Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

30 Responses to “After One Month of Boycotting: Iraqiyya at a Crossroads”

  1. Santana said

    I really can’t find anything in all this that Maliki would accept…not even this conference that the U.S is banking on so heavily ….It WILL be a flop cuz Maliki is much more arrogant, powerful and much more inflexible than previous conferences …..and to add insult to injury- Iran is more involved now in his decision making process….so I see VERY little chance of success at this conference (if it happens at all).
    My conclusion is that there are no peaceful solutions with Maliki/Daawa….unfortunatly it is too late to do anything besides Iraqiya going into the opposition while Iran creeps in and takes the country.

  2. “make a deal with Maliki”
    Yeah sure..Sounds like an oxymoron.. Iraqiya can’t win by playing small part against Maliki/Iran. I think the best strategy for them is defensive: Keep their dignity and work on their voter base. Don’t share the blame when things are going bad.
    The Hashemy/Mutlak episode proves that there is no point in alliances with Maliki, he burnt his own bridges.

  3. Reidar Visser said

    The simple point I am making is that Iraqiyya is hurting itself with its current policies. In terms of organisation, there appear to be defections almost every day. In terms of political ideology, Iraqiyya is looking increasingly similar to the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Masud Barzani.

  4. bb said

    Is this a fair chronology of events since Dec 12.? PM Maliki leaves the country for four days on an official visit to Washington to mark the withdrawal of US forces. Barely has his plane taken off when Iraqiyya local politicians declare an autonomous region in Diyala, sparking immediate sectarian backlash. He emerges from his meeting with president Obama to see his deputy, Mr al-Mutlak, from Iraqiyya, telling a US audience on CNN that he is the “worst dictator ever” in the history of Iraq. As he flies home, Iraqi police are battling with water cannon to protect the local government headquarters in Diyala from a mob of shiite, probably sadrist, retaliators. He then learns Iraqiyya has announced a boycott of parliament and withdrawal of its cabinet ministers after meeting in the official residence of the Vice President, attended by its leader, Allawi, .
    Iraqi media is filled with sunni politicians predicting resumption of civil war; no mean threat as alqaeda -in-Iraq suicide bombers target government buildings and shiite civilians.

    Within a few days of his return, order has been restored, parliament/government continues to function and it is Iraqiyya which is falling apart.

    Reidar, do you think its time for Mssrs Allawi, Hashemi and Mutlak to accept government pensions, take early retirement and start writing their memoirs?

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Single-governorate regions, per definition, are not sectarian and it is a mistake for Maliki to try to label them as such.

    Maliki’s desire to sack Mutlak seems justified but he needs parliamentary approval (and he needs to stop pretending that he doesn’t need parliamentary approval).

    I do think the leadership of Iraqiyya is struggling with strategic issues and it would be helpful if they just forgot about the Arbil agreement and started thinking practical politics instead.

  6. observer said

    BB that is the most weird re-writing of history I have ever read. Obviously you live outside of Iraq.

  7. observer said

    there maybe development that you just can’t anticipate. Iraqia is alive and well.

  8. bb said

    Of course they are not, by definition. But surely a unilateral declaration by Iraqiyya politicians the moment the PM leaves the country accompanied by threats of civil war, are?

    The trouble is, Allawi and co seem to be extremely bad at practical politics; unfortunately for them PM Malik seems to be very good at it. On the face of it, as soon as they depart and someone like Nujayfi takes over leadership, the better.

  9. Reidar Visser said

    Bb., it’s not like those federalism declarations came out of nowhere. They had been preceded by a campaign of arrests in which old members of the Baath party were rounded up with no proper crime defined and only vague references to a supposed coup d’etat plot.

    Interestingly, today a State of Law politician is saying the same as you are saying re Nujayfi:

  10. observer said

    bb Propaganda aside, do you really believe that the problems started with Maliki leaving the country to go visit Obama? what the heck? You want to erase with one stroke the events leading up to that moment? If you want to have credibility, at least call a “spade” with its real name!!!

  11. bb said

    Observer: I confined my chronology to Reidar’s timeframe in the post – you know, Another Month in Iraqi Politics. Took the series of events from RV’s blog postings here, his commenters, including yourself and also from Musings on Iraq. Yes, I do understand there were many events leading up to Dec 12, but what is of interest to me is your party’s concerted, orchestrated actions after Maliki left the country to bring on what its leaders seemed to think would be a decisive challenge to Maliki’s prime ministership? So far they seemed to have failed lamentably. All they have done is strengthn it.
    Or perhaps you are saying it wasn’t orchestrated, but ad hoc emotional responses – in which case, going by the outcome so far, it doesn’t say much for Allawi’s talents at strategic planning as Reidar is suggesting. Time to go out to pasture.

