Tag Archives: Coalition

The end of the beginning as the Iraqi government gets to work

After nine months of intense political jockeying and instability as major Iraqi factions struggled to reach a consensus on power-sharing, lawmakers finally approved the new cabinet headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in a special session, which is hoped to foster a new path towards rebuilding Iraq’s shattered economy and infrastructure and promoting national unity.

Bridging together deep mistrust and animosity amongst the socio-ethnic mosaic was never going to be a simple undertaking. However, inconclusive results from the national elections in March of this year made the task an even tougher nut to crack.

After a heated race for the right to form the next government, al-Maliki proved triumphant thanks to the key support he mustered from the Sadrist bloc and the Kurdistan Alliance.

This left the challenging task of convincing the al-Iraqiya list, headed by Iyad Allawi and the victors of the polls, to grudgingly join the new government. The critical task in the Iraqi political sphere remained ensuring that the Sunnis were not sidelined once again for fear of returning to the dark days of the past.

However, as the actual bargaining to form the government produced tentative results and was marred by resentment and mistrust, there was a great danger that the cabinet formation would be tainted by the same connotations.

Faced by a constitutional deadline to announce his new cabinet, al-Maliki only presented 29 permanent nominees which were all approved, with the remaining 13 filled by temporary stand-ins.

This was to give al-Maliki vital breathing space to assess the candidates for these roles that would have overall support of parliament.

With an air of distrust that stills looms over the political chambers, finding suitable candidates to fill key security based positions that would fit the criteria of all sides is a difficult undertaking. As such the influential positions of Ministers for interior, defense and national security are still undecided.

With the security forces often accused of sectarian favouritism, any controversial candidates in these positions would only fuel further suspicion and unrest.

The tough predicament that has often handicapped the Iraqi transitional road to democracy, was perhaps best highlighted by al-Maliki’s speech before parliament – “the most difficult task in the world is forming a national unity government in a country where there is a diversity of ethnic, sectarian and political backgrounds.”

Simply put, this cabinet or government does not satisfy all sides and under the wide-spectrum of agendas, objectives and viewpoints amongst the embittered groups it is ultimately impossible to appease all parties.

Therefore, this government is a “best fit” against the current backdrop of pressures, delays and common disunity.

There was always going to be a sectarian flavour to the makeup of the cabinet and this is next to impossible to avoid. Whether in the streets and villages, the national assembly or the cabinet, the disparate and fractured nature of the Iraqi landscape is difficult to evade.

The notable appointments include former Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani as Deputy Prime minister for Energy, which was viewed as a great relief as it provided some comfort that contracts signed under his stewardship would be honoured in the absence of a national hydrocarbon law.

Abdul Kareem Luaibi as the new Oil Minister will provide further reassurance to would be investors having played a key role in negotiations with international oil giants.

Rafie Al-Esawi was named Finance Minister with Hoshyar Zebari maintaining his long-held role as Foreign Minister. There was plenty of Sunni representation with a total of 11 posts, with Saleh al-Mutlaq, who ironically only several months ago was banned for alleged ties to the former Baath party, named as one of the Deputy Prime Ministers.

Finding the formulas for short-term concord and stability has been difficult enough. Finding a formula that will allow long-term national harmony and peace where Iraqis work towards a greater common vision will take much longer.

The current cabinet may close a lid on the ethno-sectarian cracks for now but this will likely be at the expense of an effective government.

As strenuous as it proved to glue the pieces of the political jigsaw together, the pieces are susceptible to falling off at greater ease.

Allawi gave his crucial backing to the new government which was seen as a major boost for instilling positivity but it is still unclear how much power he will be afforded as leader of the new National Council for Strategic Policies.

In the realm of executive decision making, it waits to be seen how much sway al-Maliki will endure if there are attempts at curbing his power.

Much in the same way, the support of influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was critical in allowing al-Maliki to stand a second term. However, his support is far from unconditional and thus not only did he demand a key number of ministries but he will have a firm eye on the candidates enlisted for key security positions.

