Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Barzani Throws Down the Gauntlet

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 10 January 2012 19:22

In the clearest statement yet, Kurdish leader Masud Barzani has said he will not attend any national conference to deal with the current political crisis if it is held in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Barzani’s stance is supported by Ayad Allawi, the leader of the secular and increasingly Sunni-supported Iraqiyya party, and is strongly resisted by the Iraqi premier, the Shiite Islamist Nuri al-Maliki.

The question is whether the move will prove a bridge too far for Barzani. Or rather, the real question is whether Maliki truly needs the national conference, tentatively scheduled for the end of January. 

Maliki has after all spent the weeks subsequent to the US withdrawal in mid-December to signal a complete disregard for the issues that his detractors (and partners in government) want to discuss at the national conference. Above all, Maliki has gone far in saying that the Arbil agreement of November 2010 is mostly unconstitutional (which is true), and that having received his share of the bargain (the premiership) he intends to ignore anything in the agreement that cannot be found in the constitution. This includes calls for the creation of a high council for strategic policies, ethno-sectarian balances in government ministries and ethno-sectarian formulas for the allocation of security ministries.

To some extent, developments over the last weeks have indicated that Maliki may in fact succeed with an audacious policy of ignoring both Iraqiyya and the Kurds at the same time. In the first place, despite the Iraqiyya boycott, parliament has continued to meet and has made some progress on the 2012 budget which needs to be passed over the next month or so. Iraqiyya has seen a flurry of defections, quite a few of which have occurred in Sunni-majority areas and cannot easily be attributed to intimidation by Maliki supporters (as has been claimed with respect to the south). Some Iraqiyya ministers – in particular independents and those from smaller factions like Al-Hall – have continued to take part in cabinet despite an official boycott. When Maliki presides over elaborate military displays and emphasises his role as commander in chief, he is probably thinking of an alliance of his own Shiite coalition and new breakaway elements from Iraqiyya and the White party that alone can reach the critical absolute-majority mark of 163 deputies in parliament.

Recent reports suggest Maliki is even about to try to reshuffle the Kurdish chief of the Iraqi army. It is not the first time such rumours appear: In December they were heard in relation to Kurdish demands for more power in government; this time it is being suggested the refusal to hand over Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is part of the equation.

It is high time Iraqi politicians begin to understand Maliki and his modus operandi. In 2010 he promised the Kurds to deliver on their 19 points in exchange for their support for his second term – and went on to discover that most of those points were unconstitutional so it would be difficult to implement them. There is a similar situation with the Sunni-majority governorate of Anbar, which handed Maliki a list of 20 points. Maliki approved, of course, provided that everything was in accordance with the constitution. Needless to say, from 2008 and onwards the federal supreme court has mostly produced rulings in favour of Maliki – certainly on questions of centre-governorate relations where some decisions have placed the provincial powers law of 2008 above the constitution itself. The judiciary also seems sufficiently amenable to Maliki’s desires that it synchronises its business to fit his agenda, probably creating a sense of terror among political opponents not unlike that seen during the run-up and the immediate aftermath of the March 2010 parliamentary elections.

But Maliki can also be pragmatic. He probably does not care much if the Iraqi parliament is left to its own devices for most of the year, but he does need its approval for the annual budget. Exactly one year ago we had a similar situation subsequent to the euphoria of the government formation; Maliki then turned to the Kurds and made compromises on oil exports the basis for a budgetary deal. He went on to ignore most of the Arbil agreement and has continued to consolidate power. Today he is probably weighing whether he actually needs the Kurds – all of the Kurds –  to pass the 2012 budget.

Scenes like these have been played out before. It deserves mention that much of the Arbil conference that led to the formation of the second Maliki government actually took place in Baghdad. The Iraqi football association – just like Iraqiyya dominated by secular and anti-Maliki personalities – long tried to have its summit in Kurdistan but eventually ended up having it in Baghdad anyway.

Maliki must be asking himself why he, as the Iraqi prime minister, should take the trouble of travelling to the Kurdish region to attend a conference he does not really need. Maybe the most interesting question today is whether the rest of the Kurds, and in particular those who are the Kurdish competitors of Barzani, will back up his demand to have the conference outside Baghdad.

