Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for December 17th, 2011

Iraqiyya Decides to Boycott Parliament

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 17 December 2011 12:05

In normal democracies, if political parties are unhappy with the general situation, they may try to sack the government – or in case they themselves are part of that government, resign from it.

Iraq is not a normal democracy. If you still need proof of that, take the latest decision by the secular Iraqiyya party to boycott parliament in protest against highhandedness on the part of the Shiite Islamist prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki. Supposedly, the move is intended as a warning to Maliki that ministers may be withdrawn, too. The goal is also to win over other critics of Maliki that are currently part of his government, such as the Kurds and ISCI, which are both unhappy with aspects of Maliki’s policies.

The nature of the move also serves as an indicator of some of the problems in Iraqiyya’s strategy. They are reluctant to give up control of ministries proper and are using a parliamentary withdrawal as a substitute. Iraq remains a patronage-based society and with ministries come power, as simple as that.

Second, today saw the first session of parliament without Iraqiyya participation. 184 deputies were present (some sources say 182), meaning that the quorum (163) was easily reached – although half an hour extra was apparently needed in order to rouse some deputies from their sleep and bring them to the assembly. During the past year, parliamentary sessions have typically gathered around 220 deputies, to some extent reflecting the fact that Iraqiyya already stood out as one of the blocs with a particularly poor attendance record. What these numbers show is that Maliki may well be able to continue to get things done in parliament regardless of whether Iraqiyya participates or not. (Indeed, he may well continue to get things done without reference to parliament at all.)

As regards the internal balance in Iraqiyya, it should be noted that the decision to boycott was taken by a meeting yesterday night chaired by its leader Ayad Allawi, in the house of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. It is being suggested that most sub-components of the alliance were present. Usama al-Nujayfi,  the parliamentary speaker and leader of a significant faction within Iraqiyya, will go on chairing parliament even as Iraqiyya deputies are absent.

The problem for Iraqiyya is that the Kurds may well see this whole situation as an opportunity to gain further concessions from Maliki instead of joining ranks with Iraqiyya in a move to sack the government. If Iraqiyya jump and no one else follows, they could be left out in the cold.

From the point of view of Maliki, a tactical alliance with the Kurds combined with an increasingly authoritarian approach to the Sunni-majority areas (tribal support councils etc.) may well be considered an option. More realistically speaking, though, as long as he does not want to be seen as the man who sold Kirkuk to the Kurds, Maliki will figure out he does need some substantial partners from Iraqiyya. Whether he sees the current situation as a potential juncture for achieving that remains to be seen. Over the past few years, parliament speaker Nujayfi has been particularly chameleon-like in his dealings with Maliki, sometimes signalling a greater inclination towards compromise but more lately also indicating sympathy with the rising pro-federal trend among Sunnis that Maliki so vociferously rejects. It is noteworthy, though, that so far there is no major pro-federal movement in Nujayfi’s home constituency of Nineveh.  

Chances are that Maliki may well try to soldier on as a strongman for all of Iraq despite his limited parliamentary backing. With the United States gone, it could increasingly be Iran, Syria and Turkey that will define the external environment of Iraq’s factional politics.

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