    On Nujayfi – the fact that he is an engineer (electrical) by profession suggests he might have the sober, analytical temperament to successfully lead the sunni arab constituency and give Iraqiyya some gravitas. The experience he is getting as parliamentary Speaker continually negotiating with all the parties, is invaluable addition to those attributes in my view as an outsider.

  12. Reidar Visser said

    Haha, if you want to be essentialist about occupations and trades, I just cannot resist: The Nujayfi family is also famous for, um, trading horses! Fine Arabian horses, that is.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think Nujayfi often expresses a moderate position within Iraqiyya. But he needs to make up his mind now – has been quasi-federalist since summer 2011.

  13. bb said

    That would make him hugely popular in Australia, Reidar. We are just crazy about our thoroughbreds here.

    On engineers – better than lawyers let me tell you! I would be interested to know how big a part Nujayfi played in assisting Maliki to get rid of all those useless ministries last year.

  14. Ali W said

    Observer, I would love to have the same faith you have in Allawi, Iraqis like me would love to have an alternative to the current parties in power. However as long as Allawi speaks against Iranian intervention but not Saudi, as long as he stands with Hashemi, Multlak and Ani, the Iraqi people will not vote for him in sufficient numbers for him to realise his dream of premiership.

    I do believe you when you say you have personal contact with Allawi and the leadership, so please advise him to start distancing himself from nations that are a greater threat to Iraq and politicians who have past links with Baathist and who are sectarian to the bone against fellow Iraqis. That way he will win enough votes to form a truly majority based, non-sectarian government which is secular and can build Iraq into a progressive nation.

  15. Observer said

    really. emotional responses. Do you count the hours of meetings as emotional debates about what options are available to Iraqia given the force arrayed against it not to mention the divergent interests within. Or how about the meetings with the Kurdish block and the countless trips to and fro.

    If Iraq was truly democratic, where justice is truly independent and where the supreme court is not under the direct influence of certain forces, the situation would be quite different. But alas it isn’t.

    We have an Iran that is threatening and is threatened by the west. We have political parties that view their god given mission as higher order than the simple matter of governance. We have regional forces that are afraid of the intentions of both the US, Israel, and Iran.

    Let us assume that Allawi retires. Is that the answer to all of Iraq’s problems. Suddenly, everything is going to be clear and easy to resolve.

    Back to the “orchestrated” effort – really? If anything, i fault Iraqi leadership on being reactive and never pro-active. Probably the only one in the leadership that anticipates events is Allawi.

    Regardless, continue on your path and I will on mine. But one thing you always get from me. I call a spade by its real name and I do not give anybody a free pass.

  16. Observer said

    by the way, the security around the green zone was tightened even before his Excellency travelled to DC. So he must have had a copy of the play book orchestrating the actions of Iraqi. I can’t stop laughing. Forgive me.

  17. Salah said

    I think Bb raised very good point, Maliki visit to US is time to show his move to take control and strengthen himself and his party and other “guerrilla” factions.
    According to McClatchy, reported Maliki’s security services have locked up more than 1,000 members of other political parties over the past several months, detaining many of them in secret locations with no access to legal counsel and using “brutal torture” to extract confessions, his chief political rival has charged.

    The London’s Guardian newspaper reported Monday on an extortion racket involving Iraqi state security officials who systematically arrest people on trumped-up charges, torture them and then extort bribes from their families for their release.

    So Maliki move is not out of the blue.

    As for Iraqiyya, really in position hard to choose or take options with Maliki. There are no doubts this man is untrusted and is move to dictatorship style. Is that serve US and other power inside Iraq, time will tell.

  18. Observer said

    Ali W,
    If anything is orchestrated with a plan it si Da3wa’s continued rooting into the government and incredible corruption. Take Isaam Assadi as one of the many that are helping reap billions of dollars from the treasury….

    As for SA and Turkey’s meddling in Iraq (as opposed to Iran). As far as I am concerned it is a counter to Iran’s and it is needed at this point in time. Iran is on the loosing side of history and I have little doubt that in the long term their back will be brocken even if they develop a nuclear weapon. Moreover, if you think that SA or Turkey dicate what Allawi does, then you are mistaken. Allawi is not in government to be able to stop Iranian, Turkish or SA meddling nor to adopt policies that would make them rest assure that Iraq is going to be taken over by a mortal enemy of theirs (i.e. give everybody reason to fell that their interests are not going to be adversly affected).