17 Responses to “Barzani Throws Down the Gauntlet”

  1. Santana said


    Maliki doesn’t need the Kurds for anything- not even the annual budget- he has complete access to all of Iraq’s Oil income and he can buy a political majority without the Kurds. Bribes and terror are his weapons…I am so happy that the Kurds have finally realized what a low-life Maliki is….but I am also dissappointed that it has taken them so long to figure it out…maybe even too late to do anything about it.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Santana, my sense is that he would still prefer to have Talabani on board at least. I read his recent comments on the Talabani initiative for settling administrative boundaries of governorates with disputed territories in this light. Could he be trying to split the Kurds?

  3. Santana said

    “Could he be trying to split the Kurds” ??? Hell yes !!!….and Talabani still treads very softly around Tehran especially with the U.S gone, he can”t afford to upset them by upsetting their man in Iraq (Maliki).

    Whether he succeeds in holding his ground against Maliki will depend on whether he fears Iran enough to allow for a divided Kurdistan.
    He may retire before he has to make that decision.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    The fact that Talabani returns to Baghdad almost exactly at the time Barzani is making these statements is also interesting.

  5. Santana said

    I just got word from Baghdad that Barzani has agreed to send a rep to the Talabani conf in Baghdad.

  6. bb said

    Reidar – given the development of the “breakaways” , can you give some more info about where they and the white bloc sits in political spectrum?

  7. Reidar Visser said

    Briefly, they are not terribly coherent, but they have been vocal in condemning pro-federal currents among the Sunnis. The White bloc is overtly pro-Maliki (they used to be called White Iraqiyya but changed their name around November), to the point where they boast of the alleged “independence” of the Iraqi judiciary at every conceivable and inconceivable juncture. Rabidly anti-Kuwait.

    The most recent Iraqiyya breakaway factions (Wataniyun and Witwit) are probably less prepared to engage in wholesale pro-Maliki propaganda. They have stressed they are interested in dialogue and participation within the system but expect a fair deal on Sunni inclusion in goverment, de-Baathification and Sunni detainees in return. They make a point about looking these issues in a wider perspective, dismissing what they see as the more narrow focus of the Iraqiyya leadership on the individual cases of Hashemi and Mutlak.

  8. bb said

    Thanks. How about the leaders – are they seen as competent, technocrat types or what? Are they shia or sunni or both? And in numbers terms – how many?

  9. Reidar Visser said

    Can only answer sectarian part for now: They are both. White was sometimes described as “Shiite Iraqiyya” but this is misleading; they also have Sunni members including from Mosul.

    The latest breakaway factions from Nineveh certainly count Sunnis as well.

    In terms of numbers of deputies, White are 8 or 9, Wataniyun 3, Witwit 1, Hall potentially at least 6. Remember Wasat (10 deputies) joined Iraqiyya after White defected.

  10. bb said

    Thanks again, RV. Just one more: Wasat – who are they and where did they sit before joining Iraqiyya?

  11. observer said

    one point. the minute there are cracks in the facade of SOL, you will see many jumping ship 😉

  12. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, Wasat was the post-election bloc formed by two lists in the 2010 elections: Tawafuq and Unity of Iraq. The former is mostly the Sunni Islamist Iraqi Islamic Party (Ayyad al-Samarraie et al.); the latter is a more secular/nationalist coalition that for example includes the Iraqi Constitutional Party of former minister Jawad al-Bulani. Like Iraqiyya, it has been described as increasingly Sunni-dominated, and like Iraqiyya it also has a Shiite leader. Typical Iraqi, in other words.

    Maybe the most interesting thing about Wasat was that they joined Iraqiyya in 2011 instead of becoming Maliki’s “good Sunnis” in parliament.

  13. Karbuli’s al-Hal has 11 seats, to my understanding.

  14. Reidar Visser said

    Yeah, I even counted 12 right after the March 2010 elections but was able to find only 6 confirmed in the latest (albeit incomplete for sub-entities) parliamentary roster. I agree it is probably closer to 12 than to 6.

  15. Al-Hal started with 12 – that’s what I’ve read from news reports – but despite al-Hal’s attempts to distance themselves from Kamal al-Dulaymi, it is pretty widely reported that he was once a member. In fact some sources say he used to a spokesman, but later split and formed “The Correction Bloc” (the names get weirder as time goes on).

