Wednesday, December 15, 2010

He makes how much?

The invitation by the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Masoud Barzani, to members of his party to vote on a demand by the Kurds of Iraq for self-determination, came as no surprise. This call did not come out of the blue. In addition to the old and well-known Kurdish dream of autonomy, which Barzani’s father Mulla Mustafa Barzani sought and led for years against the former Saddam Hussein regime, the foundations of the Iraqi state collapsed after this regime fell, granting the Kurds of Iraq the opportunity to recover, which they had always sought. The Kurdistan region has recovered economically, socially and politically; it even became a refuge for those fleeing from security chaos that prevailed in Iraq, and for everyone seeking investment opportunities. Thus, thousands of Iraqi Christians responded to Masoud Barzani’s invitation to take refuge in the Kurdistan region, after the recent waves of violence that struck their neighborhoods and places of worship.

The above is from Elias Harfoush's "The Kurds and the Iraqi divorce" (Al Arabiya) on the fissures between the KRG and the government or 'government' in Baghdad. Or the hopes-to-be-formed government or 'government' in Baghdad. Nouri al-Malik is prime minister-designate and has to form a government by December 25th. Press TV reports, "Maliki and his predecessors Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who have each served two premierships in the past, met on Tuesday in a first-ever gathering to be attended by the three statesmen, a Press TV correspondent reported. The politicians said after the meeting that their views had converged further towards the formation of the new ruling structure -- which Maliki has until December 25 to appoint."

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 nine months, eight 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."

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that Nouri, if he moves from prime minister-designate to prime minister, will pull down $360,000 a year -- and that if the deal holds, Allawi will make the same. Allawi's spokesperson made a comment yesterday but Allawi himself has refused to issue a public comment thus far. $360,000 is a great deal of money, especially for a 'leader' who hasn't been able to provide either safety or basic services.

AFP notes
that Shi'ites are making a pilgrimage to Karbala for Ashura: "Black flags, representing the sadness of Shiites during Ashura, and pictures of the revered Imams Hussein and Abbas, both of whom are buried in Karbala, were seen throughout the city, while violence targeting pilgrims in Iraq has claimed the lives of 10 people in the past few days." Zawya adds that some pilgrims in Karbala have engaged in anti-corruption chants such as this one aimed at the Public Integrity Commison: "Tell us how many thieves have been presented to the integrity commission. We swear by your name, oh Hussein, that we are not afraid to speak, to express ourselves, to publicly denounce these wolves!"

Meanwhile Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) notes that 10 Shi'ite pilgrims wee killed yesterday with many more left injured and that "Attacks targeting Shiite pilgrims have spiked in recent days as hundreds of thousands of worshipers have been making their way to the holy city of Karbala in southern Iraq and other Shiite shrines."

The e-mail address for this site is