Iraq and Gulf Analysis

After a Futile and Counter-Productive Boycott, Iraqiyya Returns to Parliament

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 30 January 2012 12:54

The return by the secular Iraqiyya coalition to parliament, announced yesterday, seems like a logical albeit long overdue move.

In the first place, to boycott parliament was in itself a tactic that above all signalled isolation: Iraqiyya was unhappy with the general direction of Iraqi politics but was evidently unable to change the political game, whether through its representatives in parliament or through its participation in cabinet.

More recently, there has been evidence that Iraqiyya was also hurting itself through its actions. Since the start of the boycott, the frequency of defections from the coalition in both Sunni and Shiite areas has increased. Still, it is noteworthy that Wataniyyun, one of the recent breakaway groups who promised to never rejoin Iraqiyya, yesterday hailed the decision of the leadership to return to parliament.

The lingering question is whether Iraqiyya will withdraw its ministers permanently from cabinet. In that respect, there have been even clearer indications of a substantial renegade trend headed by Iraqiyya ministers wanting to keep their cabinet jobs despite having been ordered to boycott by their party leaders. In particular, the ministers who have continued to attend meetings despite the official boycott are from the Karbuli bloc of Iraqiyya called Al-Hall as well as a Turkmen minister for the provinces.

At the same time, there are signs that Maliki and State of Law also have shortcomings with respect to their ability to benefit from the situation. For example, their deputy Fuad al-Dawraki yesterday expressed satisfaction of the return of the Iraqiyya “since it represents a certain component” of the Iraqi people. That is not only tantamount to falsely claiming Iraqiyya is a Sunni party; it also indicates the limits to the prospect of the (mainly Shiite) State of Law successfully co-opting breakaway elements from Iraqiyya as much-needed additional parliamentary support.

What will probably define the struggle in the weeks to come is not the elusive national conference or any real attempt at implementing the Arbil agreement, but instead the fight for the annual budget – the only item parliament is constitutionally bound to deal with, and also the only item where Maliki truly needs the active support of parliament.  In recent sessions it seemed Maliki would have to navigate between Kurds seeking concessions for their emerging energy sector and Sadrists with populist demands about citizen petrodollars. With the return of Iraqiyya, there will be the third alternative of compensating Iraqiyya deputies in Sunni-majority areas with budgetary pork barrel.

A potentially cross-cutting and complicating issue in all of this is the continued struggle over the general amnesty law. On this issue, Sadrists and Iraqiyya see eye to eye in wanting a more liberal regime, whereas Maliki’s State of Law coalition is more restrictive towards wide-ranging amnesties. In the past, there have been attempts by politicians to bundle several bills with the budget in order to maximise their own leverage in negotiations, though not always successful – the law on electoral conduct proposed in December 2009 being a case in point. Chances are Maliki will press for a separate budget deal with whomever is prepared to negotiate with him on his terms.

Iraqiyya are trumpeting the initiatives from Sadrists and ISCI (as opposed to the stance of Maliki) as reasons for returning to parliament. If there is to be more than rhetoric to this, they will need to find agreement on issues (and agendas) when parliament reconvenes tomorrow, 31 January. The budget is now the number one item on the agenda.

29 Responses to “After a Futile and Counter-Productive Boycott, Iraqiyya Returns to Parliament”

  1. Mr. Anonymous said

    “That is not only tantamount to falsely claiming Iraqiyya is a Sunni party..”

    Iraqiya IS a Sunni party (ie. sectarian) . It’s also pro-Baathist(Mutlaq and Allawi) and partly Islamist(Tareq al-hashimi and others) . I guess this classification is based on facts , please prove otherwise .

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Iraqiyya won severeal hundred thousand votes in areas south of Baghdad in the March 2010 elections. Many of them were Shiites – you cannot pretend they dont exist. At the leadership level, of course, there are prominent Shiites too, Allawi and Shaalan come to mind. Ideologically, the coalition remains secular in its outlook.

    Recruitment patterns are different from ideology. It remains a fact that Allawi did much better south of Baghdad than Maliki did north of Baghdad in the latest elections.

