A Daawa-ISCI Alliance Gives Basra a New Governor
Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 21 April 2011 18:30
The Iraqi parliament appears to be in a stalemate. Just when rapprochement is needed to get all-important security ministers confirmed, the biggest blocs are moving further apart. Shiite Islamists close to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki are hinting at the possible replacement of the parliamentary speaker, Usama al-Nujayfi of Iraqiyya, even though he could potentially be Maliki’s most promising ally for getting things done in parliament. Iraqiyya and most other parties are irritated by the insistence of Maliki to keep Khudayr al-Khuzai as a candidate in an unnecessary and time-consuming contest over three vice-presidencies. Parliament will not meet again until 26 April; as of today, no proper agenda for that meeting has been fixed.
Maybe developments in the provinces can provide a better indication of which way the winds of Iraqi politics are blowing? Basra has just got a new governor after the previous one, Shaltagh Abbud of Maliki’s State of Law alliance, was forced out after popular protests. But just like his predecessor, the new man in charge of provincial government in Basra, Khalaf Abd al-Samad, belongs to Maliki’s bloc. His bio is quite similar to other Daawa operatives with a past in exile: Born in Basra in 1952, he joined the Daawa in the late 1960s and got into conflict with the regime in the 1980s and went into exile. He completed his education in agricultural science at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands in the 1990s and then returned to Iraq after 2003.
The political dynamics behind his appointment are fairly uncomplicated. Maliki’s State of Law alliance won a watershed victory in Basra back in January 2009 with some 20 seats. Their share of seats has since shrunk somewhat to around 18 as the result of defections, and in order to secure victory for Abd al-Samad as the new governor, State of Law formed a new coalition with at least three members of ISCI/Badr some weeks ago. It was this coalition that recently voted for Abd al-Samad as the new governor.
It is noteworthy that there was an apparent attempt to challenge Abd al-Samad by Jabbar Amin of Hizb al-Daawa (Tanzim al-Iraq), also from State of Law. Some weeks ago, Amin – who in 2010 was at the forefront of a bid to revive the Basra regionalist project – reached out to independents, Sunnis and Christians in a bid to create a cross-sectarian alliance that would challenge Maliki’s preferred candidate. In the end, Amin failed, but he did get 14 votes against 19 for Abd al-Samad.
Amin’s ability to at least create problems for Abd al-Samad suggests that Maliki is not completely immune to challenges even in the provinces that should be a cakewalk for him as far as the arithmetic of deputy affiliations is concerned. His reliance on an alliance with ISCI in this case creates a contrast with patterns currently seen at the national level, but it seems nonetheless significant as an indicator of State of Law’s behaviour in a context when it needs to secure a majority for a specific vote. It will be impossible for Maliki to postpone a similarly decisive vote in parliament on the security ministries for much longer.
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