Monday, November 29, 2010

First crack in the unity agreement?

Today Alsumaria TV reports, "Head of Iraq's Census Operations Room revealed that the census general committee is waiting for the ministerial council meeting to decide whether to carry out the census on time due on December 5 or hold it off." The long overdue census has been much pushed back by Nouri al-Maliki for years now; however, he dangled the census throughout the stalemate as reason to support him. Should the census be again shoved back by Nouri -- as it has been for years -- could it cost him political support at a time when the clock is ticking on his efforts to form a government?

March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. November 10th a power sharing deal resulted in the Parliament meeting for the second time and voting in a Speaker. And then Iraqiya felt double crossed on the deal and the bulk of their members stormed out of the Parliament. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, "The fragility of the coalition was dramatically obvious Thursday as members of the Iraqiya party, which represents Sunnis, walked out of Parliament, claiming that they were already being double-crossed by Maliki. Iraqi politics is always an exercise in brinkmanship, and the compromises unfortunately remain of the save-your-neck variety, rather than reflecting a deeper accord. " After that, Jalal Talabani was voted President of Iraq. Talabani then named Nouri as the prime minister-delegate. If Nouri can meet the conditions outlined in Article 76 of the Constitution (basically nominate ministers for each council and have Parliament vote to approve each one with a minimum of 163 votes each time and to vote for his council program) within thirty days, he becomes the prime minister. If not, Talabani must name another prime minister-delegate. . In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister-delegate. It took eight months and two days to name Nouri as prime minister-delegate. His first go-round, on April 22, 2006, his thirty day limit kicked in. May 20, 2006, he announced his cabinet -- sort of. Sort of because he didn't nominate a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior and a Minister of a Natioanl Security. This was accomplished, John F. Burns wrote in "For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq" (New York Times), only with "muscular" assistance from the Bush White House. Nouri declared he would be the Interior Ministry temporarily. Temporarily lasted until June 8, 2006. This was when the US was able to strong-arm, when they'd knocked out the other choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) to install puppet Nouri and when they had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Nouri had no competition. That's very different from today. The Constitution is very clear and it is doubtful his opponents -- including within his own alliance -- will look the other way if he can't fill all the posts in 30 days. As Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observes, "With the three top slots resolved, Maliki will now begin to distribute ministries and other top jobs, a process that has the potential to be as divisive as the initial phase of government formation." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) points out, "Maliki now has 30 days to decide on cabinet posts - some of which will likely go to Iraqiya - and put together a full government. His governing coalition owes part of its existence to followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr, leading Sunnis and others to believe that his government will be indebted to Iran." The stalemate ends when the country has a prime minister. It is now eight months, twenty-two days and counting. Thursday November 25th, Nouri was finally 'officially' named prime minister-designate. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) explained, "In 30 days, he is to present his cabinet to parliament or lose the nomination." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) added, "Even if Mr. Maliki meets the 30-day deadline in late December -- which is not a certainty, given the chronic disregard for legal deadlines in Iraqi politics -- the country will have spent more than nine months under a caretaker government without a functioning legislature. Many of Iraq's most critical needs -- from basic services to investment -- have remained unaddressed throughout the impasse." Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) offered, "He has an extremely difficult task ahed of him, these next 30 days are going to be a very tough sell for all of these parties that all want something very important in this government. It took a record eight months to actually come up with this coalition, but now what al-Maliki has to do is put all those people in the competing positions that backed him into slots in the government and he has a month to day that from today."

In the above environment, it's not really the time for Nouri to fail to deliver on a promise. The editorial board of the Providence Journal notes today, "Mr. Allawi could still walk out on the unity coalition, and to the extent that his divided party follows, the period after the unity accord could be even more tumultuous than the period preceding it. The edginess in the situation is illustrated by the fact that the radical Shiite cleric Mr. Sadr is part of the unity government!" Moqtada al-Sadr is the topic of a column from Yusuf Fernandez (Press TV) on US interference in Iraq and it includes the following:

Nevertheless, as a recent article in The New York Times hinted, a major concern of the US is that the strong presence of the Sadrists in the Iraqi Parliament and government would complicate its plans to maintain a substantial US troop presence in Iraq after the end of 2011, when all the American troops are supposed to be removed under the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed between the two countries.
While some Iraqi political and military leaders have expressed support for the plan, the Sadrists remain opposed to the foreign occupation. Tens of thousands of Sadr's supporters have been taking to the streets in the Iraqi cities to protest against the SOFA. "Sadrists in government will not meet with any US officials. We will not make any deals with them. We will abandon the Americans," Khadem al Sayadi, a Sadrist lawmaker, told the newspaper The National from the UAE. "We have been consistent in our opposition to the US occupation of Iraq and we will refuse any attempt to get the occupation to continue (beyond the 2011 pull-out date)."

Well it's a valentine from Spain if not a reality based column. Moqtada al-Sadr, for any who didn't know or forgot, pushed for a referendum on the SOFA. There was none. It was supposed to take place in July of 2009. It never took place. al-Sadr has repeatedly been shoved to the side by Nouri. His wants have been ignored throughout Nouri's first term. Should Nouri get a second term, it's very unlikely Nouri will now bend to Moqtada who isn't even Iraq. Equally true, al-Sadr's influence was weakening when the US and Nouri made the mistake of attacking his factions. Had they not done that in 2008, al-Sadr would not have gotten an injection of credibility to his then-faltering reputation.

The latest Law and Disorder Radio begins airing this week (on WBAI this morning at 9:00 am EST and on various stations throughout the week) and features Roger Hodge discussing his latest book The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism with hosts Michael Ratner, Michael S. Smith and Heidi Boghosian. Bonnie reminds that Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Back On The Court" and for those who've been gone on the holiday break, Kat's "Kat's Korner: The 80s (where Cher proves them all wrong)" and "Kat's Korner: Cher demonstrates this is far from over" went up Thursday.

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