On July 20 the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF) officially returned to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s cabinet. The Accordance Front is a coalition of three Sunni parties, the Iraqi Islamic Party led by Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, the Iraq People’s Congress headed by Adnan al-Dulaimi, and the National Dialogue Council of Khalaf al-Ilyan, that holds 44 seats in Iraq’s 275 member parliament. The IAF withdrew their six ministers almost a year ago on August 1, 2007, claiming that they were not included in Maliki’s decision making process, that the government was sectarian, and not moving towards reconciliation. By boycotting the cabinet, the IAF hoped to undermine the “national unity” image of the government, and gain greater concessions. Their return took months of internal disputes and bickering with Maliki, and they came back not from a position of strength, but from one of weakness.
The eleven-month boycott of the cabinet gained the Accordance Front little, and increased the divisions within the bloc. The IAF was given its six original ministries (planning, higher education, culture, communication, women’s affairs, and foreign affairs) plus one deputy premier, giving them no more say in the government than they had before. Four of the ministers and the deputy premier came from Vice President Hashemi’s Islamic Party, which led to recriminations within the bloc. The National Dialogue Council, that received two ministries, claimed that they were never consulted about the nominees, and even threatened to withdraw from the IAF back in April. The IAF’s boycott did undermine Prime Minister Maliki’s standing not only with the Iraqi public, but neighboring Arab countries as well that are all ruled by Sunnis. In the end, the Front had little to show for it however, and the Islamic Party’s dominance of the ministries threatened to break the coalition apart.
The reason why the IAF was so anxious to return to the cabinet is the impending provincial elections. During the first such polling in January 2005, the Islamic Party was the only Sunni group to participate, and gained control of Anbar province. Since then, local tribes formed the Awakening movement, which was instrumental in forcing out Al Qaeda in Iraq from most of Western Iraq. The tribes are now forming political parties that are expected to sweep the Islamic Party out of power in Anbar, and probably gain seats in central Iraq as well. Feeling threatened, the Accordance Front wanted to return to the cabinet as swiftly as possible so that they could shore up their positions, gain back their ministries, which they can use to dole out patronage in return for votes, and try to shape conditions on the ground so that they can beat back the challenge of the Awakening movement.
After almost a year, the Sunni Accordance Front finally returned to Prime Minister Maliki’s cabinet. Rather than being a sign of reconciliation, it was actually out of desperation by the Sunni bloc. They wanted their ministries back so that they could fend off the challenge of the Anbar Awakening and other tribal groups that are going to run in the upcoming provincial elections. The move also threatened to break up the coalition as the majority of the ministers came from the Islamic Party, which caused dissension and jealousy amongst others. All of these are bad signs for the Front. They are losing legitimacy amongst Sunnis and within their own bloc, which is not a good way to be heading into elections.
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