Friday, June 20, 2014

Replacing Maliki No Panacea For Iraq

As the Obama administration is about to send military advisers to assist Iraq’s government there are growing reports that Washington wants Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to be replaced. The argument is that the premier is a divisive figure and that by getting rid of him the country’s politics can move forward, which will in turn help counter the insurgency. Finding a new prime minister could definitely improve the atmosphere in Baghdad in the short term, but it is no panacea for the deep structural problems facing Iraq.
Pres Obama wants PM Maliki to carry out reforms, which some Iraqi parties are taking for a call for his replacement (Defenselink)

President Barak Obama has called for a more inclusive government in Iraq as a caveat of receiving American military aid. The New York Times reported that some Iraqi politicians are taking this to mean that Washington is opposed to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki returning for a third term. The Guardian wrote that even Iran might be tiring of Maliki’s rule, although that is contradicted by other stories. The argument is that the premier has caused so much distrust within the country’s establishment that he must go if Iraq is to create a new government that includes the three major ethnosectarian groups the Shiites, the Sunnis, and the Kurds. Together this new ruling coalition is supposed to reach out to Sunnis so that they will not give at least passive support to the insurgency and help unite the country overall in the face of the growing violence.
A new premier from Ammar Hakim's ISCI (left) could lead to better relations with Kurdish Premier Nechirvan Barzani (right) and the KRG (KRG)

A new premier could help Iraq with some of its short-term problems. For instance a new premier from say the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraqi (ISCI) would have a much better relationship with the Kurds who have lost complete trust in Maliki. ISCI and the ruling Kurdish parties have had a good relationship dating back to the 1980s when both were supported by Iran and fought on Tehran’s side in the Iran-Iraq War. Those lists could work together and come to an oil export agreement that would actually be followed through with rather than the last two where Maliki refused to pay the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) all the money that it was owed. There also would not such heated rhetoric between Baghdad and Irbil the capital of Kurdistan. Parties like Speaker Osama Nujafi’s Mutahidun might be more willing to join a coalition as well since it currently opposes Maliki returning to office. A new national unity government could therefore be put together based upon the shared animosity towards the premier and make some deals between the lists.  

Those short-term gains however would not overcome Iraq’s deep-seated institutional problems. For instance, any new coalition would still be based upon ethnosectarian quotas where ministers and other officials are named not by their competence, but rather by their party being Sunni, Shiite, or Kurdish. The endemic corruption would not end as this has become a means of governance where every winning party gets to steal part of the government pie to enrich itself and maintain its patronage networks. The economy would still be the most oil dependent in the world, and the parliament would be no closer to passing an oil law as the Sadrists and ISCI both want central control over the industry, while the Kurds want autonomy. Other reforms that have been called on for years such as ending deBaathification are unlikely to come about since parties like the Sadrists are ardent supporters of it. The competence of the Iraqi Security Forces would not suddenly improve, and neither would its counter productive tactics either. The new premier would likely follow the same types of coup proofing tactics that Maliki and every other leader in the Middle East has done, which is to put loyalists in top positions and maintain Maliki's separate chain of command over the army and police. Finally, every government since 2005 has been a national unity one. The simple inclusion of parties from each group did not stop the insurgency back then and will not deter it now. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the Baathist Naqshibandi, and others are not interested in being included the government, but rather want to overthrow it. Sunni votes were spread across several different parties as well who do not agree with each other showing that at least those who voted would not suddenly unite either, because there is no agreement upon which party or individual should be the leader. Without solving these long-term issues Iraq’s future would still appear dim.

The talk of replacing Maliki is a popular one, but it provides no real solutions to Iraq’s deep seated problems and divisions. The greater cooperation amongst the major lists that might emerge in the aftermath of Maliki not be re-elected premier would likely fade with time, and all the internal political divisions over centralism versus federalism, the oil industry, etc. would re-emerge. Not only that, but the appearance of a new united front amongst the elite is not going to suddenly lead to a Sunni consensus to try politics again or more importantly end the insurgency. Therefore any short-term gains from Maliki being replaced will not pan out over time leaving Iraq still a very divided and violent country.


Associated Press, “Obama says Iraq’s government cannot resolve the country’s crisis unless it is more inclusive,” 6/19/14

Chulov, Martin and Ackerman, Spencer, “How Nouri al-Maliki fell out of favour with the US,” Guardian, 6/19/14

Habib, Mustafa, “let the post election horse trading begin: iraqi politicians playing the long game,” Niqash, 5/22/14

Al Mada, “Eight blocks, most notably united and the nationalists form union and endorse any candidate from the Shiite alliance,” 5/29/14

National Iraqi News Agency, “An informed source reveals Iran’s agreement on Maliki’s nomination for third term,” 6/4/14

New Sabah, “”Citizens” and “Liberals” talking about “strong government” and Erbil raise the ceiling demands: annexation of Kirkuk and Khanaqin,” 5/22/14

Rubin, Alissa and Nordland, Rod, “Iraqi Factions Jockey to Oust Maliki, Citing U.S. Support,” New York Times, 6/19/14

Shafaq News, “Nujaifi , Allawi and al-Mutlaq agree to work as a unified team,” 5/26/14


Anoni said...

It certainly is too far down the line to start discussing this as a possibility. It's easy to forget that Maliki still enjoys a lot of support from Shiites, as does Sadr and the SIC with their respective followers. These parties were entrenched in Iraqs politics. As disastrous as these policies have been, even if it meant stability many regular Shiite Iraqis would not trust Sunnis in the central government. Maliki cannot be simply replaced, he is a strong unifying presence amongst Shiite political parties. As for Sunnis, I doubt there is any faith left in central government politics having been effectively sidelined both the previous 2 elections. There appears to be neither a military or political solution. I don't blame Obama for not wanting to get involved, there is no fixing this one. The best course of action would be containment - to prevent ISIS from extending their presence into Baghdad.

Joel Wing said...

Even before the current security crisis Barzani, Nujafi, Allawi, Sadr and Hakim all said they wanted Maliki out. Now that U.S. is offering military aid many think that's another stab at Maliki's chances to return to office. Still up in the air as to what will happen.

bb said...

Apparently not worth mentioning the recent Iraqi elections? Is the US seriously considering overturning the results by interfering in the due democratic process there?

Joel Wing said...

Iraq's elections are only one step in picking prime minister. 2010 Allawi won but didn't become premier. Jaafari and Maliki became premiers not because they won the most votes or Dawa got the most seats. Maliki already had plenty of opponents from Barzani to Hakim to Sadr to Najafi so there was no guarantee that he was going to get a third term even before the US gave its opinion.

bb said...

Could you clarify your point Joel?

Are you saying that because Maliki has yet to form a coalition that the United States has the right to interfere in political processes there?

If so, what gives the United States that right? Would you be saying that the Iraqi national election was not conducted fairly and democratically?

Joel Wing said...

I'm saying there was no guarantee that Maliki was going to get a third term. also if the US was going to get involved in the govt formation I would suspect they wouldn't choose Maliki's successor they would probably just say we don't support Maliki for the job. it's still up to the Iraqis to form the govt.