Saturday, November 13, 2010

Plenty of drama but no prime minister

Sahar Issa (Miami Herald) reports:

Iraq averted a new political crisis Saturday when the head of the main Sunni-backed bloc ended a walkout and returned to parliament, paving the way for the formation of a new government.
Ayad Allawi, the head of the secular Iraqiya bloc, had walked out of the first session Thursday along with dozens of party members to protest what they said was the breach of an agreement to lift a ban on three of their members accused of ties to former dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath party.
"Iraqiya will take an active role in a government that will work towards real national participation within the agreements that we reached with the other political blocs," Haider al Mullah, a spokesman for Iraqiya, told reporters at parliament.

Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reminds, "The return came after Iraqiya's leader, secular Shiite Ayad Allawi, told CNN on Friday that he would 'not be a part of this theater,' adding: 'I am thinking of forming a council for opposition from inside parliament to start building the issues that we think are right for this country and to use all possible peaceful means to achieve the objectives'." Fadel also notes that Allawi is out of the country currently (in London). Ned Parker and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) offer, "But Saturday's session could be a fleeting "kumbaya" moment: The weeks ahead are sure to be stormy as the sides brawl over the meaning of the often vague language of the agreement. In fact, even as the sides celebrated the end of the political crisis, the head of Iraqiya, Iyad Allawi, muddied the waters."

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 via "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, four days and counting.

And wait, BBC News reports today: "
Parliament is now expected to adjourn till after the holiday break for the Eid al-Adha. President Talabani will then officially designate Mr Maliki to form a government, and he will have a deadline of 30 days to complete that task." Seriously? Check Thursday's "Iraq snapshot" and Friday's "Iraq snapshot" and you'll see that's what Talabani was supposed to have done. It is not what he did. Talabani was supposed to name Nouri prime minister-delegate November 20th (Eid al-Adha is November 16th this year). They didn't do that. Allawi's in London, Iraqiya is saying all's forgiven and Talabani is declaring that Nouri's 30 days don't start until sometime after November 16th (most likely the original agreed upon date -- agreed upon by Nouri, Allawi, KRG President Massoud Barzani and US Ambassador in Iraq James Jeffrey) November 20th. So what's Iraqiya really up to and how much trouble is Nouri in that they need to stall on the calendar ticking down from 30? Meanwhile, John Leland and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) paint a Saturday far-less-celebrationary and world-shaking than other outlets, "On Saturday, members of Iraqiya took part in a low-key session that consisted largely of ceremonial remarks. Representatives avoided initiatives that might have renewed the fractiousness of the previous session. In the end, they voted on a general plan for sharing power, but did not address any of the details that have divided the blocs. The members agreed to meet next on Nov. 21, after the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha." If you're going to bet, go with Leland and Myers who've done strong work all week.

In the mess that is Iraq's continued inability to fill their top post, the White House's red-faced embarrassment has led them to insist that they accomplished something, honest. Karen DeYoung (Washington Post) reports:

Vice President Biden made numerous calls to senior Iraqi leaders over the past several months and U.S. officials directly participated in top-level negotiating sessions that lasted until just moments before the Iraqi parliament finally convened to approve a new power-sharing government Thursday, a senior Obama administration official said Friday.

Hoping to rebut criticism that it had lost influence in Iraq and was too passive over the eight months since the March election there, or that its efforts were designed to keep Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in power, the administration offered a detailed written account of previously unreported meetings, visits and calls it said Biden and others had made.

Michael Jansen (Gulf Today) states the obvious, "The deal making that produced last Thursday’s session of parliament is nothing to boast about." She then goes on to note:

It is not clear why Iraqiya thought Maliki -- a sectarian Shiite whose Dawa party was a bitter enemy of the Baath -- would implement this pledge. Maliki has also failed to carry out solemn promises to recruit into the security forces or find civil service jobs for fighters of the Sunni Awakening Councils -- or Sons of Iraq movement -- who helped US and government forces curb Al Qaeda in 2007-08. Maliki has shown himself to have absolutely no intention of sharing power with Sunnis and certainly not with secular politicians like Allawi who represents the "old Iraq" where politics was non-sectarian.
In spite of Obama's declaration that an "inclusive" government formula had been found after months of wrangling, Maliki is not interested in including Sunnis, secularists, former Baathists and others who do not subscribe to the ethno-sectarian system imposed on Iraq by the previous Bush administration.

Let's go over some of Asharq Al-Awsat's report.

These sources also talked about what went on between the US Senate delegation led by Republican Senator John McCain which visited Baghdad on Tuesday and the Iraqiya bloc leaders. The sources revealed that "the US delegation stressed that the United States did not sacrifice thousands of its sons in Iraq for the sake of a government being formed in accordance with an Iranian agenda, sacrificing the democracy achieved in the country."

But isn't that what ended up happening?

The sources said that the US delegation revealed that it had delivered the same message to President Barzani and that "President Barack Obama was dismayed by the delay in the formation of a government in Iraq because some were clinging to their posts, sacrificing the achievements made by the Iraqis thanks to the sacrifices of the Iraqi and American soldiers."

Barack called out those who would cling to their positions? Seriously? Jalal Talabani remains President and Nouri al-Maliki has been named prime minister-delegate. How did anyone give up? Who gave up a position they were previously holding?

They expressed their regret that some Iraqi politicians were thinking of sacrificing their relations with the United States and Arab countries – in reference to the negative response of some [Iraqi] blocs to the initiative made by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz – for the sake of limited regional relations and remaining in their posts, in a veiled reference to some Iraqi political parties connection with Iran.

"Some blocs"? That was State of Law and it was also al-Hakim's groups -- both part of the slate backing Nouri. Iraqiya didn't call out the offer. So how does Barack think he accomplished a damn thing? As it reads, Barack tossed out his usual words but his lecture didn't change a damn thing. They went ahead and did just what he called out. Instead of making the White House look stronger, their efforts to prove how 'strong' they are only make them look weaker than most could have ever guessed.

Mohammed Tawfeeq and Arwa Damon (CNN) note
, "Austin offered no timetable for the withdrawal of the remaining 50,000 U.S. troops in the country."

Reuters notes a Jalawla sticky bombing claimed the life of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan member and teacher Ibrahim Nawzad Raheem while injuring five people, a Mosul roadside bombing which left seven people injured, a second Mosul roadside bombing claimed 1 life and injured another person, a Mosul drive-by in which 1 person was shot dead, 1 woman's corpse discovered in Samarra and, dropping back to yesterday, "an officer in the intelligence branch of the Interior Ministry" was shot dead in Baghdad.

We'll close with this upcoming event.

International Law Society presents

Prospects for Peace in the Middle East

Featuring Francis A. Boyle

Accomplished international lawyer and College of Law Professor

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

12:00PM – 1:00PM

College of Law Auditorium

504 E. Pennsylvania Ave., Champaign IL 61820

University of Illinois College of Law Professor Francis A. Boyle served as Legal Advisor to the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations from 1991 to 1993, and to the Syrian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations during their First Round held in Washington DC in 1991. The story is told in his book "Palestine, Palestinians and International Law" (Clarity Press: 2003). His newest book is "The Palestinian Right of Return under International Law" (Clear Day Books, forthcoming).

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