This has been one of the key reasons in delaying the announcement of the remaining 13 posts as negotiations ensue to find compromise candidates.

Away from the sectarian fault lines, the biggest danger to the stability of the new government is the long-term relationship between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad. The Kurds, whose support with the kingmaker status was crucial in sealing victory for al-Maliki, have been at loggerheads over many articles that have been allowed to brew and fester over the years and are now reaching boiling-stage.

The key areas of contention include the implementation of article 140 concerning Kirkuk and other disputed territories and ratification of oil contracts signed by the KRG.

The Kurds have been weary of more failed promises and submitted a 19-point precondition for joining the government, which was approved primarily by the National Alliance.

It remains unclear whether this will be explicitly signed by al-Maliki as the Kurds demand, and how legally binding it will prove in practice. It is more uncertain how al-Maliki may trade-off his partners in their respective goals. It may well come to the stage, where al-Maliki will have to decide which partners support is more crucial.

It is next to impossible, to satisfy all parties long-term without greatly forsaking another. The status of Kirkuk is the best example, where any agreement with the Kurds would be on al-Iraqiya’s doorstep.

Although, Luaibi as the new Oil Minister enjoys good relationships with the Kurds, al-Shahristani, may well maintain similar hard line rhetoric with the Kurds.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Online Opinion, Various Misc.


Now deadlock is over but hard tasks are ahead

A political breakthrough is finally reached but after eight months of tiresome political jostling, in what shape does the new government get to work?

It was an arduous, protracted and tiresome journey at the best of times, but Iraqi politicians finally brokered a deal to form a new government. The announcement came as a result of days of intricate negotiations both in Baghdad and Erbil, were an elusive power-sharing formula that satisfied all sides was finally reached.

As it has became widely expected in recent weeks, Nouri al-Maliki would retain his position as Prime Minister, with the Kurds retaining the presidency. Iyad Allawi’s al-Iraqiya would assume the Speaker of Parliament position, along with the heading of the newly established National Council for Strategic Policy.

Although the basis for the new government is crucial, distribution of key ministries and the makeup of the new cabinet are still to be confirmed. Either way, the likes of al-Iraqiya and the Sadrist will exact a price for their support of al-Maliki with key roles in the new cabinet.

With a new journey that weary and dejected politicians must now assume, the crucial milestone of agreeing on the basis of a new government may soon be eroded by the many political cracks that Iraq will need to taper. The maintaining of such a delicate balance may prove more difficult than the onset of any agreement itself.

Facts speak louder than words. Any country that sets the world record for the longest period of time without a government after an election speaks volumes about its socio-political handicaps.

Eight months and twenty parliamentary session minutes later, the MPs have plenty of work to get started on. For every day the MPs bickered and the government forming stalemate ensued, the very people that these politicians were elected to serve suffered. Much progress remains to be made in Iraq and as far as the government is concerned the real work has yet to begin.

The problem in Iraq, a disparate country fuelled by historical mistrust is the thirst for power. No side is easily willing to relinquish power to another. And finding a power-sharing solution that will satisfy each side is much easier said than done as the facts clearly prove.

Amidst the current political frenzy, it is often forgotten that protracted negotiations and political stalemates is hardly a new phenomenon in Iraq. Often at critical junctures in the past, fervent pressure from the US ensured political progress and compromise amongst the main factions. As much as the US has encouraged and attempted to help muster an inclusive government, their lack of influence this time round is clear, as Kurds, Shiites and Kurds stuck to their guns.

As kingmakers, the Kurds had clear demands for their inclusion in any coalition and if all their preconditions have been met, then this serves to solidify the Kurdish strategic standing both in Iraq and the Middle East. In recent weeks, the Kurdish leadership has played a key role in facilitating negotiations and acting as the political raft in a gulf of political tension. This illustrates the vital role that the Kurds play, both in terms of commanding a share of seats that affords them the role of kingmakers but also as the key balancing piece in the jigsaw between the Sunnis and Shiites.

