The Arbil Agreement and the Real World: Time for Some Cold Water
Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 11 February 2012 19:45
Tomorrow, Sunday, Iraqi leaders will once more meet to make preparations for their next big get-together. When, or if, there is ever a national conference-style gathering in Iraq – possibly to downgrade expectations it is now officially just called a “national meeting” – it is unlikely to turn into the implementation of the far-fetched and shadowy Arbil agreement. At most, the meeting will end in renewed agreement in principle to legislate non-implemented aspects of Arbil (strategic policy council, oil and gas law etc.) whereupon those pieces of draft legislation will come up against the usual stalemates when they actually reach the floor of the Iraqi parliament.
It could be argued that only two items in the Arbil agreement stand out as having some realistic chance for implementation: Cabinet bylaws and the distribution of the security ministries.
Maliki knows perfectly well that the inclusion of the cabinet bylaws as a separate item at Arbil was aimed at restraining himself as a potential strongman. However, unlike many of the other items in the Arbil agreement, on the bylaws one Maliki cannot easily hide behind the claim that the proposed mechanism is outside the constitution. In fact, the constitution specifically demands the adoption of bylaws for the cabinet (85), and not even a parliamentary decision is needed.
What Maliki can do, of course, is to rely on the proven ability of Iraqi politicians to quibble forever over even the most inconsequential details, making it a safe bet to assume that no early adoption of cabinet bylaws is terribly likely.
That aspect should be kept in mind also by those who want to use the upcoming meeting for the purpose of modifying what they see as highhandedness on the part of Maliki. Perhaps they may want to have a look at the second implementable item instead: The allocation of the security ministries.
For more than one year, the security ministries have been in the hands of acting ministers – Maliki himself for interior, with close allies at defence (Dulaymi) and national security (Fayyad). Two main attempts at having them filled through parliamentary procedure (March and May 2011) both failed. There is general agreement that the jobs should be filled by professionals nominated by the secular Iraqiyya (defence ministry) and the Shiite Islamist National Alliance (interior ministry) respectively, although attempts have been made to Maliki to define the defence ministry as reserved for a Sunni rather than an Iraqiyya candidate, which could enable him to impose a figurehead instead. Critics of Maliki claim the current acting (Sunni) defence minister is precisely such a figurehead.
The dynamics of the security ministries have changed somewhat over time. Initially there was considerable intra-Shiite conflict between Maliki’s State of Law and the other Shiite parties, and the Sadrists in particular, about who should become interior minister. The Sadrists at one point wanted Ahmed Chalabi for interior minister; Maliki favoured Shiite professionals who had worked for the old regime.
More recently, there has been renewed focus on the Shiite candidates for the interior ministry, with a more consistent chorus of voices suggesting Tawfiq al-Yasiri, who was once in the Iraqi army but fled after 1991, is now the consensus candidate of the Shiites and that he also enjoys some support from Iraqiyya and the Kurds. The problem now is apparently that Maliki has rejected a string of defence ministry candidates from Iraqiyya, citing de-Baathification in ways that look inconsistent with how he himself is in the habit of employing Shiites with a Baathist past. In fact, it seems Maliki is actually quite happy with Dulaymi as acting minister. It is not entirely unlikely that Maliki is using the candidacy of Yasiri mainly as a fig leaf and that he is actually also happy with his close ally Adnan al-Asadi continuing to exert de facto control at the interior ministry.
If that assumption is correct, probably the only way Iraqiyya can obtain support for one of their own candidates at defence is to think outside the box. What Iraqiyya could do in order to make Maliki change his mind is to remind him of the fact that the Sadrists are waiting in the wings with a claim for a deputy interior minister. If they want to reach out to Maliki, Iraqiyya could make sure to support an interior ministry candidate that the other Shiites detest. There is precedence for this: In the second half of April 2011, Maliki reportedly offered Iraqiyya to support their candidate for defence if they would give him the necessary support to get rid of Ahmed Chalabi as the interior ministry candidate of the Shiites. Maliki has similarly resisted other candidates for the interior ministry considered too close to the Sadrists such as Abd al-Karim al-Sudani. As recently as September 2011, Maliki was in trouble in Maysan when he imposed a police chief (Ali Ghazi al-Hashemi) with a military and Baathist background against the wishes of ISCI and the Sadrists.
Alas, Iraqiyya is apparently not thinking along those lines at all. In a sad repeat of their manoeuvres to obtain Shiite support for their Ayyad Allawi as premier candidate in summer 2010, Iraqiyya leaders have once more been courting ISCI and Sadrists in order to “challenge” Maliki. As has Turkey. As has the United States (minus the Sadrists). These players just don’t see that the “challenge” to Maliki will never tip the balance.
If Iraqiyya proceeds like this, one of the few likely results of the upcoming national meeting could be the appointment of a Sadrist deputy interior minister. How wonderful.
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