Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nouri's high drama adds up to very little

W.G. Dunlop (AFP) reports, "Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's urgent bid to stitch together a cabinet from Iraq's fractious political blocs comes under the spotlight Tuesday when parliament meets to debate his still incomplete line-up. The prime minister has until Saturday to put in place a new government that carries the endorsement of parliament." Nayla Razzouk and Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) add, "The list scheduled for a vote in parliament today includes the nomination of Deputy Oil Minister Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi to head the Oil Ministry, the spokesman said. Outgoing Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani was named to become one of three deputy prime ministers and oversee energy affairs, including oil, electricity and water issues, he said. Al-Dabbagh declined to give further details of the nominations."

Not Quite There

Illustration above is Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Not Quite There" and yesterday Nouri was supposed to announce his cabinet nominees (except for three positions) but didn't quite make it. No real surprise there. The clock is ticking. BBC News notes, "The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse in Baghdad says that there are still disagreements in some areas, and it is possible that a number of the nominations will meet resistance from some of the diverse and competing political blocs that will - it is hoped - soon make up Iraq's new government of national unity."

Background: 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 National 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, thirteen 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 do that from today."

If you're not getting how much of a charade yesterday was, Sam Dagher andd Hassan Hafidh (Wall St. Journal) report:

Underscoring the rifts that continue to plague Iraq's sectarian and ethnic political factions, several posts—including the crucial defense and interior portfolios—will be filled by interim ministers amid lingering disagreements over who should get them, according to Mr. Maliki.
Mr. Maliki refused to release the names of his nominees when pressed by reporters, saying they would be posted Tuesday on the government's official website. But Mr. Maliki's supporters started leaking out names shortly after he made his statements to the media.

So Nouri announced that he had . . . no names to announce. But a lot of the posts . . . will be temporary nominees, placeholders. Why in the world? As Xiong Tong (Xinhua) reminds, "According to the Iraqi constitution, Maliki has to pick his cabinet within 30 days after his official nomination as PM- designate by the president. The prime minister-designated new government and its programs will have to win the approval of an absolute majority of the members of the Council of Representatives." Even with all the breaks he's been given and all the cheating he's done, Nouri still can't come up with a list of nominees for a full cabinet.

We'll close with this from Nitash Tiku's "The WikiLeaks Sage Is All Working Out According to Assange's Plan" (New York Magazine):

Provoking a stronger enemy into an overreaction is a classic strategy for insurgents, and it's not hard to see how some of the U.S. reactions to WikiLeaks have not been in the nation's best interest. Pressuring private companies to cut off websites the government doesn't like, especially without due process, will make it pretty hard for the U.S. to maintain the high ground with authoritarian governments like China or Iran. And prosecuting Assange will set a dangerous precedent that could land just about any newspaper or media outlet in the crosshairs next time, dangerously undermining the First Amendment.

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