Thursday, June 18, 2009

Trying To Revive the United Iraqi Alliance

Almost as soon as the new provincial councils were named after the January 2009 elections, campaigning began for the January 2010 parliamentary vote. One major move afoot is an attempt to revive the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). The UIA was once the dominant force in Iraq’s legislature, but quickly broke apart in 2007. Several Shiite parties, including the Sadrists, left the coalition then, and in 2008, an emboldened Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki began moving away from the group as well. Now there is a drive by both internal and external forces to bring the alliance back together.

The United Iraqi Alliance was a grouping of several different parties, brought together under the urging of Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and Iran. The current Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani was tasked by Sistani to put the coalition together in 2004. Iran’s Qods Force of the Revolutionary Guards also played a role providing advisers, printing presses, broadcast equipment, etc. The leading members of the group were the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) and its allies the Badr Organization and Hezbollah Movement in Iraq, the Dawa Party, and later the Sadrist movement. Together they ran 228 candidates in the January 2005 elections for the transitional parliament, coming away with 140 seats. In April they named Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the head of the Dawa Party, to be Prime Minister. In the December 2005 elections for the permanent parliament, the UIA, this time with a slightly different line-up including the Sadrists, again came out victorious with 128 seats. Months later in April they named Nouri al-Maliki, again of the Dawa Party, the new Prime Minister.

The electoral victories of the United Alliance covered up the fact that the coalition was one of convenience rather than shared vision. As early as December 2005 there were reports of dissatisfaction with the UIA’s performance. On December 9, 2005 the New York Times for example, ran an article where the coalition was criticized for not having a vision for the country, and not appointing qualified people for office. Iraqis were also voicing dissatisfaction with the administration of Prime Minister Jaafari. The lack of coordination within the alliance should’ve been apparent from the beginning as it was made up of so many different parties with different views. The SIIC for example, proposed a nine province Shiite federal region in the south, but the Sadrists who wanted a strong central government opposed this. There were also Shiites in the south that wanted just a Basra, Maysan, Dhi Qar region, and some that wanted Basra federalism. After the December elections, the rivalary between the Supreme Council and Sadrists came to the fore, as they split over naming a replacement for Jaafari. It took them five months to pick Maliki as a compromise candidate.

By 2007 the alliance began to crumble. In March the Fadhila party withdrew its 15 seats. The Fadhila was a breakaway Sadrist movement from Basra that had long disagreed with the Supreme Council over the direction of the south. In April the Sadrists withdrew their five ministers from Maliki’s cabinet, and then boycotted parliament from June to July. By September Sadr had officially withdrawn from the UIA, taking his 30 legislators with him. The Alliance’s control of parliament was greatly reduced by these defections going from 128 to 83.

When campaigning for the January 2009 provincial elections began, it was apparent that the UIA was dead. Most importantly Prime Minister Maliki formed his own State of Law List rather than run with the Supreme Council. Former Prime Minister Jaafari and the Fadhila party also ran independently, while the Sadrists supported two independent groups. That left the SIIC to put forward their own group, the Al-Mihrab Martyr List, as well. When the different parties were forming ruling coalitions, Maliki’s State of Law also attempted to shut the SIIC out, which worked in many provinces.

Now all of the parties are focusing upon the January 2010 parliamentary elections. The Supreme Council is trying to reform itself after its defeat in the 2009 vote. As part of this they are hoping to revive the United Iraqi Alliance by bringing Maliki back into the fold. Iran too is pushing for the UIA to be rebuilt, so that Shiite power is maintained as well as Iranian influence over the leading Iraqi parties. The Prime Minister on the other hand, has everyone guessing as to what he’s going to do. In February 2009 Asharq al-Awsat reported that Dawa wanted to form a new alliance that was more in line with Maliki’s policies of a strong central authority, and better government and services. At the end of May however, he flew to Tehran to meet with SIIC leader and head of the United Alliance Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who is undergoing cancer treatment there. It’s also been reported that Maliki is willing to rejoin the UIA if he is its leader, and his Dawa Party is given a more prominent role.

The UIA is also in contact with other former members, and may reach out to new ones. According to Al-Sharqiyah TV, the United Alliance has approached the Sadrists, but they appear to be leaning towards the same strategy they took in the provincial vote, backing independents. Ex-Prime Minister Jaafari has also recently commented on the UIA saying that it needs to learn from its mistakes and be more issue oriented. There is also talk of the UIA reaching out to independent Sunnis. That could be an important step for the UIA’s image, as it is most associated with sectarian politics. A member of the Islamic Union of Iraqi Turkmen also said that the UIA will focus more upon national issues and appointing technocrats rather than giving out positions based upon sect.

