Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for December 28th, 2011

The Arbil Agreement Versus Daawa Authoritarianism

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 28 December 2011 13:28

After the airport hold-ups, the arrest warrants and the bombs, the political turmoil in Iraq is now beginning to produce political statements focused on competing visions for the future of the country.

In an op-ed in The New York Times today, Iraqiyya leaders Ayyad Allawi, Usama al-Nujayfi and Rafi al-Eisawi bemoan increasingly authoritarian tendencies in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s second government. The accusations against Maliki include overreach with respect to his attempts to control the security ministries as well as manipulation of the Iraqi judiciary for political ends. The cure, as the Iraqiyya leaders see it, is implementation of the shadowy Arbil framework that prepared the ground for the formation of the second Maliki government in November 2010.

For his part, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has also used the opportunity to reiterate his own vision of Iraq. Basically, he is saying that the Arbil agreement contains many unconstitutional provisions regarding power-sharing and that the constitution must prevail. In more practical terms, he is saying that if ministers from Iraqiyya are unhappy with his current approach he is prepared to replace them by acting ministers without pausing for parliamentary approval.

Both Iraqiyya and Maliki have ended up with rather strained arguments. In their NYT op-ed, Allawi et al. say they represent a non-sectarian Iraq, and yet the Arbil agreement is in fact a very clear step towards greater formal sectarianism in Iraq, including calls for ethno-sectarian “balances” in the institutions of the state. Maliki is technically correct in deeming large parts of the agreement unconstitutional. On the whole, the Arbil agreement implied Iraqiyya moving extremely far in a pro-Kurdish, anti-centralist direction as soon as they realised that they themselves would not control the premiership.

But Maliki, too, is on thin ice with his revived “constitutionalism” argument. It is true that the constitution posits a prime minister that is relatively strong vis-à-vis his other colleagues in the executive, and more so after the veto powers of the transitional presidency council came to an end in late 2010. However, Maliki seems to forget that vertically speaking , the same constitution also delegates an incredible amount of power to both governorates and federal regions. It could well be argued that Maliki’s way of centralising power towards the governorates south of Kurdistan is as unconstitutional as the Arbil agreement.

Alas, Iraqiyya leaders are probably likely to go on insisting on the implementation of the Arbil agreement. (Not that it matters much anymore, but so will probably the United States.) This is likely to be a frustrated uphill struggle for several reasons. Many of the provisions of the agreement depend upon the passage of additional legislation in parliament, and some of this should arguably be approved in popular referendums since the provisions are unconstitutional in their present shape. Even if it were successful, the Arbil agreement would lead to a fragmented state with ever greater focus on ethno-sectarian identities, i.e. the opposite of what Iraqiyya traditionally stands for. There are signs that at times, even Iran sees this scenario as preferable to an overly dominant Maliki.

With respect to Maliki’s vision of a strongman ruler that speaks a nationalist language, it is pretty much a Shiite version of Saddam Hussein. This in itself may be more in tune with Iraqi tradition than Western observers are prepared to admit; however the question is whether Maliki will be able to implement it in practice. So far he has emulated Saddam strategies with respect to using tribal powers in areas dominated by the opposite sect (the Sunni-dominated Baath carefully built ties to the tribes in the Shiite south). To some extent, he can probably also depend on the fact that many Kurds and Shiites that are flirting with Iraqiyya these days will likely revert to bilateral dealmaking with him if matters should truly come to a head. 

More significantly, perhaps, at yesterday’s cabinet meeting, the presence of three ministers of Iraqiyya (which is supposedly boycotting these meetings) was celebrated by members of Maliki’s coalition. Those present were reportedly the electricity minister Abd al-Karim Aftan al-Jumayli, Izz al-Din al-Dawla and Abd al-Karim al-Samarraie. It is noteworthy that Dawla and Samarraie are from the Iraqiyya factions of Usama al-Nujayfi (Iraqiyyun) and Tareq al-Hashemi (Tajdid) respectively.

This may well represent Maliki’s game plan: To break Iraqiyya and co-opt a limited number of their ministers into a revamped cabinet. So far, his successes in this respect have been only modest: It is noteworthy that Allawi, Eisawi and Nujayfi collectively signed the NYT op-ed today despite persistent rumours about internal wrangling in Iraqiyya. Today, symbolically, while everyone agrees on the need for an urgent “national conference”, the Maliki camp wants it to go ahead in Baghdad, with others including Iraqiyya preferring Kurdistan as summit location.

If Maliki wants to build something sustainable, he will have to be honest with his own “constitutionalism” and admit that the constitution needs fixing if he wants a centralised form of government south of Kurdistan. Recent anti-federalism statements from Sunni politicians in Mosul suggest there is still a Sunni audience for this kind of message. Re-visiting these issues through the creation of a new constitutional review committee may have a more liberating effect on Iraqi politics than reverting to the stalemates associated with the Arbil framework.

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