Friday, November 12, 2010

Political Theater At The Iraqi Parliament

Iraqi politics took a dramatic turn on November 11, 2010. Parliament met for only its second time since the March election and elected and nominated the three major posts in the country, speaker, president and prime minister. As always, there was theater, drama, and backstabbing at the event.

The second session of the Iraqi legislature was due to a lawsuit that reached the Iraqi Supreme Court. On October 24, the Court ruled that parliament had to end its open session and meet again. The first time parliament met was back on June 14 when lawmakers gathered for 19-minutes, were sworn into office, and then left. As talks dragged on over forming a new government, independent political groups sued the acting speaker Fouad Massoum for not carrying out his duties, as the Iraqi constitution required the legislature to select a speaker in its first session and then a president within 30 days.

After that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani began bringing together all of Iraq’s major lists to overcome their differences and cut a deal for a new ruling coalition. That resulted in three meetings; the first was on November 8 in Irbil, followed by two more in Baghdad the next two days. At those conferences it became apparent that the Kurdish Coalition was willing to back Maliki for a second term as premier. That support along with the Sadrists’ assured the prime minister he would hold onto his job. The sticking point became convincing Iyad Allawi and his Iraqi National Movement (INM) to join the government. Allawi was adamant that he wanted nothing to do with Maliki however, and even threatened to go into the opposition than join a political process he didn’t believe in. That caused a split within the INM that forced Allawi to change his stance at the negotiating table, otherwise a faction within his list threatened to leave him. At the last minute, Allawi made an about face on joining a new government. The parties then agreed to give the speaker of parliament to the National Movement, allow Talabani and Maliki to keep their positions, and create a new 20-member National Council for Strategic Policies with Allawi as its head that is supposed to deal with all strategic decisions facing the nation. The parliament was also going to reverse the deBaathification bans on four of Allawi’s followers.

The agreement quickly hit a number of snags. First, Osama Nujafi of the National Movement was elected speaker of parliament as per the deal. His two deputies, Sadrist Qusay Abdul Wahab Suhail and Kurdish Alliance member Aref Tayfour, were also sworn in. Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi of the Supreme Council ended up leaving over the choice of those two vice speakers. The legislature was then supposed to end the bans on four members of the INM that were barred from the March election by the Accountability and Justice Commission. Instead, the lawmakers voted not to deal with that issue, and went ahead to elect Jalal Talabani for a second term as Iraq’s president. 57 out of 91 members of Allawi’s list, including Nujafi, walked out in protest over that move. Nujafi actually returned to vote for Talabani. Then the president nominated Maliki for another run at the premiership.

The question now is what will happen next. Parliament is supposed to reconvene tomorrow to formalize the deals. The question is whether Allawi and his followers will show up. 34 of his lawmakers did not walk out, so it’s not clear whether that was a sign of a split within his party or whether the other 57 just left as a bit of political theater. There are definitely bitter feelings within his list. Several members told the press that promises to them had been broken, that they were being marginalized, and that they were forced into compromising even though they were the largest bloc, won the election, and had the right to form a new government. There is even talk of Allawi walking away from politics if he doesn’t feel the new National Council for Strategic Policies has any real power, which would be a vote of no confidence in the new coalition. If all members of the Council unanimously agree upon a policy it is supposed to be carried out, but if there is any dissent then the issue goes to the cabinet. That could give Maliki a way to get around Allawi’s post. All the ministries and top offices within the government are also up for grabs, which means another round of extended talks between Iraq’s leaders. Barzani said that process would only take a month to get seated, but in 2006 it took two to get all the ministers selected for Maliki’s first government. It could take longer this time as the parties are so divided, and the atmosphere has already been poisoned by the failure to follow the agreement made with Allawi over deBaathification. That means the Iraqi soap opera surrounding the parliamentary elections is not over yet.

SOURCES

Aswat al-Iraq, “Hashimi, Issawi to keep their posts,” 11/11/10
- “Nejeifi named parl. Speaker, Suhail and Tayfour deputies,” 11/11/10

Chulov, Martin, “Ayad Allawi ready to quit power-sharing talks and lead Iraq opposition,” Observer, 11/2/10
- “Barak Obama urges Ayad Allawi to join coalition Iraq government,” Guardian, 11/11/10

Fadel, Leila and DeYoung, Karen, “Iraqi leaders reach political deal; Maliki to remain as prime minister,” Washington Post, 11/11/10
- “Sunni group walks out of Iraq parliament,” Washington Post, 11/11/10

Jakes, Lara, “Iraqi court orders parliament back to work,” Associated Press, 10/24/10

Juhl, Bushra, “Iraqi parliament convenes in 1st steps in new govt,” Associated Press, 11/11/10
- “Iraq parliament elects Talabani president,” Associated Press, 11/11/10

Parker, Ned, “Iraq’s new parliament holds its first session as political deadlock continues,” Los Angeles Times, 6/15/10

Al-Rafidyan, “Iraq Leaders Reach Deal On Forming A New Government,” MEMRI Blog, 11/11/10

Visser, Reidar, “Nujayfi, Talabani and Maliki – Plus Lots of Hot Air,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 11/11/10

Al-Ziyadi, Khilood, “Adel Abdul Mahdi walks out of parliamentary meeting,” AK News, 11/11/10

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