Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for June 23rd, 2011

Time to Publish the Arbil Agreement?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 23 June 2011 18:50

“The Arbil agreement” seems to be on everyone’s lips these days. Iraqiyya is calling for the “full implementation of the Arbil agreement” and makes threats about “withdrawal from the political process” in the case of non-implementation, focusing on demands such as the strategic policy council and the internal bylaws for the government. For its part, Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki’s State of Law alliance maintains that most of the agreement has already been implemented and that some of the lingering demands of Iraqiyya are “unconstitutional”. Recently, Maliki ally Shakir al-Darraji made the interesting comment that the original agreement called for the defence minister to be a “Sunni” rather than a member of Iraqiyya, thus echoing comments by Maliki himself in early May:

ان القائمة العراقية تتمسك بنقاط غير موجودة أصلا في اتفاق اربيل ومنها ان يكون وزير الدفاع من حصة القائمة العراقية حصرا في حين ان الاتفاق الحقيقي ان وزير الدفاع من حصة المكون

What exactly is the Arbil agreement?   On 13 June, veteran Kurdish politician Mahmud Uthman called for the “Arbil agreement to be published”, reflecting the considerable chaos relating to its exact nature. The problem is primarily that Iraqi politicians appear to have short memories and there are already multiple competing narratives about what the agreement is and how it came about.

It can be useful therefore to revert to press reports written around 11 November 2010 when some kind of agreement between the blocs led to a decisive meeting in parliament  that finally broke the 8-month long stalemate after the 7 March 2010 parliamentary elections and eventually led to the formation of the second Maliki government in December 2010. At the time, the prevailing nomenclature differentiated between at least three different concepts relating to the government-formation process. Firstly there was the process itself, which was mostly referred to as the “Barzani initiative” after the name of the Kurdish president. That process consisted of negotiations that took place both in Baghdad and Arbil. Second, there was the 15-item agenda for the Barzani initiative, which appeared to have the form of catch phrases rather than anything specific. The world watched with  great hilarity as Iraqi newswires churned out optimistic reports that the political parties had agreed on such momentous items as “adherence to the constitution”, “consensus” , “national reconciliation” and “national partnership”, apparently without ever specifying what processes would lead to achievement of those lofty aims (with the possible exception of the dismissal of the accountability and justice board which was mentioned in several reports). Thirdly, the Kurds claim they obtained separate agreement with Nuri al-Maliki concerning their 19 demands for joining the government, many of which were highly imaginary since they were predicated on the outcome of parliamentary action and approval by future popular referendums. At any rate, this part of the process mostly seemed related to a bilateral Maliki-Barzani pact rather than a trilateral affair also involving Iraqiyya and Ayad Allawi.

Apparently, the only signed document involving Maliki, Allawi and Barzani that was mentioned at the time was the one highlighted by parliamentary speaker Usama al-Nujayfi during the debate on whether there should be an ad hoc de-Baathification decision by parliament for three members of Iraqiyya. Reportedly, that document focused on three items: The creation of the strategic policy council, exemption of the three named Iraqiyya members from de-Baathification, as well as “national reconciliation” more broadly.

Perhaps there never truly was an Arbil agreement? Today, Iraqiyya keeps asking for the implementation of “balance” in the ministries of state, as well as the creation of a strategic policy council with executive powers. But if the details weren’t hammered out at the time, Iraqiyya’s leverage is now greatly diminished.   Maliki can plausibly claim that the strategic policy council is unconstitutional, as are many of the Kurdish demands. Fortunately for the Kurds, though, Maliki seems desperate to hold on to their votes and sees them as a potential pillar of the “political majority” alternative he keeps talking about. Iraqiyya are in a worse position since at least some of its members may feel tempted to remain on the side of Maliki or defect from Iraqiyya if matters should come to a head.

It is in other words unclear whether the publication of what are now historical documents would be truly helpful at the current stage. Indeed, for Iraqiyya in particular it would be truly stultifying if it had agreed on such sectarian language as reserving particular ministries for “Sunnis”, since its leaders insist on maintaining a nationalist rhetoric. Maybe it would be better to simply focus on the security ministries, which must be filled regardless of what was agreed last year. Another week has now passed by without any significant progress; parliament has been postponed again until 28 June and Ramadan is fast coming up (1 August). When Ramadan comes to an end there are exactly 120 days left to decide what to do with the US forces in Iraq, and it would be good to at least have a new defence minister at that point.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 32 Comments »