Friday, August 19, 2011

Iraq’s Parties Argue Over National Council For Strategic Policies Once Again

In November 2010, Iraq’s feuding political parties came to an initial agreement to form a new government eight months after elections. The deal was based upon power sharing with each bloc getting a piece of the pie. As part of it Nouri al-Maliki would return for a second term as prime minister, while his main rival, Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Movement would become the head of the new National Council for Strategic Policies. As a result, Maliki stayed in office, while Allawi waited for the new Council to be created. The latter has not happened as Maliki’s State of Law put up one objection to it after another, leaving Allawi out in the cold. In August 2011, Iraq’s parties agreed to a new deal to try to resolve these outstanding disputes that’s finally supposed to create the National Council. It’s yet to be seen whether State of Law will follow through with its promise, and if the Council is formed whether it will have any actual power.
Premier Maliki (r), Iyad Allawi (l) (MEMRI Blog)
 Iraq held parliamentary elections in March 2010. Allawi’s National Movement won with 91seats compared to Maliki’s State of Law with 89. Negotiations over who would have the right to form the new government dragged on for months until November, when Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani was able to get the parties to agree to power sharing. Two main parts of the deal were that Maliki would remain in office, and Allawi would head a to be created National Council for Strategic Policies. The Council was pushed by the United States as a way to get Maliki and Allawi to work together, and allow Allawi a face saving position after his list had won the election, but had been outmaneuvered for the premiership. The National Council was supposed to deal with economic, political, and military decisions, and have twenty members, (1) including all of Iraq’s leaders and representatives of its main parties. What its powers were to be were points of contention. The National Movement for example, claimed that the Council was to have an executive role, could repeal policies, and have veto power over Maliki, while State of Law said that would make it a second government, and require a constitutional amendment to give it authority. Instead, State of Law claimed that the Council would only be an advisory group with no real power. Allawi obviously wanted the Council to be an important part of the new government, while Maliki didn’t want to give him anything. The problem for the National Movement was that as soon as Maliki was confirmed as prime minister there was no reason for him to move forward on the Council.

Despite these differences, the Iraqi National Movement hoped that the Council would be formed quickly, but State of Law had other plans. Initially, the National Movement said that the Council would be formed at the very beginning of December, and threatened to hold up naming its nominees for any ministries until that was accomplished, or even withdraw from the government. On December 9, Allawi’s list submitted its draft for the National Council to parliament, but it was summarily rejected by the National Coalition made up of State of Law, the Sadrists, and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. A member of State of Law said that the bill was holding up forming the cabinet, and that if it had all the powers the National Movement wanted it would intrude upon the prime minister’s duties. This deadlock dragged on for weeks, leading Allawi to announce on March 3, 2011 that he no longer wanted to head the body, accusing Maliki of betraying his promises to share power. In the following months, lawmakers from the National Movement claimed that Allawi would eventually change his mind, and that the list would not give up on creating the Council. Finally, on August 3, President Jalal Talabani held a meeting at his home in Baghdad with the major lists, and achieved a breakthrough. Maliki  agreed to follow through with the original power sharing agreement, and to create the National Council. Allawi also picked up important support from the Kurdish Alliance for him to be the head of the Council. Unlike the first time, State of Law seemed to be following through this time as the draft of the National Council bill had its first reading in parliament on August 11. Members of Maliki’s list however, started raising their old objections again, namely that the Council should only be advisory, and that giving it executive power would be unconstitutional. The prime minister himself said that the Council would be a waste of money, would not solve any problems, and was only created to appease certain parties, meaning the National Movement. Whether these objections will hold up the Council once again is yet to be seen. The bill has to have a second reading, and then a vote before it’s through parliament. As before, the ball seems to be in Maliki’s court. If State of Law can keep the Sadrists and Supreme Council with it, it can block passage of the law. There also appears to be no reason to believe that Maliki will agree to give the Council real power that will challenge his own. State of Law will therefore move to strip it of authority. Allawi would have to split the Shiite parties to have any chance of success.

Allawi completely miscalculated when he agreed to the power sharing agreement in November 2010. When he said he would support Maliki’s second term, while having no position for himself yet, he was left on the outside of government looking in. Maliki had effectively won, and could keep Allawi at bay by not agreeing to create the National Council for Strategic Policies. The premier did that for the last nine months. Now the parties are supposed to be working together again, but that proved ethereal as State of Law went right back to objecting to the Council after the bill to create it was finally read in the legislature this month. Maliki has thus been masterful in his balancing of the opposing parties to maintain his position as head of state. As long as he can continue this, and no list grows angry enough with him to split, Allawi will be left to complaining, threatening, and begging for a seat at the table, while Maliki enjoys his second term in office.


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