Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Never-Ending Process of Government Formation in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 21 July 2011 19:45

When Iraqi politicians finally formed a new government in December 2010, nine months after the parliamentary elections, many voices in the international community were congratulatory. Observers emphasized that the Iraqis had managed to create an “inclusive government” in which all the different ethno-sectarian groups in the country were represented. Critics of the deal that led to the formation of the second government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pointed out that it simply papered over persisting conflicts among Iraqi politicians. It also produced an oversized, ineffective, and unstable government with lots of unnecessary, bogus ministries (including such portfolios as civil society and the southern marshlands), whereas ministries that were truly needed, especially relating to national security, remained unfilled.

Eight months on, it seems the critics got it right… Full story here. Comments section open as usual below.

21 Responses to “The Never-Ending Process of Government Formation in Iraq”

  1. “More effective government” is just the veneer over policy of seizing every opportunity to consolidate power and delay tactics.
    The cost of extra ministries and deputy presidents is minuscule compared with waste due to corruption. Maliki is no democrat.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    But Faisal, why doesn’t Iraqiyya even try to meet Maliki half-way when it is pretty evident that he is nervous about the Sadrists and probably wouldn’t mind throwing them and ISCI and Fadila out of the government if iraqiyya had adopted a more conciliatory approach? The net effect would be increased influence for Iraqiyya in government.

  3. You’re blaming the victim Reidar. There are many acts that Maliki has done and is doing which makes him an unreliable partner, including acts against his present allies.
    Iraqis must see how to deal with election losers who don’t acknowledge their loss. Maliki should have acknowledged then negotiated, this would have been the democratic thing to do. You don’t expect the winner to negotiate from a loser’s position, what’s the point of the elections then?

  4. Observor said

    Your wonderings tells me that you do not know how politics in Iraq are done. There is no way Iraqiya is goign to trust Da3wa. Weakening the others will work to the advantage of Da3wa. There is the issue of trust. Nobody (most of all Allawi) trusts Maliki or his cohorts.

    Iraq can not be governed except by agreement between the major “currents”. Kurds, Secularists, and Islamists. This is the alignent that is emerging. Da3wa can not be allowed to have a monopoly on the “islamist” current (at leas the She3a varient of it), especially when Sadirs are so strong and can not possibly be ignored (regardless of the wishes of the state department et. al.).

    I ecpect a confrontaion on consittuitional issues as well as Irbil agreement issues shortly, but in the end, after all the manuvering, i am rather sure that the US will come out (yet again) to suport Maliki in the last minute and prevent a no confidence motion from taking place in exchange for a modified SOFA. Iraqyaa (allawi) will stay along the stratigic alignment of principals and will not yeild to “tactical” manuvering. That is simply not how the leadership of Iraqiya works.

    It is a long trip ahead. Lets see how the dust will settle in Syria, in Libya, and in Yamen (not to mention Egypt, Tunis, and Bahrain – or worst still: What will Hizb ALla do if its supply line is threatened?). The time will come soon enough for the final confrontation with Iran over Iraq – assuming that the US would want that confrontation to take place (as opposed to letting it be a permenant controlled confrontation line)

    Meanwhile, I just wish the USG becomes smarter about understanding Iraqi politics. Just drop your western mentality and adopt the bazaar mentality. Look up old trading families and how they used to do busienss on a hand shake and you may understand how the Iraqi system works. A word of a man and whetehr he keeps it or not is a reflection of his manhood. That is the key to understanding the relationship between such people as Allawi and Barzani. They resemble the old family/shiekh mentality.

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Faisal, you’re still feeling sore about post-election coalition forming! The only thing that is 100 percent certain is that that debate is not going to be reopened again…

    Observer, my thinking was that in a tripartite govt of State of Law, Iraqiyya and the Kurds, Maliki would feel stronger in his mainly Shiite constituency, whereas Iraqiyya and the Kurds would (or should!) feel stronger vis-avis Maliki.

  6. Observor said

    An agreement with Da3wa marginlizes the Kurds!!! Why would they need the Kurds? How can Allawi drop all his claims against Maliki and ignore the Kurds. Do you think Barazani would drop Hakim family? In my thinking, it is not in the cards in my humble opinion.

  7. Reidar Visser said

    But Observer: The Barzani-Allawi-Hakim axis just doesn’t add up does it? You tried that last summer and it failed. Barzani ultimately endorsed Maliki. Don’t you think at least some of the Kurds are growing sufficiently sceptical about the Iranians that they might contemplate a rupture with ISCI and the Sadrists?