Whether the UIA will be a major player in the 2010 parliamentary elections all depends upon Prime Minister Maliki. If he rejoins the alliance then it will be a real force in the voting. If he doesn’t, it could very well go down to defeat like the Supreme Council did in the provincial balloting. Maliki’s position is unknown. He could run as part of his State of Law List again. The problem is that while his coalition was the biggest winner in 2009, he only gained two majorities in Baghdad and Basra, and pluralities in the rest. If he is given the leadership of the UIA he could finish much stronger, and be assured of being the kingmaker again as he tried when the ruling provincial councils were being put together. That might also lead to some of the smaller Shiite parties such as Jaafari’s Reform Party to rejoin as they didn’t do as well as they thought in the provincial vote. Iran is also applying a lot of pressure upon Shiite politicians to run together. This fits into their policy of assuring Shiite rule, which Tehran hopes will mean Iraq will not become an enemy again. The future of the UIA therefore, is one of the most important early moves in the campaign for Iraq’s new parliament.

Members of the United Iraqi Alliance In the January 2005 Election
Badr Organization (SIIC)
Center Grouping Party
Dawa-Iraq Organization
First Democratic National Party
Future Iraq Grouping
Hezbollah Movement in Iraq (SIIC)
Iraqi National Congress
Islamic Action Organization
Islamic Grouping in Iraq
Islamic Master of Martyrs Movement
Islamic Union of Iraqi Turkmen
Justice and Equality Grouping
Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council
Turkeman al-Wafa Party

Members of the United Iraqi Alliance In the December 2005 Election
Al-Shabak Democratic Grouping
Badr Organization (SIIC)
Center Grouping Party
Community of Justice
Dawa-Iraq Organization
Free Iraq
Hezbollah Movement in Iraq (SIIC)
Iraqi Democratic Movement
Islamic Master of Martyrs Movement
Islamic Union of Iraqi Turkmen
Justice and Equality Grouping
Malhan al Mukatir
SadristsSupreme Islamic Iraqi Council
Turkomen Loyalty Movement


Allam, Hannah, Landay, Jonathan, and Strobel, Warren, “Iranian outmaneuvers U.S. in Iraq” McClatchy Newspapers, 4/28/08

Asharq al-Awsat, “Al Maliki Wants An Alternative To The Current Shiite Alliance That Will Support The Central Government And Reject The Sectarian Quota System,” 2/16/09

Associated Press, “Six parliamentary factions to coordinate efforts in Iraqi parliament, lawmakers say,” 6/8/08

Aswat al-Iraq, “Politician calls on UIA to reach out to people,” 6/8/09

BBC News, “Guide to Iraqi political parties,” 1/20/06
- “Iraqi Shias unveil poll coalition,” 12/9/04

Cole, Juan, “Platform of the United Iraqi Alliance,” Informed Comment Blog, 12/31/04

Filkins, Dexter, “Split Veredict in Iraqi Vote Sets Stage for Weak Government,” New York Times, 2/14/05

Hendawi, Hamza and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraqi Shiites try to revive sectarian coalition,” Associated Press, 6/8/09

Ignatius, David, “In Iraq’s Choice, A Chance For Unity,” Washington Post, 4/26/06

Kaplow, Larry, “Iraq Steps Out of Iran’s Shadow,” Newsweek, 6/6/09

Katzman, Kenneth, “Iraq: Government Formation and Benchmarks,” Congressional Research Service, 1/31/08

Najm, Hayder, “shiite parties look to renew grand alliance,” Niqash, 6/9/09

Parker, Ned, “Sadr’s bloc quits Iraq’s ruling coalition,” Times of London, 9/16/07

Press TV, “Iraq’s Maliki at Hakim’s bedside in Tehran,” 5/31/09

Reuters, “Small party breaks away from Iraq Shi’ite bloc,” 3/7/07

Rossmiller, Alex, “Fickle Attraction,” American Prospect, 4/11/07

Serwer, Daniel and Parker, Sam, “Maliki’s Iraq between Two Elections,” United States Institute of Peace, May 2009

Shadid, Anthony and Vick, Karl, “Candidate Slate Shows Shiites Closing Ranks,” Washington Post, 12/7/04

Al-Sharqiyah TV, “US troops start withdrawal from Al-Sadr City; Iraq roundup,” BBC Monitoring International Reports, 5/29/09

Visser, Reidar, “Beyond SCIRI and Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim: The Silent Forces of the United Iraqi Alliance,”, 1/20/06

Wong, Edward, “Iraq’s Powerful Shiite Coalition Shows Signs of Stress as Parliamentary Elections Loom,” New York Times, 12/9/05

Worth, Robert, “Iraq’s New President Names Shiite Leader as Prime Minister,” New York Times, 4/7/05

Xinhua, “Sadrist bloc quits ruling Shiite parliament bloc,” 9/16/07

No comments: