Attempts to form Iraqi government and Turkey

November 27, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment

Attempts to form Iraqi government and Turkey

 By Hasan Kanbolat

None of the parties in Iraq could garner enough seats in the general elections of March 7 to form a government. This started a government crisis that would last eight months. Now there are attempts to overcome this crisis. Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

 The playmaker, as was expected, is again Nouri al-Maliki. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister al-Maliki will continue to serve in their respective posts. Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni politician, was appointed as parliament speaker. Arif Tayfur of the Kurdish Alliance and Qusay al-Suhail of the Sadr group were re-elected as deputy parliament speakers.As such, the political equation in Iraq is similar to the picture that emerged right after the 2005 election. It is made up of an alliance between Shiite Arabs with some Sunni Arabs added. However, the election this year differs from the 2005 election in that the Sunni Arabs were much better organized and were able to form a block that got the highest number of deputies in parliament. Furthermore, the evermore-powerful Maliki made more concessions to the Kurds.

Sources say Maliki accepted all 19 conditions (regarding the distribution of income from oil sales, more authority for the Kurdistan federal region, Article 140, etc.) put forth by the Kurds. Indeed, up until the eve of Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), Kurdish security forces patrolled even central areas of Kirkuk. Kurdish influence in the disputed region is also increasing. The de facto dominance of Kurds is slowly becoming official.

For example, the north of Mosul has become Kurdish in terms of population and the area is under Kurdish control. Khanaqin, Jalula and Kifri in Diyala province are completely under Kurdish control. In regions such as Karatepe, both Kurdish officials and officials representing the central administration serve in office. A dual form of administration is evermore present in the disputed area. Maliki is making concessions to Sadr. In three provinces, they allowed new governors who are close to Sadr while the previous governors close to Maliki moved out of office.

Al-Iraqiyah, led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, is not happy about the process and for the most part did not participate in the presidential election. Although the Iraqi parliament comprises 325 seats, only 192 deputies attended the session which voted Talabani in as president. The new government now wants to appoint Allawi to head the National Strategic Policy Council, which will lay out strategic policies for Iraq. However, the powers and authorities of this council, created only to satisfy Allawi, are not yet clear.

Allawi is understandably not happy with this council. The concept of “prime minister” does not appear in the Iraqi constitution. Instead, there is the “head of the Council of Ministers.” Al-Iraqiyah wants Maliki to use the term “head of the Council of Ministers” and suggests the authorities of the “prime minister” be shared with the National Strategic Policy Council. The Shiites do not even pay lip service to this demand. Allawi feels a little cheated. However, one should accept that Allawi has so far been unsuccessful in his political maneuvers. For this reason Maliki has already started to divide up the al-Iraqiyah bloc.

Sources in the region claim the US has given the green light for this. What matters for Maliki and the US is that a government is formed in Iraq and stability of a certain extent is achieved. They are not concerned about the continuation of violence, as long as it is manageable. They accept that drawing the Sunni Arabs into manageable violence is enough. This is why they are working to maintain control of the four provinces (al-Anbar, Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghdad) where Sunni Arabs are strong. The aim is to bring al-Anbar under control through Deputy Prime Minister Rafi al-Issawi and Mosul through Parliament Speaker al-Nujaifi with Mosul, Kirkuk through the Kurds, and Baghdad through cooperation between central security forces with the Sadr group. The Salah ad-Din and Diyala provinces are deemed insignificant.

Some circles in Iraq are concerned that Turkey might stand by the Sunni Arabs and stand in opposition to the Shiite Arab and Kurdish alliance. We can also see this concern in Talabani’s recent statements against Turkey. However, Turkey responded to this concern at the highest level, with President Abdullah Gül saying: “He [Talabani] said that we do not support him and we don’t want him to become the president. Ankara has never disturbed the balances, and the end result in the new process unwound in favor of Talabani.” Turkey is continuing its policy of embracing all ethnic, religious and political groups in Iraq from an equal distance to all. Maliki, in order to avoid falling under the control of Iran among its neighbors, has to trust Turkey and cooperate with it.

Back to Baghdad, by Reidar Visser

November 8, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment

Back to Baghdad

Posted by Reidar Visser (Iraq & Gulf Analysis)

on Monday, 8 November 2010 14:56

The much-touted Arbil summit that took place earlier today as part of the “Barzani intiative” turned out to be a relatively brief event. Political leaders arrived from Baghdad in the morning, held a brief televised meeting dominated by boilerplate speeches on national unity and respect for the constitution, and decided to resume talking again tomorrow afternoon in Baghdad.