  8. Observor said

    Basrzani finally yielded to pressure from the US and Iran !! He stated 4 times in puplic that Iraqya should be given the PM ship. How much pressure can Barzani take? In the end, the agreement of Irbil was a compromize to move the country forward.

    This is why I keep on wondering what is the basis for the Iranian and US backing Maliki??? On the one hand the US is completely convicned that Maliki is “not Iranian”.. Yet look at his policies? Look at his posiiton vis-a-vis Syriaian opposition (and contrast that to his acusations of Assad last year). I am not smart enough to figure it out.

    On the Kurds – do you realize that none of the promises have been delivered on? The Kurds have to be treated as REAL partners for Iraq to work. Maliki is just a playing around inserting Da3wa people in key positions hoping that he can replicate the Baath methods of 68 to 75. Well, he might just be able to do it if the US continues to protect him and his party….

  9. Reidar,
    Yes I am sore but you got it wrong. I am not sore about an event, I am sore about the process. Maliki screwed the elections then as he is screwing the process now, the writing is on the wall but you and some Americans don’t see it. History is repeating itself, the US is deluding itself, remember Ahmed Chalabi?

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Faisal, as I see it you keep focusing more on Maliki’s personal characteristics (as if they were unmalleable) than process as such. I found this one today interesting:

    زهير الاعرجي يلمح الى استعداد الهاشمي التنازل عن منصب نائب رئيس الجمهورية في حال تسلمه حقيبة وزارة الدفاع

    Hashemi picking defence in lieu of the vice-president job? That would be far more useful in terms of integrating Iraqiyya meaningfully in the government. Are you there Santana?

    Observer, Maliki’s failure to deliver on the 19 points is hardly surprising since most of them are dependent upon action by parliament, popular referendums etc (as far as constitutional changes are concerned). As I said back then, it would be easy for Maliki to shrug his shoulders and point to governmental and parliamentary impasse and then walk away from the whole list of promises. Maliki did meet the Kurds at least half-way when it came to exports from some of the oil fields in the north, and I assume this may be a reason why they are still holding on to him.

  11. Observor said

    please understand that if it were not for political pressure from the US, the Kurds would never have supported Maliki. They are ready to dump him but there is a bigger game in play. Think regionally. Enough said.

  12. Santana said

    I agree with you Reidar that if Hashimi became MOD it would be a step in the right direction especially with the close relationship between Hashimi nd Allawi……..but I am skeptical cuz if it becomes more serious then I am sure Iran will start a vicious behind the scenes lobbying effort thru their stooges in Iraq to derail it.

    Observer and Faisal- I fully agree with the comments you guys have made and I really appreciate your input on this blog which I think is read by some very powerful people on both sides of the ocean.

    You guys don’t realize how It makes my work so much easier when I meet with U.S and Iraqi leaders that follow this blog- it sinks in better when they have heard it elsewhere,

  13. Samir Abdallah said


    There are also rumors that Iraqiya may nominate Abdulkareem Al-Samarrae from Tajdeed (the the same party as Hashemi, within Iraqiya) as a defense minister. Al-Samarrae is currently minister of Sci. & Tech.

  14. Jason said

    What is the source of the vitriol for Maliki? Give specific, substantive answers – not mere partisan wrangling.

  15. Observer,
    It’s precisely the “bigger game” that’s got me worried: I see it as a bang-bang control strategy, there is a pun in the name; bang-bang control is proven to be less efficient than smooth gradual control. What worries me is the tempo of the “game”, the US has no control over the tempo in Iraq or the region and has no desire to seize the initiative in order to smooth the control.

  16. Reidar Visser said

    Santana, many thanks for the input. It seems at least Abbas al-Bayati of State of Law doesn’t like the idea. He also reiterates a very sectarian approach to the distribution of the security ministries, saying the defence post is “for Sunnis rather than for Iraqiyya”:

    وقال النائب عن ائتلاف دولة القانون عباس البياتي في حديث لـ”السومرية نيوز”، إن “طارق الهاشمي لديه الان موقع مهم وهو النائب الأول لرئيس الجمهورية”، مبينا أن “تصريحات الهاشمي المتشنجة ومواقفه التي تتقاطع دائما مع رئيس الوزراء نوري المالكي لا يمكن أن يشغل منصب حساس كوزير للدفاع”.

    وأضاف البياتي أن “من أهم النقاط التي تم الاتفاق عليها هو أن يكون هناك انسجام بين وزير الدفاع والقائد العام للقوات المسلحة”، مشيرا إلى أن “منصب وزير الدفاع هو ليس استحقاق العراقية وإنما هو للمكون السني العربي، حيث أن من حق العراقية والتحالف الكردستاني الترشيح لهذا المنصب”.