In theory, the biggest breakthrough for the Kurds was the commitment of other parties to the constitution. Whilst Baghdad often look to find solutions to political rifts, the constitution which already provides a roadmap for resolving a number of key issues such as disputed territories, hydrocarbon law and federalism is sidelined.

Simply put, as long as Baghdad abides by the constitution and acts on its promise in practical terms, then the vast majority of the Kurdish wish list is already covered.

Although, a number of breakthroughs had been prematurely announced in recent weeks, it became increasingly clear that Nouri al-Maliki had won his challenge to retain the premiership. His pan Shiite alliance already made formidable reading on paper and the strategic enticement of the Kurdish coalition was all that was needed to cross the line. With the Kurds mustering a tight grip on the demand for the presidency, it left al-Iraqiya with the Speaker of Parliament position.

The heart of the problem ultimately lies with the appeasement of the al-Iraqiya group and the idea of establishing an all inclusive government. Allawi held the view to the last moment of negotiations that as the victor at the polls, his group should play the lead role in government formation. In light of this stance, convincing him firstly to accept a role under al-Maliki and secondly as a “second” party was not going to be easy.

Ultimately, the application of democracy to Iraq is often like applying square pegs to circle holes. Regardless, of the elections results and the number of seats that parties are afforded, no side is happy to take proportional power in line with the seats attained.

Although on paper, al-Iraqiya came out on top at the polls, it was under a misleading reading. State of Law only came second as the major Shiites groupings initially failed to form a coalition. Once the Shiites groups announced a new alliance to create a Shiite super-party, this sent ominous danger signals to the Sunnis. However, the timing of Moqtada al-Sadr’s backing of al-Maliki was the real hammer blow to Allawi. Thus Allawi’s instance on a government which reflects the results of the elections is not so accurate, once the real votes in parliament are tallied up.

Whilst foreign powers have tried to push Iraqis along and have lamented the time taken to form government, ironically they have been at the core of the problems. Turkey, Iran, America and Sunni neighbours have each had their own ideals on a future vision of Iraq and the basis for power-sharing. For neighbouring Sunni countries and the Washington administration, a new Sadrist backed al-Maliki premiership tipped the scales firmly in Tehran’s favour, and they worked tirelessly to readdress this balance.

It may well have been pressure from Tehran above all other external parties that led to the current deal between the main parties.

The real question for a parliament who will get to work based on power-sharing and national unity on an undoubted bitter taste, where do politicians with an over flowing “in tray” of tasks go from here? Any compromise or power-sharing formed on delicate foundations or through gritted teeth will be prone to future splits and ultimately collapse. For example, one of Allawi’s conditions was that no political decision could be made without its agreement.

As a price for his inclusion, Allawi wanted roles with real power but this is in many ways in contradiction to the constitution. Any position that can rival the role of prime minister in executive powers spells trouble. However, the backdoor manoeuvring that has taken place to appease Sunnis comes from an evident desire to avoid a return of the dark days of insurgency. By the same token, although Allawi remained steadfast on his quest for power, other elements within his ranks could clearly see the reality of a new al-Maliki leadership and wanted to avoid the bare-cupboard nature of political exclusion that they witnessed before and as a result showed increased willingness to work with al-Maliki.

Either way, it appears that Allawi and al-Iraqiya commanded a high price for their endorsement. The presidency of the National Council for Strategic Policy was designed to keep Allawi in the frame as a key Iraqi leader. However, Allawi was far from happy with consultative or ceremonial roles and demanded real power in this role. It is still unclear how much authority this council will really have.

How al-Maliki will fare in an environment were his wings are essentially clipped will make interesting reading, especially as al-Maliki has often been criticized in the past for monopolising power and having too much of a direct influence on the security forces.

One thing is clear. The new government of 2011 will certainly be weaker and not stronger than the government of 2006, and in reality this new national partnership may pose more questions than answers.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd, Online Opinion, Peyamner, Various Misc.

As weeks quickly pass, Iraqi politicians inch towards government formation

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.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.