  3. Santana said

    Iraqiya should just buy time right now..they are in a weak position and politically at their weakest point ever against Maliki/Daawa in my opinion.
    The chances of Maliki giving up his Sectarian dictatorship and moving towards a shared government is almost zero- but God willing Syria’s Asad will be history soon and Iran is squirming already….the only hope for Iraq is if the bloodline to the tumour/cancer (Maliki and Daawa) is shut off…so I really don’t see the point of any debates nor conferences nor any political efforts cuz it is NOT a democracy by any stretch of the imagination and completely useless with this guy.Change will come externally first and internally immediatly after.
    Let him have his fun……every dog has his day…. I am certain it’s not gonna last….not even till the next elections. I think Iraqiya should just lay low for now, attend everything, smile to “Qaed Al-Dharoora Abu Asra” and say cheers-let the bastard have his damn lollipop- who knows- maybe he will choke on the damn thing.

  4. RS said

    Recruitment patterns are indeed different to ideology, but two things blur that distinction with regards to iraqiya:
    – regional efforts to get senior sunni politicians to put their differences aside and join iraqiya – an effort to unite the sunni arab vote behind the list
    – that despite the secular ideology concerted efforts were made to include tariq al-hashimi, who until 2009 was the head of the ISLAMIC party of Iraq

    I am not surprised they got so many votes south of baghdad – there is no doubt that the list is well polished with very effective publicity targeting secular iraqis.

    But also given regional interference not surprising SOL didnt do as well north of baghdad, though the outcome was v embarrassing for them.

  5. jason said

    Reidar,how much longer until new provincial and local elections? Unhealthy going so long without some kind of elections for people to vent their frustrations.

  6. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, they are still at the level of discussing changes to the local elections law. There are no governorate elections until 2013, but there could be elections for the sub-governorate entities (qada and nahiyya). Those councils are largely powerless but I agree it could have a positive effect to have a reshuffle simply for the purpose of waking up the Iraqi politicians!

  7. I think Iraqiya should focus on one factor: Gaining Shia votes. I am as skeptical as any commentator on this blog of Maliki’s intentions to run fair elections but without popular backing it cannot challenge the validity of the elections. I think there is too much “democracy” inside Iraqiya, trying to keep a semblance of unity by bending to the wishes or fears of those who want to be nice to Maliki will cost them votes.

  8. Santana said

    Faisal- I totally agree that Iraqia needs more shiite votes..I think we have a good chance with the more educated and liberal shiites ,but there are so many challenges to overcome with the Southerners and that is where the real volume is…- they are very simple minded and Maliki and Daawa have already brainwashed them (that supporting Iraqiya means the Baathists are back), plus another obstacle to winning them is that Sisitani will intervene – if it gets serious enough or even that new guy from Tehran or Qum (I forgot his name)that has just set up shop in Najaf and is competing with Sistani,I understand that either one of them has a license to issue fatwas -like here it would be against any shiite support for Iraqiya …………and then of course there are other issues swaying southern voters away – like the good Ol curse of the Abbas.

    So I am not sure where/how we can get more Shiite votes? Any suggestions?…….. anyone? maybe if Iraqiya gives up on all the Security ministries….maybe then the fear of a “coup” is diminished….???

  9. Reidar Visser said

    Santana, I think you could mean Ayatollah Shahrudi, a cleric of Iraqi origin who long served as the head of the judiciary in Iran under the Khomeinists. Unlike Sistani, he is a strong Khamenei supporter and has recently come back to Iraq.

  10. Santana,
    In order to win votes Iraqiya needs a media strategy that can deal with Maliki’s brainwash and possible Sistani’s intervention. Iraqiya needs to be more in tune with the emotions and fears of the southerners, not to be preoccupied with its own fears.

  11. Santana said

    Thanks Riedar- Yes, that is who I was thinking of….infact it is because Sistani is not under 100% control of Khamenie that they sent this loser over- so even if they have different ideologies- believe me when it comes to something like allowing any secular party to ascend they will both be equally against it.

    The last thing Iraq needs (or the region for that matter) are more Islamists in goverment …shiites or Sunnis all the same….why can’t they all stick to their mosques and stay the hell out of contolling peoples lives ???