    Now for you – can you please defend for me the position of Iraq in support of Asad and the Baath party in Syria or why is it that Maliki speaks out against Turkey, SAm when he is silent on Iran? I suppose he can say that he needs Iran to stand against Turkey and SA (not to mention that he was put in place with the help of Iran – but let us put that aside for now). Why is Iranian influence ok and not that of Turkey. SA, Kuwait, or Jordan? The only reason why iran is better (for Da3wa) than Turkey or the US is that Da3wa shares a sectarian belief with Iran in regards to the future. The coming of Mahdi and all that other bull crap that goes with the myths of faith. Tell me is it proper to plan the actions of state based on sectarian beliefs?

    don’t worry – I voice my critique on issues internally to Allawi and to others, but I am practical and know that there is a need for regional coordination of action.

  19. Observer said

    A thought just struck me!.
    Your call for Allawi to go “to pasture to pasture” echos one made by a certain Ali Shallah only a couple of days ago. Is that part of the plan of Da3wa? i.e. to pin all the problems of Iraq on Allawi’s meddling and continued whining about Maliki’s dictatorial tendencies..

    Oh an irony for you. Are you aware that Ali Shallah is a Baathi of the first order?

  20. bb said

    Observer – fwiw, from my armchair perspective here in Australia I’ve always liked/admired Allawi right from the beginning. He became the first post-invasion PM at an extraordinarily difficult time and led the country, in my view with great patriotism. His notable achievement was ridding Fallujah of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his salafi loonies which enabled the stunning success of the first truly democratic election in the arab middle east, Jan 2005. The irony being, of course, that any democratic election in Iraq would result in a Shia religious-parties led government by virtue of the overwhelming demographics in their favour. Five years later he again showed great leadership to pull all the sunni parties together under the one umbrella and got a well-deserved electoral reward.

    However, since then it seems to have been downhill all the way. Iraqiyya or its equivalent has to be a strong, robust, party capable of building its electoral appeal in the shia constituency and cementing an alliance with the Kurds. This is going to take time – years – Observer, and a lot of hard, painstaking work from level-headed political leaders.To be honest, I can’t see how these over-heated predictions and threats of civil war in an environment when the sunni salafis are still alive, bombing, bent on provoking another sectarian blood-letting – helps Iraqiyya if the long-term goal is building electoral support from the shia? I don’t think hysterical appeals to the US helps that goal either. Nor do declarations to a US audience that the prime minister is the worst ever dictator. It sure creates the impression that the current Iraqiyya leadership is living in the past.

  21. Observer said

    There is not a threat of civil war, there is a prediction of such. Look at the situation from the prospective of those who are being marginalized and tell me what there options are? They have no income and are dependent on the largesse of the central government and they will continue to be so if they do not develop alternate means. Since winning elections (Iraqia won – right?) is not the way to change policy in Iraq (thanks to the so called “independent judiciary”), then pray tell what can be done short of civil unrest?

    Now I will ask you, was Saddam successful in stopping the Kurdish movement or crushing Da3wa?

    Do those who are marginalized have an option other than insurrection to get their demands addressed. Please advise me as to how, I wil make sure that the odeas are passed along.

    As for what options iraqia has, the arsenal is not depleted per se and there are options but it requires lots of work to bring about changes.

    Bottom line, if Maliki and da3wa are not removed, game over.

  22. bb said

    Observer happy to suggest some options but you need to give me a premise. eg when you say “bottom line if Maliki and da3wa are not removed, game over” what is the time frame you have in mind? ie this year, before next elections, after next elections, or some indeterminate date in future?


  23. observer said

    There will not be an election and if there is one, it will be rigged and the campaign will be under tense conditions that will discourage activists who are not backed by militia to work freely.

    Do I need to remind you of the threat of Maliki in the last days of counting to take over the electoral commission. I was present when a major general had to scramble his forces back to Baghdad to make sure that no such thing happened. Even with that, it was discovered later that 400k votes were taken away from iraqia and given to SOL – do you recall the Hamda affair of 6 months ago and how she was forced to resign and then shortly after that Maliki tried to replace the electoral commission.

    Regardless, let us assume that there is going to be elections and move from there. The She3a Islamic parties, under pressure from Iran, will run together, open list and all. They will get a majority fo the votes in the south (god only knows what they will do to inflame the sectarian feelings in the three months leading to such an election). Majlis is powerless as maliki has used the resources of the government o lure away large factions (Bader) from the ranks of Majlis to his side. Maliki will also have the resources of the government at his hand to buy votes and distribute monies, etc. So Maliki will be the PM candidate and the same will continue.

    Hence – game over if Maliki is not removed after this latest mess and he is allowed to be in power when the next election comes about.

