As if any reminders were needed, the leak of some outstanding issues related to the Arbil agreement over the weekend only served to underline the essentially utopian and completely unimplementable character of that whole concord. The published list is not an “agreement” at all; rather it is a schedule of legislative priorities that includes several items seen as particularly difficult, including the law on the supreme court which constitutionally requires a two-thirds majority. Also, it should of course be emphasized that the released points are not the full Arbil agreement, which also includes a more limited trilateral document which is the only thing signed by PM Maliki, Allawi of Iraqiyya and the KRG’s Barzani (and which among other things deals with the intention of establishing a strategic policy council).
Only emphasizing the amateurishness of the whole thing, some points released from the Arbil agreement amount to de facto rewriting the Iraqi constitution. This includes the ridiculous “consensus” file, which stipulates 100% consensus for certain “fateful” issues including constitutional reform. Never mind that constitutional procedures with lower thresholds are already in place. Another dubious item that comes to light is the concept of “constitutional balance” (tawazun dusturi) – code for ethno-sectarian quotas and supposedly to be implemented for such positions as deputy ministers, ambassadors and governmental commissions. In fact, the Iraqi constitution merely stipulates such quotas for the armed forces/security forces and the constitutional review committee. The only other constitutional balance requirement is in article 105 and relates to the formation of a committee that will make sure governorates and regions (not ethnicities) are given “fair” participation in government. Again, this depends on future legislation and cannot be implemented by fiat of the political leaders. All in all, the Arbil agreement is simply too big and ambitious – a classic case of political bulimia and nothing more.
Thus, despite these supposedly fateful revelations, the only truly interesting question in Iraqi parliamentary politics these days remains whether the Sadrists are prepared to sack Maliki or not. Everything else – including lofty agreements to implement every iota of Arbil – will play into Maliki’s hands by letting him procrastinate the many proposed pieces of legislation ad infinitum. Meanwhile he will continue along the lines of his preferred strategy: Nominal power-sharing and de facto minority government, reflected in an accumulation of acting ministers lacking parliamentary approval. As long as his enemies appear unable to unite in sacking him, why would Maliki do anything else?
A word on the international approach to the ongoing Iraqi power struggle is also in order. Those who want to get rid of Maliki – especially in Iraqiyya but also in some American circles – tend to portray him as an Iranian stooge. They should keep in mind that it is Muqtada al-Sadr that commands the swing vote in this matter. Whatever Sadr decides is probably what Iran sees as being in its best interest. Consequently, if the Sadrists should after all line up with the others to vote out Maliki, this will probably reflect an Iranian desire to see him go, perhaps in order to have him replaced with a “weaker” Shiite premier. This is why it is so hard to understand those arguing for the sacking of Maliki from an anti-Iranian perspective.
As for the US, two contradictive tendencies are seemingly at work. Some months ago, the Obama administration was accused of promoting a “split Iraqiyya” policy aimed at deeper integration of some Iraqiyya ministers and other government officials while shutting out those parts of Iraqiyya that don’t cooperate with Maliki. The merits of those accusations are disputed. But in any case, it deserves mention that if there is in fact such a policy by Washington, it gets constantly contradicted by the US government’s own insistence on keeping the Arbil agreement as the key to better integration of the government. This is so because as long as Arbil remains on the agenda (instead of, for example, a more limited but implementable deal on security ministries), key “centrist” people in Iraqiyya like Usama al-Nujayfi – the parliament speaker – will continue to take the positions of Allawi and the Kurds and the wide gap to Maliki will remain, without any meaningful integration of secularists and Sunnis in the current government.
There are reports that Barzani, the KRG president, is travelling to the United Arab Emirates today for a high-level meeting, supposedly to heap even more pressure on Maliki. The truth is that Barzani can travel as much as he wants but it doesn’t matter much unless he makes Muqtada al-Sadr actually withdraw confidence in Maliki.