would be free to speak its mind on core issues that resonates with its electorate. Instead, today, he is reverting to old talk of good relations with the Sadrists, ISCI and the Kurds, apparently forgetting that those were the forces that ultimately betrayed his prime ministerial ambitions in summer 2010, and that a critical mass of them still seem interested in playing along with Maliki inside government.

It cannot be stressed sufficiently that the strategic policy council was first and foremost Washington’s project in Iraq, and an attempt at keeping up appearances and creating a consolation prize for Allawi while tacitly – in the case of Ambassador Chris Hill, actively –  accepting Iran’s push for a government formation based on a sectarian Shiite alliance. Last November, sources in the Obama administration gave glowing accounts of how American diplomats were present during the final negotiations where the deal on the strategic policy council was supposedly clinched, whereas the Iranians were absent. Today, four months later and with the apparent death of the strategic council, the power-sharing structure of Iraq’s new government is looking even more like 2006 than before.


11 Responses to “The Apparent End of the Strategic Policy Council”

  1. It’s a pity that Allawi is turning to politicking instead of trying to broaden his electoral base and win Shia votes. It means that he lost faith in the process of democracy.
    I believe Iraq needs credible leadership of the opposition, Allawi is going in the opposite direction.

  2. Santana said

    Allawi has the wrong execution of the right idea…he thinks he can form a “Anti-Maliki” coalition and I don’t see how? cuz those he is trying to get on his side all have too much at stake with Maliki and nothing to gain with him…. – Iran controls Talabani,ISCI and the Sadrists…Allawi has a snowball chance in hell and unfortunatly doesn’t seem to learn from his mistakes- he is flakey…

  3. Jason said

    RV, what are your thoughts on these allegations of power grabbing by Maliki?

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, I’d say many of those concerns are real and serious, but some of what Maliki is doing (for example how he handled the independent commissions issue, as well as the conflict with Shahristani over the Kurdistan oil deals) suggests that he is not as fully in control and quite the strongman that some commentators claim.

  5. Santana said


    What you said is true but I assure you if Maliki is holding back any or how he handles the independent commissions it is not because he is not as powerful as the commentators claim he is…I truly believe he is manuevering and showing some vulnerability on purpose till Allawi is history and the NCHP is dead, U.S troops are out …then watch out- we will have a dictatorship that will make Saddam look like a Jeffersonian Democrat!

    Iran my friends is behind all this …I don’t care what anyone thinks -Maliki is an Iranian puppet.

  6. Reidar Visser said

    Maliki is not the only one who is bending the constitutional framework right now. Today, parliament was supposed to have done a vote on the many dubious replacement candidates that have filled the chamber in the wake of the formation of the government, but it seems this potentially troublesome item was struck off the agenda in the last minute and postponed again, for now until Tuesday 8 March.

  7. Mohammed said

    HI Reidar:

    why haven’t MPs protested against the measures taken against Mithal Alussi and the communist party today?
    I am alarmed by the clamp down on free political expression. If they dont act now, things will only get worse, and we will have another Iran or Saudi Arabia (two countries where opposition is not allowed).

    I am not sure I understand what you mean about saying that there is no real “opposition party.” You dont need to wear a label or shirt saying “Opposition” to protest against a wrong that is committed.

    Per my read of the constitution, al-Maliki cannot even dismiss a minister by himself. It states: the Prime Minister “has the right to dismiss the Ministers on the consent of the Council of Representatives.” That means parliament must vote on any dismissal.

    So Iraqiya in practice can criticize all they want, and I dont see what al-Maliki can do to them. Why is nobody pushing for reform?


  8. Reidar Visser said

    Mohammed, I think you provide the answer yourself, i.e. the problem is, however you choose to define it, there are too many insiders who have a stake in the system one way or another, leaving the few who are not on the inside vulnerable to the kind of attacks we saw in the case of Alusi and the communists. For example, Iraqiyya leaders keep talking and talking about the wonderful (but undefined) “reform” they want to see and yet today in one of their supposed “oppositional” statements (after the rupture about the strategic policy council) they are paying homage to “al-sayyid rais al-iqlim” (Masud Barzani), whom they fail to realise is not exactly an opposition figure.

    As said before, until Iraqiyya starts acting in a purely oppositional capactiy, I’m unsure whether they will achieve anything.

  9. Mohammed said

    But that is my point! What do they have to lose? They can condemn a clampdown and force Maliki to explain himself or stop it from happening, and I dont see what they will lose. He cant even dismiss a minister. If 50 MPs went in front of parliament and played up these events with the media, and call al-Maliki to answer questions in front of the parliament, what in practice would they risk losing? At best, they will gain huge political points with the iraqi public even if nothing comes of it. They will not winding up losing their jobs or salaries for speaking up.

  10. Jason said

    I understand about accumulating power and bending the Constitution, but to compare Maliki to Saddam, isn’t that way over the top?

    As far as “acting in a purely oppositional capacity,” I assume that you are referring to taking sides on substantive issues, as opposed to a constant shifting of murky alliances in the exercise of personal power politics?

  11. Reidar Visser said

    So, for example, Iraqiyya could join the Kurdish opposition movement Gorran in calling for an end to highhandeness against demonstrators from Basra to Sulaymaniyya, but they are not doing that because they are still interested in favours from Mr. Barzani.

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