  16. J said

    Hello. It seems to me that while some chances are being given for a political solution to the current crisis, such a compromise or bargaining solution will take long to materialize. Few related notes/questions on the Iraqi political crisis, to which I would appreciate any insights:
    – I understand the Kurds have the Peshmerga, Sadr his militia but have other militias been totally dismantled and disarmed? (What potential is there for Iraq to turn like Lebanon in this respect? ie, after the civil war in Lebanon, only Hezbollah kept their arms and so, effectively, despite very rocky politics, the risk of another civil war in Lebanon is nil. Can we say the same for Iraq?)
    – The Sunni insurgent groups – how much of them are believed to be linked to political groups in Iraq?
    – What would it take for Sunni-backed political groups to give up on political participation under PM Al-Maliki and resort to violence directly or through proxy means?

  17. Salah said

    “Maliki can also be pragmatic. He probably does not care much if the Iraqi parliament”

    Well ….Well a new discovery………too late to little our Iraq analyst.

    Sometimes you colour him been Nationalist, but he is been Iranian face for all his life, he changed now he is don’t care about Iraq and Iraqis… what you analysis will hold more of unguided and inaccurate and unpredictable analysis ales?

    Let guess, in the end you will spread the word we will hear same old story:

    Malik dangerous man in Iraq he is unpredictable Man……. just as you all heard before about Saddam…..
    This is the “West” way of building dictators in ME, is not?

    I hope you not going in same way the “sheik” Bremer went despite his Bio very impressive, his Bio telling he is very skilled in disaster management and recovery and nation Building then now same his ilks telling about him they have never seen a man stupid like him.

    Looks the Kurds keep learning more in politics. Many of the elite in Kurdistan like to make similarities between their “nationhood” and Israelis, looks now they went to other part to get more “political” skills:

    Let us read together:

    كركوكي يبحث مع جعجع الأوضاع السياسية في العراق

    Read more:
    This article well discussed Kurd leaders doing and thinking after 1991 till now.
    The article well pointing too many points however it’s spot one when said:
    ومن اللافت في القضية الكردية أو لدى الساسة في الإقليم الانفصالي، مسألة الدولة «التوسعية» والتي تُبنى على ثقافة الاستيطان والامتداد إلى أكثر الآفاق الممكنة، كما في كركوك وجلولاء وخانقين. كما والتوسع اقتصادياً كقضية التنقيب عن النفط في الموصل من قبل الأكراد، من دون علم محافظها اثيل النجيفي، على حد قوله. يُضاف إليه سياسة الاستفادة من الوضع المربك، والمحيط الذي تقع في دائرته مركزية هذا الإقليم، حيث الاضطراب التركي الكردي «PKK حزب العمال الكردستاني»، والمشهد السوري حديثاً، وضعف المركز وقرارته في ظل غياب الرمز السني أو اللاعب الأقرب إلى بغداد.
    في مشهد ما بعد «السقوط»، ثمة مفردات ومصطلحات أسقطتها التجربة الأميركية الدموية في العراق على ما يسمى بالدستور العراقي وفي قاموس مصطلحات العراق اليومية: الحكومة الاتحادية، حكومة المركز، حكومة الإقليم، الحكومة الفدرالية… كما أحكام دستورية جديدة كالمادة 117 المتعلقة بإقليم كردستان والأقاليم الأخرى التي قد تنشأ والمواد 111 و112 المتعلقة بالنفط بين الحكومة المركزية والأقاليم والمادة 140 المتعلقة بشكل خاص بكركوك، وقوانين كقانون النفط والغاز وقانون الموازنة العامة.
    تراكيب جعلت الأكراد هم الأقوى في إملاء الشروط وإجبار الطرف الآخر على تقديم تنازلات لتشكيل جبهة الاصطفافات التي تخوله لتسلم الواجهة العراقية، لتكون «كردية» في محيط عربي عن طريق رئاسة الجمهورية (جلال طالباني) بالتوافق بين الحزبين، ووزارة خارجية كردية (هوشيار زيباري) للحزب الديموقراطي، ممثلا البرزاني في قلب المشهد العربي أو العراقي.امين%20ناصر“> إقليـم كردسـتان .. هل هـو فعلاً بيـضـة القبـان العراقيـة؟

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