Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for February 7th, 2012

One Year On, Still No Iraqi Spring in Sight

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 7 February 2012 16:28

With the approaching one-year anniversary of the first tentative Arab Spring demonstrations around Iraq (25 February), Iraqi politicians appear unhurried and unworried.

Maybe lackadaisical is a better term? Iraqi leaders certainly seem to be “lacking in life, spirit or zest” these days. Yesterday saw yet another preparatory conference designed to reach agreement on the forthcoming and much anticipated “national conference” which will address problems inside the current cabinet that the cabinet members themselves cannot solve. It turned to be yet another pre-preparatory conference: Essentially nothing was agreed. To add insult to injury, the delegates nonetheless had the audacity to produce a “concluding statement” that reaffirmed opposition to terrorism, agreement on the constitution as the key to solve Iraq’s political problems, consensus that all components of Iraqi society need to be represented in the political process, and respect for the neutrality of the judiciary. Mashallah.

There was reportedly a fifth point, but early media reports failed to identify it. The bigger point is this: These are just generalities that every Iraqi politician will say s/he supports all the time. Upon closer inspection, the definition of terrorism, the interpretation of the constitution, the operalisation of inclusiveness in the political process and the meaning of a neutral judiciary are all disputed.

This is nothing new. The same problem pertains to the elusive Arbil agreement whose implementation is the supposed topic of the planned conference: If the agreement exists at all, it is extremely ambiguous and so dependent upon subsequent action by the Iraqi parliament, constitutional changes and approval of them in referendums that it means next to nothing. This is why the national conference, if it ever comes into existence, is likely to be a redo of the “strategic policy council” that occupied many highbrow commenters in 2010 – i.e. either it never happens, or, if it actually happens, it will have no power and real meaning.

The remarkable thing is the patience of the Iraqi electorate in the midst of this procrastination. On 25 February we will have the one-year anniversary for the limited Arab Spring tendencies that were seen in Iraq in 2011. It is plausible to attribute the shrinking of the oversized Iraqi cabinet in summer 2011 to heightened popular pressure, but other than that there was no revolutionary impact on Iraqi politics. The cabinet is still much too big and incoherent.

As for the ongoing quest for a national conference, there is everything to suggest that it will never become the  frank discussion of the Arbil agreement that some have been demanding. In particular, it has become clear that the document presented by the Shiite alliance to the leadership conference yesterday deliberately included a much broader scope of issues than that hoped for by Iraqiyya. Not least, there was specific emphasis on the relationship between Baghdad and Kurdistan, with the portfolios of oil and peshmerga financing highlighted. This seems like a clear strategy by Maliki for bringing an end to tendencies of rapprochement between dissatisfied Kurds and the secular Iraqiyya by inviting the Kurds to come over to his own side.

It is natural that the Iraqiyya leadership should be in for some criticism these days, since their 6-week boycott produced few results and mainly served to underline internal fault lines. The boycott ended today with the return of the Iraqiyya ministers to cabinet. Nonetheless, it should be stressed that Maliki has not done that much to exploit the situation either. Had he been truly versatile, he would have rushed to adopt defecting Iraqiyya members to his own bloc and made sure to get the budget passed in parliament with Iraqiyya on the sidelines. This didn’t happen, and Maliki still needs the budget to pass. Parliament has adjourned until 14 February.

Some commenters will probably say it is wonderful that Iraqi politicians are talking instead of killing: Half full not half empty. But with some of the world’s biggest oil resources, Iraqi citizens deserve better than this. Maybe over coming weeks, as the 25 February anniversary moves closer, there will be greater debate among Iraqis about the relative merits of passing the annual budget versus the multitude of other issues their politicians want to discuss at their great conference.

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