Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for October, 2011

Maliki Pulls It Off Again: The State of Law Minority-Government Strategy Is Working

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 4 October 2011 22:08

What is nominally the second partnership-government of Nuri al-Maliki can increasingly be described as a minority government of his own Shiite Islamist State of Law bloc relying on ad hoc support from other players including the Kurds, Sadrists and White Iraqiyya. The outcome of tonight’s high-level meeting of political leaders in Baghdad suggests that Maliki’s apparent strategy of proceeding with the slimmest possible parliamentary support base could in fact be working.

The main issue at today’s meeting appears to have been conflict over the agenda. It had originally been envisaged that the meeting would address such issues as the security ministries, the proposed national council for high policies, and more broadly the future of the “Arbil framework” that led to the formation of the second Maliki government in December 2010. However, Maliki apparently managed to turn the meeting into a more limited discussion about the parameters of the US “instructor” presence after 31 December 2011. On this issue, the meeting concluded with a formula that apparently gives Maliki what he wants: There will be instructors but they will enjoy no special legal immunities. Maliki will be able to sell this arrangement to his constituency in the same way that he sold the SOFA agreement in 2008, arguing that by appealing to the values of nationalism it is possible to squeeze the Americans: In 2008, the Bush administration pushed for a long-term arrangement and ended up with a 3-year withdrawal plan; in 2011 the focus is on mere “instructors” and Maliki will apparently not give the Obama administration what it wants in terms of legal immunities for those instructors. No agreement on numbers was reached at today’s meeting.

In terms of politics, the significant development today was the withdrawal from the meeting of two Iraqiyya leaders, Ayyad Allawi and Tareq al-Hashemi, apparently in protest against the more limited agenda. The lone protest by Allawi and Hashemi in turn symbolises the problems of the opposition to Maliki. At least four Iraqiyya leaders (Usama al-Nujayfi, Salman al-Jumayli and Salih al-Mutlak plus Arshad al-Salihi of the Turkmen Front) must have remained in the room after Allawi and Hashemi left. Maybe the recent visit to Iran by Usama al-Nujayfi and the rumours about friction between him and Allawi has played a certain role? Similarly, the participation at the meeting by Qusay al-Suhayl (Sadrist) and Muhammad al-Hashemi (representing ISCI) signifies the reluctance of those forces to challenge Maliki, despite the widespread assumption in some Iraqiyya circles close to Allawi about their willingness to do so. Significantly, too, there was no word about any Kurdish withdrawal. As expected, White Iraqiyya participated.

What this all means is that the repeated calls from Iraqiyya for fresh elections are unlikely to go anywhere. If Maliki should get into trouble with the Kurds, as some recent parliamentary defeats might suggest, he can probably rely on elements from Iraqiyya that are critical of Allawi as far as oil and gas legislation and Kirkuk are concerned anyway. More probably, though, Maliki may seek to continue to defer decision on these contentious  issues as much as possible until such time that he believes his own State of Law coalition can win a parliamentary election and form a smaller majority government proper.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi nationalism, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | 23 Comments »

Maliki, the Fayli Kurds, and the Return to an Ethno-Sectarian Political Discourse in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 2 October 2011 19:34

Ever since he came to power in 2006, a key issue for Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki has been the tension between, on the one hand, a majoritarian, all-Iraqi politicial discourse, and, on the other, a discourse that instead emphasises the identity of separate ethnicities and sects.

In a speech to a gathering of Fayli Kurds yesterday, Maliki certainly emphasised ethno-sectarian identity. Firstly, Maliki stressed that the Faylis had suffered more than any other Iraqi community because they are “both Kurds and Shiites”. But not only that. Maliki advised the Faylis to seek “unity” within the component (mukawwin), meaning he demanded political conformity across the imagined “Fayli Kurd community”. He went on to suggest that the census to be carried out in Iraq in the future would make clear how many Fayli Kurds there are in Iraq! This would effectively transform the census to a questionnaire about more than mother tongue (Arabic, Kurdish or Turkish) and main religion (Muslim versus Christian): It is mainly their Shiite sectarian identity that sets the Faylis apart from other Kurds.

Seen in isolation, one could wonder whether Maliki perhaps was simply following a strategy of reinforcing sub-divisions among the Kurds, as seen before in Iraqi history and perhaps most prominently in the case of the Shabak around Mosul. But Maliki’s tendency to focus more on the components than the whole has been a consistent trend since the disappointing result for his State of Law coalition in the 7 March 2010 parliamentary elections. Back then, Maliki expressed disappointment that his hope of building a political-majority government had been crushed, and that the alternative of an ethno-sectarian power-sharing formula would likely lead to ineffective government. However, Maliki soon seemed to adapt to the new realities. Already in August 2010, people in his alliance (and the US ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill) expressed the view that the prime minister “had to be a Shiite”. This year, Maliki and his State of Law allies have increasingly expressed the view that certain posts should be given to sects, as seen especially in the call for the defence ministry to go to a Sunni. These are all important steps towards the permanent Lebanonisation of Iraq.

There are of course examples of brave resistance and cases where Iraqi national sentiment clearly does survive. When Turkmens in Kirkuk recently demanded an ethnic Turkmen militia to protect them, Sunni Arabs from the same area instead called for central government intervention, notwithstanding the fact that the Iraqi army is now Shiite-dominated. Similarly, those Sunni Arabs were among the first to reject the idea of a Sunni federal region when it hit the political agenda this summer.

Away from political elites, many ordinary Faylis continue to express unhappiness about being labelled as anything other than Iraqis. However, it seems Prime Minister Maliki is now giving them pretty little choice.

Posted in Sectarian master narrative, UIA dynamics | 13 Comments »