Beyond the nice talk about a “partnership government” there are two competing tendencies in motion here. On the one hand, Nuri al-Maliki seems focused on Thursday’s meeting in parliament at which he hopes to secure his own nomination as prime minister for a second term. In his view, all that is needed is agreement on the three major posts of prime minister, president and speaker of parliament. Based on his latest political moves, one would assume that he is aiming for himself as prime minister, Jalal Talabani for president and maybe someone from the new “Centrist” coalition of Tawafuq and Unity of Iraq as speaker, unless someone from Iraqiyya should signal their interest. This kind of scheme is sometimes labelled as a “political-majority” project, but that is misleading since it is based on an ethno-sectarian alliance full of ideological contradictions (on issues like state structure, federalism etc.). These issues would have been more pronounced had it not been for the invisible hand of Iran and its role in holding the alliance together.

On the other hand, Iraqiyya, apparently with increasing American support, is aiming for a power-sharing deal in which Ayad Allawi would obtain the presidency with enhanced powers. The main problem here is the constitution, which demands a special majority decision in parliament for this kind of constitutional change, to be followed by a popular referendum. Even if the other parties agreed on giving a beefed-up presidency to Iraqiyya, no one would know for sure whether the powers of the presidency would actually change until after a referendum some time in 2011.

The interesting aspect in all of this is the position of the Kurds. In theory, they could have picked a winner in the discussion; instead they seem to go on talking. Today they contributed an agenda reportedly consisting of 13 disputed points, including constitutional reform and revisiting the accountability and justice law! Evidently, they are fearful that Maliki is giving them empty promises and for that reason they would probably prefer to have ISCI and Iraqiyya inside the government to make it as polycephalous as possible. Their dilemma is that whereas this kind of posture may play well with Washington, it is disliked by Iran. Additionally, as time passes by, there is also the danger of growing revulsion against the extensive Kurdish demands for taking part in the government. The longer time this takes, the greater the likelihood of some kind of showdown in a sensitive area of policy, say, about who should be oil minister.

To Washington, this is a situation with no good alternatives. If it supports an early meeting of parliament, it will get the Shiite–Kurdish government that Iran has been working for. If it supports the Iraqiyya alternative, it may not get a new government at all anytime soon. Certainly, resolving all the issues between Iraqiyya and Maliki within three days seems unrealistic. Arguably, then, by continuing to lull Iraqiyya into constitutionally problematic scenarios, the Obama administration is becoming a spoiler in the Iraqi government-formation process against its own will. But since it never supported the viable alternative of a Maliki–Allawi coalition and instead pressed for a scenario which involves government formation and constitutional change at the same time, there really are no good alternatives either. The fear is that over coming months, the US government will spend most of its Middle East energies on partitioning Sudan and that once more, Iraq will get back-burnered.

Not Another Governing Council, Please!

April 7, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Posted in Turkmens | Leave a comment

Not Another Governing Council, Please!

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 6 April 2010 8:46

Among the several scenarios for a new Iraqi government that are floating around, one stands out as particularly unattractive and potentially destructive for Iraq as a state: The vision of a grandiose coalition combining all the blocs that won large numbers of seats in the 7 March elections.

This idea is becoming increasingly recurrent in Iraqi discussions. Early on, it was only Adil Abd al-Mahdi of the pro-Iranian Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) that talked about it, referring to a potential combination of his own Iraqi National Alliance (INA), Maliki’s State of Law (SLA), Iraqiyya (INM) and the main Kurdish alliance. More recently, however, also Ammar al-Hakim and other ISCI leaders have expressed interest in this kind of scenario, and no one in Iraqiyya has yet had the courage to rule it out. Predictably, decimated blocs (like Tawafuq) plus Unity of Iraq and the various minority representatives are calling for even bigger iterations of this scheme, including, unsurprisingly, themselves in ministerial roles.

Any government of this category would mean a sorry return to Iraq of 2003 and the “governing council” that was put in place by Paul Bremer back then. Its hallmarks will be indecision, incompetence and corruption – the inevitable characteristics of a government that has no single vision or unity of purpose, and basically has been thrown together with the aim of letting as many people as possible prey on the resources of the state in the hope that this will keep them from fighting with each other instead. Expect no progress on key legislation (since bills will never achieve consensus even inside the government), and no improvement of governance capacity (since ministers inevitably will be political appointees rather than technocrats). But above all, this will be a government defined first and foremost by its bigness, with an oversized cabinet and an additional number of ministers without portfolio.

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