  24. anonymous said

    Observer – please clarify who you are referring to when you refer to the marginalized with no income? who have no other option but insurrection??

    with or without the federal court’s ruling, who ever was going to be named PM wansn’t going to be named until he already had his alliances in place. You know this is how it works with Iraq. The pact is agreed before the President is named, and before the president even has the opportunity to give anyone the task of forming the government. Even if the finer details take weeks/months of working out, Maliki would have had to strike his deals with the Kurds and the Iraqi Alliance, which in any event means that Allawi failed to strike a deal. He was talking to Barzani and to the Sadrists, yet both chose? were told? to back Maliki. So he might have won two more seats but he couldn’t get in place the necessary coalition.

    But Allawi neverthless had 91 members of parliament, speaker of parliament role and 12 ministries is it? Yet Iraqiya continue to make the ridiculous claim to westerners that they are a persecuted, weak opposition. If Iraqiya’s 91 members actually bothered to turn up to parliament they could have worked with others who share their interests to put into place all the necessary legislation that Iraq desperately needs to improve the lives the marginalized with no income!

  25. observer said

    You are rewriting history. The discussion (which are video recorded) during the writing of the constitution clearly indicates that the PM is from the larges ELECTORAL block. Otherwise why make a distinction and create lists in the first place and why did Maliki and SOL spent months negotiating with the other she3a parties on exactly how many seats Da3wa was going to get in the combined list.

    So please do not give me lessons on an era I lived through 0 thank you very much.

    The pact was agreed to after Da3wa promised the world tot the Kurds and promised to run Iraq through consultation (remember the strategic council) yet he had no intension whatsoever to deliver on any of his promises and proceeded to marginalize everybody and come up with excuses as to why he is not going to violate the constitution when he violates it every day with subjugation of the justice system, unlawful detentions, use of the power of the state for the party, etc. etc.

    Regarding income – look for the response to Muhammad in the next thread…

    Oh and I love the implication that Iraqia is to blame for the non performance of SOL. Great line of argument !!!!.

  26. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, just one minor question, is the video evidence you are referring to the tape described below?

    If that is all the video evidence that exists, I would contend that it is inconclusive.

  27. bb said

    You can’t form a government in a parliamentary democracy unless you can command a majority on the floor of the parliament. It is irrelevant whether or not you win the plurality – in a hung parliament, you have to have the majority. In Iraq’s case both Iraqiyya and SOL had to negotiate with third parties in order to get the majority support.

    It was exactly the same in the UK and Australian elections in the same year – 2010 – which also resulted in hung parliamemts. David Cameron could not form the government until he had the support of the third party Liberal Democrats. If Gordon Brown had won their support, then he would still be Prime Minister. Here in Australia our Prime Minister only holds office by virtue of third party and independents support who negotiated with both sides for 3 weeks before making their decision.

  28. observer said

    I know what was meant and what was not meant as I was in Baghdad at the time and we had almost daily briefings. If anything, the video makes it clear that the Achilles heal of the constitution is the fact that the writers were clueless as far as using expressions interchangeably. Let me ask you, why bother with electoral blocks when there is no distinction as to which block has the right to nominate the PM (since it will all be based on parliamentary maneuvers). WHo bother with the first choice then the second choice. If one uses logic then the inevitable conclusion is right there in front of all. Anyway, this is all a theoretical issue as the negotiations after the elections AND the screwed up muddying of the waters by the POLITICALLY controlled court made it possible for Maliki to stall the process.

    BB – thanks fo the parliamentary lesson, but trust me I do not need your help in understanding. The point you want us to forget is that Iran blocked the Sadris and Majlis and PUK from supporting Iraqia or a candidate other than Mliki… Argue all you want, Maliki is the PM because of Iran and a clueless US embassy run by the giant thinker Christopher Hill, who is the subject of the thread just above this one.

  29. bb said

    Observer fwiw, imo, the Iranian influence argument is much more believable cause for grievance than the constitutional one. Also, the most serious issue going forward, also the most serious threat to the integrity of the Iraqi electoral process.

    However, nothing in geo politics is static. Unexpected events can upend the most pessimistic expectations overnight as the shia exiles and Kurds discovered after 9/11. If the US, UK, EU, Israel mean business this time and the Green revolution gets revived in Iran as a result, then the political climate in Iraq and elsewhere would be considerably changed. That’s the only hope I can muster. You have me totally depressed!

  30. anonymous said

    Any chance that the kurdish aliance felt a bit alienated by Hashemi and Nujaifi’s statements only days after the elections that the presidency should go to a Sunni Arab? Not a great start to bridge-building and negotiations you may think!

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