On His Uneasy One-Year Anniversary as Premier, Maliki Escalates Iraq’s Political Conflict
Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 21 December 2011 13:23
Exactly one year ago, the second government of Nuri al-Maliki was approved by parliament in Baghdad. At the time, the event was celebrated by commentators in the international community as a sign of Iraq’s prospering democracy. The Obama administration was jubilant that a pluralistic form of democracy embracing all of Iraq’s ethno-sectarian groups had prevailed.
What was forgotten by commentators back then was that the formation of the government was only partial. A projected strategic policy council, intended to accommodate the leader of the secular Iraqiyya party which won the most votes in the March 2010 parliamentary elections, remained at the drawing board. No agreement was reached regarding key security ministries. The vice presidencies had yet to be officially appointed since there was no law determining the procedure of their appointment.
One year on, most of this work has yet to be accomplished. Even optimists realise the strategic policy council is not even close to being implemented. The security ministries remain in the hands of acting ministers that are close to Maliki but that have never received parliamentary approval. Three vice presidents were eventually appointed, but one has resigned and another is now being targeted by Maliki in a judicial process that so far smacks of political vendetta.
At a press conference today, Maliki himself seemed unworried about these shortcomings. Indeed, he appeared to be taunting his opponents, saying he expected to appoint acting ministers for Iraqiyya ministers that are boycotting the sessions of parliament, as well as installing a new vice premier and a new vice president to replace Salih al-Mutlak and Tareq al-Hashemi respectively (he is also seeking to extradite the latter from the Kurdistan government). Implausibly, he seems to indicate that he has the power to do these things without parliamentary consent, which is a clear violation of article 78 of the constitution (it requires at least a plurality vote in parliament before any minister can be dismissed by the premier).
Also today, Maliki reverted to his old threat of establishing a political-majority government without Iraqiyya. It seems unlikely that he will go as far as resigning, which would once more give the Kurdish president a kingmaker role. The Kurds are unhappy that their many demands for forming the second Maliki government have not been met, and in particular that the (rather unrealistic) aim of having an oil and gas law passed in 2011 remains unfulfilled. For their part, Iraqiyya are now calling openly for Maliki to be sacked.
A more likely scenario is a move towards a de facto majority government, with a marginalised parliament and ever more acting ministers that have yet to receive parliamentary approval. The Kurds may still be a potential partner, but if parliament remains half full, Maliki can also dominate it by pandering to fellow Shiite Sadrists instead of making compromises with other groups. The Sadrists were the ones who ultimately delivered the premiership to Maliki last year and will likely continue to receive his attention in times of trouble.
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