  12. observer said

    The problem is that there are ex-baathis in Iraqia. So the charges do stick. It matters not for people that most of them quit the Baath in the 70’s or 80’s. It would be great if they repudiated in masse the ideology of the Baath and repeat in public what Allawi always says (i.e. we will prosecute those with blood on their hands). The problem is that the likes of Mutleg or even the she3a baathis are not convinced that the Baath ideology is wrong. Rather they say that the Baath government was great until it was taken over by Saddam and his clan. While the Baath government did nationalize oil, and made great strides in education of the illiterate, they also – from day one- started a campaign of terror and rooted themselves well into the government. One of the worst steps they did was to make the government and the President the seat of all power including legislative and executive (the revolutionary command council).

    AS for the next elections – Iraqia should be truly a mix of She3a/Sunna/Kurds/Turkman. I think they should even go to the effort of nominating she3a muslims in Anbar, Tikrit, Diala. They must get rid of the “tag line” that they are a sunni party. Of course Iran is not going to stand still and wait. Expect many problems in the next couple of years that will polarize Iraq even further. We are going into a sectarian era and as far as I am concerned, I have become convinced that a confederation is the best way forward. I know that RV will hate what I am saying but I see no alternative. Pollack in his last article indicated that the DOS is trying to break Iraqia apart (which actually lit a light bulb in my head as it fits the contradictory evidence I see on the ground) – yet the word on the street is that the americans support Iraqia and that Allawi is a US stooge.

  13. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, what puzzled me in the Pollack article was precisely the reference to an alleged Obama admin effort to split Iraqiyya. I am making queries on the subject but if anything knows anything, feel free to jump in…

  14. Observer,
    I agree that sectarianism is here to stay and I like your suggestions. To take it further, federation means pro-Saddam areas will be free to idolize Saddam and pro-Khomeini areas will idolize K. I am for that but will everybody be so tolerant? And what about the Kurds and their plans to annex “disputed” areas?
    Regarding Pollack, I think Ayad Allawi complained of the US’s intentions on numerous occasions, I wonder what he thinks..

  15. Burke said

    After the Iraqi elections Obama called a meeting of his top foreign advisers and asked them who they felt had the better chance of becoming PM. All bar none said Maliki. So he said then there is no point working on the possibility of Allawi getting it so lets not even discuss that any more.

    Pragmatism always prevails.

    As for breaking Iraqiya apart – I hardly think they need any help. What unifies Iraqiya? State of Law is basically one politically party (one of the oldest in Iraq) + few independents. Whether you like or hate Dawa they are rooted in Iraqi society and history. The moment Iraqiya and it’s supporters stop viewing them with such contempt is the moment Iraq can start to reconcile.

  16. Santana said

    The administration is not trying to split Iraqiya…they don’t have that kind of “scheming ” mind nor do they have the depth/acumen…the only thing the U.S does in Iraq – and is still doing- is sending Jeffrey around trying to get Iraqiya guys to kiss and make up with Maliki…they just want the next 10 months to pass smoothly in Iraq with no civil war- current status quo is GREAT as far as they are concerned (no news is good news)….Elections guys- U.S elections !…that is all that matters with the administration right now..they are saying”let’s get Obama re-elected…..after that who cares…Iraq can go to hell…there are no third terms to worry about”.

  17. Wlad said

    So, where are the pro-Khomeini and pro-Saddam areas in Iraq?

  18. Wlad,
    Al Oja seems to me to be pro-Saddam despite the fact that Saddam killed two of their prominent sheikhs, and if you search in the internet you will find several incidents of demonstrations, even inside Baghdad, where pictures of Khomeini were raised. I know there are many who disbelieve that there are true supporters of either, the point I am trying to make is that in a federation it is up to the regions, or provinces or towns, to decide which symbols to accept and which to reject.

  19. anonymous said


    I can’t believe the generalisations being posted here – “there are so many challenges to overcome with the Southerners and that is where the real volume is…- they are very simple minded…”

    REALLY??!! Have ever even been to the South and spoken to people there?! One of the fiercest competitions took place in Nasiriya in the elections and the votes were very widely dispersed between different political parties/coalitions so no your brainwashing theories don’t really hold much sway.

