Thursday, December 25, 2008

Iraqi Accordance Front Breaks Apart

On Wednesday December 24, the Iraqi National Dialogue Council (INDC) withdrew from the Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF), the major Sunni coalition in parliament. The IAF was made up of three main parties, the Iraqi Islamic Party, the General Council for the People of Iraq, and the Iraqi National Dialogue Council. A group of independent Sunni members of parliament known as the Independents Bloc also left. The IAF originally held 44 seats in parliament. It now has 28 left. This comes just a month before the January 2009 provincial elections. The defection points towards the increasing divisions within Sunni politics that began in 2007.

The split within the IAF was due to the arguments between the Dialogue Council and the Islamic Party. The INDC said they were leaving the Front because the Islamic Party was trying to monopolize power. Back in April 2008 the INDC made a similar accusation and threatened to leave the bloc. At that time, the Accordance Front was negotiating with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to return to the cabinet, which they had been boycotting since August 2007. The INDC said that the Islamic Party was trying to take all six ministry positions the Front had left absent. The Dialogue Council was dividing itself then with some legislators leaving the party in May to form the Independents’ Bloc. When the Accordance Front finally did return to the government in July, the Islamic Party received four ministers, and the National Dialogue Council two. That apparently didn’t overcome the problems between the two parties, as the same differences re-emerged and led to the break up of the coalition in December. The Dialogue Council now appears to be allying itself with the opposition parties that consist of the Sadrists, the Fadhila Party, the Iraqi National List, the National Reform Movement, and several other independent parties not aligned with the major coalitions.

The split also comes as the speaker of parliament and INDC member Mahmoud al-Mashhadani resigned his position. The Dialogue Council claims that they and their new allies the opposition parties have the right to name Mashhadani’s replacement. The Accordance Front says that they will name the new speaker, pointing to more conflict between these former allies.

The break-up of the Accordance Front comes as Sunni politics in general have become more fractured and diverse. The Anbar Awakening and the creation of the Sons of Iraq across central and northern Iraq challenged the IAF’s claim that they stood for their community. In the 2005 provincial elections, all the major Sunni parties boycotted except for the Islamic Party, which took control of Anbar. The Accordance Front ran together in the parliamentary election later that year and received 44 seats. The new Sunni organizations claimed that the IAF gained their power illegitimately, and many are planning on challenging them in the 2009 provincial elections.

Maliki has also played the Sunni politicians against the tribes in a divide and conquer policy to keep the Sunnis weak. It apparently worked as the Accordance Front got none of their demands met when they returned to the cabinet after months of boycotting, and still don’t have any real say in decision-making. They also wanted to rejoin the government before the 2009 elections because they were afraid that the new Sunni groups like the Awakening would take their places in the cabinet if they didn’t, a fear stoked by Maliki’s maneuverings.

No one can say for sure who speaks for the Sunnis today. The Islamic Party won control of Anbar by default because the rest of the community was largely boycotting the vote. The 2005 parliamentary election was noted for its sectarian and ethnic divisions. Now there are more independents and nationalists planning on running in the upcoming voting such as the Sunni tribes and the Sons of Iraq. The Accordance Front division follows the de facto split of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance as parties that were once allied together in coalitions, are now seeing each other as rivals. The split between the National Dialogue Council and the Islamic Party can be seen within this context. Disagreements and resentments against the larger parties are coming to the fore now that sectarianism is lessoning across the country. The 2009 elections may provide clarity about these parties and their popularity, Sunni or otherwise, but they could also increase the divisions as the new and the old wrangle for power.

SOURCES

Ahmed, Farook, “The Iraqi Accord Front’s Return to Government,” Institute for the Study of War, 5/16/08

Alsumaria, “Iraqi governmental crisis to further snag,” 5/5/08

Aswat al-Iraq, “IAF has the right to Parliament’s speakership,” 12/24/08
- “IAF tabled single candidate list, not concerned with any other – MP,” 5/23/08
- “INDC puts forward candidates for parliament’s speakership,” 12/24/08
- “NDC approves its withdrawal from Sunni IAF bloc – MP,” 4/15/08
- “Soon: IAF meeting to nominate replacement for speaker,” 12/25/08
- “Urgent/INDC, Independents bloc withdraw from IAF,” 12/24/08

BBC News, “Guide to Iraqi political parties,” 1/20/06

Cordesman, Anthony, “Iraq’s Insurgency and Civil Violence,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 8/22/07

Hendawi, Hamza, “ANALYSIS: Al-Maliki weathering crisis,” Associated Press, 9/25/07

Katulis, Brian, Juul, Peter, and Moss, Ian, “Awakening to New Dangers in Iraq,” Center for American Progress, February 2008

Mohammed, Riyadh and Williams, Timothy, “Former Iraqi Parliament Speaker Spreads Blame,” New York Times, 12/25/08

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Sunni Bloc Rejoins Iraqi Government, Amid Reconciliation Hopes,” Washington Post, 7/20/08

Reuters, “Iraq’s main Sunni Arab bloc splinters,” 12/24/08

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