Sunday, October 3, 2010

Iraqi National Alliance Splits Over Nominating Maliki, New Iraqi Government Still On Hold

Source: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 
Moqtada al-Sadr and PM Nouri Al-Maliki seen together in 2006. Sadr just went from one of Maliki’s greatest opponents to his main supporter to form a new Iraqi government

On October 1, 2010 Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki got the support of half of the Iraqi National Alliance to stay in power. The Sadrists, the Badr Organization, the Iraqi National Congress, and Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s National Reform Trend came out for Maliki. That gives the premier 139 seats in the new parliament, 24 short of the 163 necessary for a majority, and the right to form a new government. State of Law came in second in March with 89 seats, the Sadrists won the most in the National Alliance with 39, while Badr got nine,  and the National Trend and Iraqi National Congress have one apiece.

The Sadrists hinted at their about face towards Maliki at the end of September. First, a letter from Moqtada al-Sadr addressed to his followers included a question about what the movement should do if Maliki won a second term in office. Sadr replied that politics was about give and take, and that Sadrists needed to go along with whatever the leadership decided upon. There was also a fatwa by Ayatollah Kadhem al-Hussein al-Haeri, Sadr’s mentor in Iran, calling for Maliki to be supported. Coming out for the prime minister was a dramatic change for Sadr who was previously one of the greatest opponents of Maliki, having called him a liar and hypocrite. This could cause internal dissension within the movement, but at the same time provide them with huge opportunities. The Sadrists are asking for six of 34 ministries, including the Trade Ministry and either the Defense or Interior Ministries. This would mark their return to government after they left the original Maliki coalition in November 2006, giving up 5 cabinet positions in the process. Ministries mean patronage, and a way to expand their base.

The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) and the Fadhila Party did not attend the National Alliance vote. Instead, they met with Deputy Prime Minister Rafi Issawi of Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement to discuss how to counter Maliki. That means the effective split of the National Alliance. An adviser to Allawi said that the National Movement was now hoping to form a counter coalition made up of the Supreme Council and the Kurdish Alliance. If that were to come to fruition they would have 163 seats with the National Movement’s 91, the Kurdish Coalition’s 57, the Supreme Council’s eight, and Fadhila’s seven, enough to have a majority.

There are major barriers to this happening. First, the Supreme Council is hoping that allying with the National Movement will keep them relevant as they have lost most of their support in both the 2009 provincial and 2010 parliamentary elections compared to the 2005 votes when they were the largest Shiite party in Iraq. That means they will be pushing Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi as premier, putting them at odds with Allawi who also wants the position. The Kurds are also weary of the Al-Hadbaa component of the National Movement, which controls Ninewa province. Not only that, but in August the Kurdish Coalition issued a 19-paragraph paper outlining their demands which included the presidency, the creation of a National Security Council and Federal Council, which would require new laws, a number of ministries, the implementation of Article 140 to determine the fate of the disputed territories, the passage of an oil and gas law, the federal government paying for the peshmerga, and the right to bring down any government that did not follow its program. The Kurds might also be afraid that the Sunni component of the National Movement will be less likely to agree upon Article 140. On the other hand, the Kurds have said they would not join any government that did not include Allawi and the Supreme Council.

The Kurds will be in the driver’s seat now that the Sadrists have made their choice. The Kurdish Coalition are now the largest uncommitted bloc, and can determine whether the National Movement or State of Law will achieve a majority. That will give them the upper hand in negotiations.

A new Iraqi government is still weeks, possibly months away. Allawi, Maliki, the Supreme Council, and the Kurds all have long days ahead of them trying to win over others to their positions. What the course of events so far points out is that Maliki has been the main focus of talks. His rise to power after being a weak and compromise candidate back in 2006 has worried all of the other parties about what he might do if he stays in office. Foreign powers such as the U.S., Iran, Syria, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia only have limited influence in these negotiations. Tehran for example, put together the National Alliance before the March vote, then got Maliki to join them afterward, and many believe their pressure led to Sadr's about face on the premier. At the same time, the Supreme Council has now split from the Badr Organization, which use to be its militia, and divided the Shiite vote in the process, which Iran spent so much time trying to unite. That shows other countries can help shape events, but Iraqis will ultimately decide on the future of the next government. The problem as ever is that very few are willing to compromise. That’s the reason why a new ruling coalition is still a long way off.


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