    It’s not even prejudice against rural people because Anbar is rural too. But many people in Anbar voted for Iraqiya so by God they much be intelligent.

  20. anonymous said

    If you want to win more Shii3i votes, you can start by respecting Iraq’s shiites as people of equal value, who have contributed greatly to Iraq’s culture and heritage. And yes, that includes the shiites in the south. Every heard of Badir Shakir Al-Sayaab? I believe he might have been one of those simple-minded southerners!

  21. Santana said

    Yeah Anonymous- I have heard of Badir Shakir Al-Sayab…great poet…and I am willing to bet he would have voted for Iraqiya.

  22. observer said

    you do not need to have a chip on your shoulder. The fact is that many She3a vote for the religious parties and it is easy to capitalize on their emotions with the charged atmosphere before each elections (which is the modus operandi of the She3a Islamic parties). That is not just a generalization of Santana, it is a fact.

    What few know (or are willing to admit) is that the she3a arabs of Iraq have been always on the forefront of Arabic Nationalist movements. Do you realize that 7 of the 9 founding members of Baath were she3a arabs?

    The leftists and anti imperialist Iraqis were always banished to Chibaish during the monarchy and that is in no small part why many people from Chibaish and the environs became so accomplished in the 60’s and 70’s (it is about education after all!) until the Baath party was taken over by Saddam and his minions. Fact is that many of the Baathis who participated in the communist purge in 63 were from the south. That is also a fact that many would like to forget. Another fact from today’s Iraq is that former Baathis who chose to join the ranks of SOL are forgiven, but not those who join Iraqia. So is there a double standard? I leave it to you to deny it or accept it.

    I can accept DOS not supporting Iraqia for pragmatic reasons, but working on disintegrating it is counter to US interests (as far as I can tell from my admittedly limited understanding of how US pursues its interestes in the long term). Frankly I am not smart enough to see what the value is for DOS in fragmenting Iraqia except to make Da3wa and Maliki the new Baath and Qaad al Dharora of the new century. Is that in the interest of the US? Dosen’t democracy require at least two strong parties competing for votes with competing ideas? Please somebody explain to me how destroying the secular movement in Iraq benefit the US?

    I am not going to give the DOS the benefit of the doubt on this one. Pollack is not a regular guy. He is well connected, especially to the Democratic party, and he knows what he is speaking about. He would not put that paragraph in (regarding DOS trying to break Iraqia apart) without basis.

    I would hate to see Tikrit putting Saddam on a pedestal. I know many Tikritis who claim that Saddam is not even from Tikrit and they lament that they got stuck with the reputation of being supporters of Saddam. Have you talked to the likes of Moufaq Tikriti or Mukhlis and his people?

    At any rate, sectarianism has been instituted by now and it will be hard to put it back to what it was previously. What I fear about confederation is that it will inevitably lead to disintegration and the creation of weak entities that are easily influenced by outsiders (even worse than it is today). But I for one am tired of seeing the death counts. Let the people of Iraq have a break and live properly. They have not had a moment rest for 50 soem years now.

  23. bb said

    Perhaps the recent troubles will result in Iraqiyya doing some hard thinking about the future. I agree (at last!) with Faisal Kadri when he says the party needs a media strategy and to be more in tune with the emotions and fears of the southerners and less pre-occupied with its own.

    The over-riding issue for the shia is security. Iraqiyya can address this by speaking CONSISTENTLY in the language of reassurance and reconciliation and pledging uncompromising committment to defeating the remains of the insurgency for the good of all. The more hyperbole on defeating the insurgency the better. Stop the constant predictions of civil war – they are just exacerbating shia fears and mistrust of your party.

    Write up on a whiteboard “It’s Unity, Stupid.” (This is a play on Clinton’s successful victory line in ’92, “it’s the economy, stupid”!)

    I understand why Observer is going the federalism route, and in principle this may be a future pathway. But in the present climate demands for regions are also just exacerbating shia fears of civil war. The regionalism issue should be viewed as a long term fallback strategy. In the meantime sell the nationalism/unity message.

    For all its terrible sins, the Baath in its early days was a modernising, reforming party and I believe that’s how Iraqiyya should be projecting itself today – with the emphasis on security, fairness and equality for all.

  24. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, thanks for the Chubayish info! There was also some movement in the opposite direction: In the 1920s, Salim al-Khayun, the amir of the Bani Asad (which dominate the Chubayish area) was banished by Faisal I and the Brits and had to go and live somewhere in the north, I think around Diyala. His descendants still live there and I think one of them is now an ISCI politician…

  25. RS said

    Observer – I think your analysis about links with the Baath party is spot on, and definitely an important reason why many would not vote for Iraqiyya (Mutlaq’s continued praise of the Baath party etc)

    However, there’s a problem with Allawi’s proposals to prosecute all with blood on their hands. First, the impression I got from watching one interview with him many years ago is that he seems to be envisaging that only a hand-full of very senior baathists (similar to the 52 deck of cards idea in the US) are included in this. I think everyone is agreed that the vast majority of Baathists were only there to progress their careers, but there is a problem with where you draw the line. There must nevertheless be many many people with blood on their hands. But also what constitutes blood on your hands – does informing on your neighbours or students in your class count? What if this lead to their arrest and ultimately their execution? Or do we just implicate the judge that passed the death sentence? or just the person who physically carried out the execution? or none of the above? I think the circle of guilt is ultimately a lot wider than many are comfortable to admit and prosecution is not an easy option for many reasons, including whether evidence which is strong enough to charge on is available and floodgates arguments too.

    But there is another problem for Iraqiyya which I think is potentially thornier – it is also about whether Allawi himself can clear his name. I know that he left the Baath party and survived an assassination attempt – but he did not join the Baath party out of fear or to progress his career and there is fear that during those years he got Iraqi blood on his hands. This is the kind of article that works against him:

  26. observer said

    Your post is an exact example of the double standard I pointed out to. Baathis who are with Iraqia are dealt with (rightly or wrongly) with a different standard than those who choose (for convenience not belief the ranks of SOI (Sherwan Waile and ALi SHlah are just two minor examples). I do not have the time (or the inclination) to go on defending Allawi or others. It comes to the basic principals that either you believe in secular future for Iraq or Islamists. I have made my choice, but I also recognize that I am lucky enough to save my ass when and if the time comes. I would be willign to bet that youa re posting from outside Iraq, therefore you can be theoretical as much as you want.

    I would urge you to watch the interview of Allawi I posted in the upper thread. A more forthcoming straight forward answers you will never get from a politician. I would be surprised if Allawi decides to run again – so stop complaining about him and find another scape goat.

  27. Santana said

    I looked into where Pollack may have gotten the notion that the USG is trying to split Iraqiya and it turns out that there is some truth to it after all (I stand corrected)…but I also found out that only one guy is behind it and he is not at DOS….I emailed Riedar who that person is … Reidar has my permission to share that with you in a private email assuming you are interested in knowing who came up with this bright idea.


  28. Observer,
    Muwaffaq Tikriti is a good friend of mine, I talk to him regularly. With all due respect I said Al Oja (not Tikrit), I know the difference. Also, I mentioned that Saddam assassinated two of their leaders. Saddam assassinated many more from Tikrit. The point is: All communities are entitled to their symbols and historically Iraq is made of a wide diversity of communities with conflicting religious beliefs, it is not unreasonable to extend the same tolerance and respect to political beliefs of smaller communities.

    Regarding a different observation, I watched Ayad Allawi’s interview and noticed his confession that he shares in the blame for a failed political system. I read an article that suggests the blame goes back to the New York conference of 1999. Can you please confirm the veracity of item 4 in the article?

  29. observer said

    thanks Santana. I look forward to hearing from RV. Faisel – I was not in Vienna nor am I aware of what Chalabi did in SA. Ibtrahim Zubaidi is full of self importnat stuff and makes up half of what he says. There is enough truths though to give the whole article legitimacy, though please know that he is an outsider to the inner circles of decision making (as am I).

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