As months have quickly accumulated since the national elections were held in Iraq, in contrast politicians only inch towards the much elusive milestone of forming a new government.
Whilst it is possible to provide a detailed overview of the current situation in Iraq and the key socio-political characteristics that have hampered a sense of nationalism let alone national unity since its inception, the facts provide the best summary.
Any government formation effort that breaks all previous records in terms of the time expended highlights the complicated social, ethnic, political and sectarian composition of Iraq.
Although hope of a breakthrough in government formation was prematurely conceived when Moqtada al-Sadr lent an arm of support around incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on his quest to hold on to the premiership, a plethora of hurdles, permutations, mistrust and personal agendas remain that have actually blighted the process even further than before.
With the Kurds now enjoying the decisive “kingmaker” role they have been afforded, at least in theory all that is left for the Kurds to do is “make their king” and break this impasse. However, this is Iraq and seldom are things as straight forward as this.
Not only does Iyad Allawi’s al-Iraqiya group which holds 91 seats stubbornly refuse to accept “defeat” to what has now become a highly entrenched and bitter rivalry with al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition, but it still continues to actively and eagerly tout for support to attain the premiership, far from reluctantly taking part in a loose nationalist alliance with all other parties or assume the role of the opposition.
Further to the ongoing jockeying that leaves the race for the premiership at least in practice wide open, it is perhaps the lack of buy-in from the weary Americans and a host of neighbouring powers, each with their own distinct agenda that has prevented Iraq from going past the elusive post.
As negotiations have unfolded, it has become increasingly evident that al-Maliki’s alliance is more leaning to the acceptance of the 19 key Kurdish demands. However, the US is far from happy to firstly see the pro-Iranian Sadrist’s inevitably receive a whole host of key posts in the new government as a reward for their support and secondly to see a repeat scenario of the last major elections in Iraq, the sidelining of the Sunnis leading to devastating consequences that took years to heal.
It is almost certain that Washington has waned heavily on the Kurds to ensure that they do not enter an exclusive government with Sadrist and al-Maliki as partners. Conversely, Tehran is putting increasing pressure on Ammar al-Hakim to loosen his steadfast resistant of al-Maliki with viewing to solidifying a Shiite stranglehold in Baghdad.
With the influential positions of Turkey and Iran in particular, Iraqi politicians have seemingly met with their neighbouring counterparts as much as their fellow Iraqi political competitors.
Almost inevitably the majority of Sunni dominated neighbours want to prevent a strong Iranian hand in Iraqi affairs and a sidelining of al-Iraqiya. While in theory the Kurds could still be sidelined if al-Iraqiya and State of Law were more inclined to work together, the Kurds could simply threaten to secede from Baghdad altogether. However, the danger is that if the Sunnis are sidelined what affective options would they have? They can hardly threaten to secede in the same way as the Kurds, meaning taking up of arms would be perceived as their only option.
The problem in Iraq has always been the same. How do a number of warring and embittered groups that have been essentially stitched together share a piece of the Iraqi cake?
If this cake could be shared exponentially based on a population breakdown then the solution is logical. However, the Sunni’s who in theory can muster around 20% of this cake would never accept a minority status under the Shiite shadow who in comparison can demand 60% of this cake. While the Shiites clearly warrant a bigger slice of this cake on paper, the Sunnis would never accept anything less than equal partnership.
By the same token, although the Kurds only form 20% of the population, they would passionately and vigorously resist any attempts that will ever see them as minors encapsulated by a Shiite majority or a pan-Arab alliance. For the Kurds, it is simply equal status within Iraq, an equal partnership to decide matters in Iraq and an equal say in the direction of the country or they would decide to opt with no partnership at all and pursue their own independent path.
So how affective can democracy become in a country where regardless of numbers all parties demand their share of power and representation? Or where no party will refuse to be sidelined, even if by the very nature of a healthy democracy that may be the case if another alliance outmuscles them in coalition efforts?
Even if al-Maliki holds onto power with the support of the Kurds, which has emerged as the most likely scenario, Allawi will refuse to play second fiddle in Baghdad especially when he considers himself as the real victor of the polls.
Furthermore, any al-Maliki deal with the Kurds would effectively be played on the al-Iraqiya doorstep. Would the Sunni nationalists in Kirkuk and Mosul, already at loggerheads with the Kurds over disputed territories, watch as they are firstly sidelined from power and secondly perceived to be cast off by Shiite-Kurdish deal making?
As arduous and painful the government formation has proven to be, any hailing of a new government once the dust finally settles will be premature as the real work begins.
Once coalitions have been formed, the next task which acts as the platform for the real tussle for power is the formation of the cabinet. This where the real key to power lies. Each group within a ruling coalition would need to be appeased sufficiently for their support by getting their returns on the positions of authority.
The real gauge on the political health of Iraq will be once the new government starts to work. As much as there was numerous permutations to forming power that have lengthened the process, there will be an equal number of permutations which may see the government become shaky, untenable and susceptible to stalling.
This is particularly true if a government is formed that is all inclusive and contains all major powers as the US and some Iraqi sides hope. The sharing of power will be tentative at best and decision making will be ineffective, quarrelsome and prone to divides. In other words, on paper an Iraq would exist that would look united with equal national representation, while in practice will hold back and hamper real economic and political progression.
Any inclusive government would not only result in a delicate balance of power within the cabinet, but would also see the power of the Prime Minister greatly diminish. The hands of the Prime Minister would be affectively tied by the consultation and necessary appeasement of all other “powerful” hands around his table.
As the political bandwagon stumbles on, the real people that suffer are not wealthy politicians in fortified enclaves but the very people that democracy is designed to sever and whom the politicians have been elected by – the people.
It is becoming increasingly common that politicians are more determined to serve their own goals than the goals of their people.
Not only does the Iraqi economy continue to decline and the standard of living suffer but the real threat of a new dawn of insurgency and terrorism grows by the day.