    Samir, I wonder whether perhaps the science and technology ministry might be one of those lined up for “streamlining” so maybe the minister could be in search of a new job…

  17. observor said

    Jason, I am not sure whom your question is for. But let me give it a shot.

    You have to understand the history of Iraq to be able to appreciate the fear of Maliki. One thing we all have to understand is the difference between words/promises and actions on the ground. Follow the steps that Baath used to take over Iraq in 68 to 75 and you can possibly appreciate the step wise fashion that is being used by Da3wa to take control of Iraq. The Baath sidelined the communists by creating Jabha Watnia (National Front) while pacifying the Kurds by the 1971 agreement for self rule, then slowly putting party hacks but mostly Tikriti, Raqi, Janabi, etc, in key posts.

    Then they took the Kurds out with an agreement with the Shah (which then started the 1980 war), then liquidating the Communists. Divide and conquer at its finest. You may want to read Republic of Fear to understand how fear was used to subdue an entire populace.

    One key aspect of how they took control of the young of Iraq is modifying the education curricula and within 15 years they had virtual and long lasting control of the country. If it were not for the US coming in to take the Baath out of control, we could have had a century or so of Baath party control, or more specifically Al Hassan/Tikrit tribe control (sort of like the alwaites of Syrian fame).

    At any rate, if you want specific examples, just read the Iraqi web sites – Kitabat is a great open forum that gets a lot of opposing views aired. Elaff is more news than opinions, but it is also a good mix. You will see charges and counter charges on any given issue in the current Iraqi dialogue.

    Well, the Gini is out of the bottle and it can not be put back in. It is all good anyway. The era of state monopoly on information and instruments of violence are over and there is nothing but upside to that. We may have to go through 10 or 20 years of Islamic parties trying to force their brand down the throats of their populace, but that is not going to work (see Iran as an example). Freedom is contagious and it will not be denied. It is messy and the US and the west may have a hard time trying to protect their interests in the face of Chinese and Indian and Russian interests, but in the end, if we really believe in the power of Democracy and Free Market and Globalization, then we should have the power of our convictions and let things be. It is messy but we have to look at this problem in decadal or even generational point of view not years or months. The best the US can do is try to make sure that there is a level playing field and support those who share in the values of democracy (i.e. secularists as there is no such thing as Islamic democracy – regardless of what Turkey tries to sell). We need a program similar to what the US undertook in the formation of Christian Democratic Parties all over western Europe following WWII.

    In the end, we live in EXCITING times. The Chinese may consider it a curse, but for this writer, it is a blessing.

  18. Jason said

    Observer, I understand the nature of the allegations, but we hear similar things uttered in the heat of politics even in mature democracies. I am trying to independently gauge the weight of evidence about Maliki.

    I share your concern about the Iranian Regime. Let us pray that Khamenei will not survive as “Supreme Leader” through another fake election. I’m curious to see what influence Iraq, including Sistani, will have on the next Iranian elections.

    I strongly agree with your response to Faisal, in all respects. The next extremely exciting event (barring an unexpected sudden fall of Assad) is the Egyptian elections scheduled for September.

    Reidar, perhaps when you have an opportunity you could do an update about ISCI? Whatever happened to its oversized sized political influence? The once feared Badr Brigades? Same for the Iraqi Islamic Party? Will either ever stage a comeback, or are they finished as major forces? Is it fair to say that they were successfully coopted into the democratic process and then largely neutralized by the Iraqi electorate?

  19. observor said

    “I am trying to independently gauge the weight of evidence about Maliki.”

    I can’t bring you lists of names of people who have been put in key positions in the security apparatus now and I cannot give you the names of people who have been put in key positions in other ministries – but I know that some are keeping tabs and adding it up. The latest outcry is the replacement of head of universities with new people who are reportedly loyal to Da3wa. And it goes on from there. Follow the Iraqi blogs and you will see for yourself the charges and counter charges and make up your own mind. People in the know, know what is happening – namely, Da3wa is slowly putting its people in control without care for what could happen if (when?) the PMship changes hands.

    This is not vitriol. It is in fact fear based on actual actions being undertaken and put in place.

  20. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, with all modesty, I was always the one who complained that ISCI was overestimated, right? What I don’t understand is why Amb Jeffery and the international ambassadors more generally keep meeting with them.

  21. observor said

    I think ISCI is setting itself up to benefit from the voters that will be alienated from Da3wa. Don’t write them off yet. They were overplayed by the Sadris who were very organzied (doubt that it is their own ideas) in the last electiosn to take advantage of the “open list” system and managed to have 40 deputies through shrewed block organization (again there are doubts that they were behind that organization).

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