Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for September 3rd, 2011

The Political-Majority Alternative to the Current Iraqi Government: Conceptual Confusion among Iraqi Politicians

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 3 September 2011 20:09

Several Iraqi politicians have used the last days of the Eid to send public messages about their political visions. Unfortunately, these statements contain few grounds for optimism – whether related to completion of the current Maliki government or the formation of a new government.

One of these voices is that of Ammar al-Hakim, the current leader of ISCI and a returned exile, who spent more than two years from 2005 to 2008 in a futile bid to convince the population of the Shiite-majority governorates south of Baghdad to join together in a new, all-Shiite federal entity. ISCI subsequently lost much of its influence thanks to poor performances in the January 2009 local elections and the March 2010 parliamentary ones.

Most recently, in his Eid address, Hakim once more proved his limited ability to grasp new currents in Iraqi politics. Hakim reportedly said he would “welcome a political-majority government” if it meant “deepening the representation of the social components in Iraq”!

The whole point of the concept of the political-majority government – as it emerged mainly in the rhetoric of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki following his successful performance in the local elections of January 2009 – is to create an antithesis to the concept of power-sharing based on ethno-sectarian quotas. A political-majority government would ignore any considerations related to “the components of the Iraqi people”, and would instead focus on issue-based political agreement. Such a government would probably include Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Turkmens because Iraq is a mixed society, but this would not be the primary consideration governing its composition. Rather, political views, ability and competence would be the main criteria in the selection of ministers. This in turn might produce patterns of ethno-sectarian participation in the government that diverged somewhat from a proportional model, but such a result would result from historical accident rather than from a systematic attempt at excluding anyone on the basis of ethnicity or sect. For example, throughout the monarchy era there was systematic under-representation of Shiites, but at least in some periods this had to do with the legacy of poor Shiite education during the late Ottoman period. Similarly, Shiites are over-represented on the Iraqi national soccer team, thanks not least to the fact that Shiites did very well in sports during the days of the Saddam Hussein regime.

Of course, Maliki himself has travelled a long way from the principles he professed in 2009. Lately, his attempt at defining the defence ministry as a “Sunni” prerogative that could be held by any Sunni (and preferably one with no links to his rivals in the secular Iraqiyya) has taken him quite far in the direction of contradictions reminiscent of those of Hakim. In 2011 Maliki has been trying to build an alternative rainbow coalition of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, except that the numbers simply do not add up. Basically, Maliki’s strategy seems based on an unrealistic take on what sort of “Sunni” support he can drum up from dissenters in Iraqiyya. Much like Saddam Hussein, Maliki is paying lip service to the concept of Iraqi nationalism and “political majorities”, but in practice he is continuing to recruit from a very narrow ideological and sectarian platform. Thus, when a Maliki ally recently stated that the concept of “balance” (tawazun, a concept used mostly by the Kurds but recently also sometimes by Iraqiyya to demand ethno-sectarian quotas) would “consecrate sectarian divisions and harm the political process”, he was right and wrong at the same time: True, it would be better to ignore quotas if an ideological alternative that could achieve a majority really existed, but the State of Law bloc seems singularly incapable of increasing its number of deputies beyond its Shiite Islamist core to the point where this kind of lofty ideal might be turned into reality.

For their part, Iraqiyya have perhaps been the loudest advocates of withdrawing confidence in the existing government or calling new elections. Lately, Talal al-Zubawi envisioned a coalition of 180 deputies from Iraqiyya, “some of the Kurds”, ISCI and the Sadrists that would withdraw confidence from Maliki. That would be a real “political-majority” alternative. If it existed in the real world, that is. The trouble is that few things other than their hatred of Maliki bring these groups together. In the case of the Sadrists, in particular, one can easily get the impression that their participation in the “political-majority” alternative to Maliki is mainly a smokescreen designed to obtain further concessions from Maliki in the current government – which in turn might further emphasise sectarian antagonisms within it. Zubawi’s allusion to a Kurdish split on what to do with Maliki is nonetheless interesting in itself.

Constitutionally, there are two possible ways to forming a new Iraqi government: Withdrawal of confidence in the current government and the formation of a new one based on the presidential prerogative of identifying the “biggest bloc” in parliament, or new elections altogether. Since Iraqiyya appear somewhat distrustful of President Jalal Talabani – still considered a Maliki ally – their most likely preference would be new elections. But in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, Iraqiyya leader Ayyad Allawi hinted at another problem: Those elections would have to be conducted with an impartial judiciary. That in turn illustrates the dilemma of Iraqiyya in deciding whether to participate in the current government in order to bring about reform from within, or opting for a more radical course such as new elections.

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Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues, Sectarian master narrative, UIA dynamics | 36 Comments »