Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for January 18th, 2012

After One Month of Boycotting: Iraqiyya at a Crossroads

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 18 January 2012 19:27

It is exactly one month since the secular, increasingly Sunni-backed Iraqiyya coalition began boycotting  the Iraqi parliament, followed by the withdrawal of its ministers from cabinet sessions. It has been a dramatic month full of heated verbal exchanges with political opponents; nonetheless it is high time that Iraqiyya stands back and reflects on what exactly it has achieved so far.

In terms of practical results, Iraqiyya’s actions have at least managed to put the subject of some kind of “national conference” on the agenda. Iraqiyya are hoping that such a conference will deal with the fulfilment of promises made by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki during the process of government formation in November–December 2010. But doubts remain about the exact agenda, location and date of the conference.

More fundamentally speaking, it is the unequivocally negative results of Iraqiyya’s boycott that stand out. The boycott has clearly accelerated a trend of defections from the Iraqiyya coalition by individual politicians and groups of politicians that are more interested in taking part within the system than in boycotting. Examples include prominent politicians from Babel and Nineveh – the latter showing that this is a phenomenon that includes Sunnis as well as Shiites from Iraqiyya. The defectors are not necessarily openly pro-Maliki, but they tend to agree with Maliki on some issues, including an aversion against the recent pro-federal trend among some Sunni politicians.

The net effect of all the defections from Iraqiyya since early 2011 may be a loss of around 5 deputies so far. That may not sound like a lot, but every single defection does bring Maliki closer to his dream of a so-called political majority government.

So what are Iraqiyya doing at this momentous juncture? Alas, very few new ideas were presented by coalition leader Ayyad Allawi during his speech today. In fact, all three alternative ways forward proposed by Allawi involve constitutional problems that have been debated before.

Firstly, the suggestion by Allawi to have new elections under an interim government is unconstitutional. This goes back to an idea which has consumed a ridiculous amount of energy both among Iraqiyya leaders and the Americans since 2009, to the effect that there could be some kind of neutral “caretaker” administration during the run-up to elections. Unless the prime minister resigns or is voted out of office, there is no such thing as a transitional caretaker government in the Iraqi constitution, period. The legal status of the government remains exactly the same until a new government is formed. Additionally, any call for early elections would of course reopen the stalemated debate about the composition of the Iraqi elections commission and the electoral law, probably ensuring that actual elections would not happen until 2013 at the earliest.

The second suggestion by Allawi to have the dominant partner in the government, the Shiite National Alliance, change its prime minister (i.e. sack Maliki) is also unconstitutional as long as he means changing the PM only. As per the constitution, once the PM is voted out of office, the cabinet as a whole is considered resigned and it is the job of the president to identify the biggest bloc in parliament and charge its PM candidate with forming a new government. Constitutionally speaking, then, there can be no smooth and easy transition from Maliki to whoever may be waiting in the wings – Allawi is probably thinking of Adel Abd al-Mahdi; Iran of Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Thirdly, the alternative of trying to enforce an implementation of the Arbil agreement itself would also be unconstitutional, as Maliki has rightly reminded us lately. Things like the national council for high policies, the idea of “balance” in the ministries of government, and the re-establishment of the presidency council are all unconstitutional. One of the few specific points of the obscure Arbil “agreement” that actually resonate with the constitution is the demand that bylaws for the cabinet be adopted. In the current political climate, early agreement on such a complex piece of legislation seems entirely unrealistic.

The real alternatives for Iraqiyya seem very few at this point in time. They may of course opt for the pro-federal course, as some have attempted, but this might also end up with a bloody nose as well. Examples of Sunni resistance towards federalism continue to manifest themselves, and might well surge considerably if an actual referendum were to be held.

A far more realistic course of action would be to forget about most of the acrobatics of the Arbil agreement and instead focus on something very basic: The security ministries that are still run by acting ministers not confirmed by parliament (the interior one being of course Maliki himself). Although the constitution does not expressly deal with the question of acting ministers, the idea of having ministers confirmed by the national assembly is so central to all variants of parliamentary democracy in the world that Maliki would be in for severe international criticism if he should opt to continue with acting ministers indefinitely.

What Iraqiyya could and should do is to make a deal with Maliki on the security ministries that appeals to his desire to be in a dominant position vis-à-vis competing Shiite Islamist factions. It is well known that the Sadrists, Fadila and ISCI are all critical of some of Maliki’s nominees for the interior ministry. What Iraqiyya should do is to give Maliki support for an interior minister that is unpopular with the other Shiite factions in exchange for a defence minister acceptable to Iraqiyya. That could, over time, bring about the rapprochement that the Arbil agreement will never be able to produce.

For Iraqiyya, the real alternative to rapprochement with Maliki is none of the three options discussed by Allawi today. Rather, it is an inevitable process of internal disintegration, eventually leading Maliki to establish a more narrow governing coalition that will likely exclude many Iraqiyya politicians entirely.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 30 Comments »