Friday, July 20, 2007

Why the parliamentary impasse was ended

The Iraqi Accord Front (or Tawaffuq) ended its boycott of parliament yesterday, a couple of days after Sadrist current ended its boycott, and the Western press is setting new records for incoherence in narrating these events, the latest insight being that the IAF returned because of a guarantee that embattled speaker Mashhadani, one of their members, would be able to receive 80% of his salary on retirement, rather than being fired with no salary, making this surely one of the most amazing displays of solidarity in human history.

Al-Hayat has a better explanation. (For background, please recall that earlier accounts spoke of a "3 plus 1" arrangement that would give the Presidency Council, consisting of president Talabani and his two vice-presidents,who include IAF member Tareq al-Hashemi, more say in government decision-making, side by side with Prime Minister Maliki). Today Al-Hayat says:
Considering the fact that the return of the Tawaffuq is simultaneous with confirmation of an augmenting of the powers of the Presidency Council in expected constitutional amendments, observers are inclined to see a political deal, formed by the government, under American pressure, with the blocs that had been boycotting Parliament, to guarantee the passage of laws, among them the Oil Law and the law on De-Baathification, in order to bolster the success of Baghdad in meeting a greater number of the 18 conditions laid down by the US congress...[in the coming September report]
In other words, the trade was this: Maliki gets support for smooth passage of the laws he needs in order for Bush to okay his continuation in power; and the IAF gets constitutional amendments long demanded by the Sunnis, (which, broadly speaking, could include things like federalism procedures, but this Al-Hayat article doesn't get into that level of detail).

It is true that the specific comments elicited by the Al-Hayat reporter, from IAF and government spokesmen alike, steer clear of explaining details of what was agreed. However, what the comments do underline is that the participants say they consider it of historic importance. IAF leader Adnan Dulaimi said this is a first step in solving the political crisis and stopping the bloodshed in Iraq. A government spokesman said the return of the Sadrists and the IAF will add to the credibility of the new set of names to be announced next week, of cabinet ministers to fill the seven empty posts (six caused by the resignation of the Sadrist ministers and one by the resignation of an Iraqi List minister) with persons chosen for their expertise and not for their party-affiliation.

But the reporter returns to his main point, about the overall nature of the deal. He says:
The withdrawal of the Tawaffuq and the Dialogue Council led by Saleh al-Mutlak, the latter's return not decided yet, in addition to the withdrawal of the Shiite bloc led by Moqtada al-Sadr, had stymied passage of laws considered by the administration of President George Bush as essential for measuring progress of the Iraqi government in meeting its commitments. The cabinet of Prime Minister Maliki had been in a hurry to pass a law on distribution of oil revenues that had aroused widespread debate, pervaded by accusations that the Iraqi government was submissive to American wishes in trying to pass it quickly, and opponents of the war saw this as pushing in the direction of increased violence and putting the country on the verge of dismemberment, along with a package of other laws that the White House said were key to political settlement in Iraq, including amendments to the De-Baathification procedures, constitutional amendments, and measures toward national reconciliation.
In other words, Maliki had a legislative program that had been subject to accusations of subservience to America, against a background of Sunni discontent with basic issues including constitutional amendments. Under the terms of the new deal, the Sunni parties, in exchange for promises respecting the Sunni demands respecting the constitution, De-Baathification and so on, commit to facilitating passage of those and other laws that the Bush administration needs in order to "show progress" and that Maliki needs in order to remain in office. And importantly, without voicing those accusations about subservience to America.

This is an account that leaves a lot up in the air, but it is worth at least trying to grasp the main point, which is that this parliamentary impasse ended with an agreement by the Green Zone parties that includes, as one of its parts, agreement to facilitate passage of those laws that Bush, the US Congress, and Maliki all need in order to "show progress" and keep the show on the road. This is worth remembering when September comes.

The point is important for two reasons: First, just because it shows that there is a political process, of sorts, if you can call it that, at work, and the Western accounts that attribute all this activity to an incoherent set of demands based fundamentally on personal greed, isn't the whole story. But secondly, because once you recognize that there is a process of this sort going on, it is easy to also understand its complete artificiality. What brought this "political" agreement about was the the demonstration by the Americans of their ability to moblize some Sunni armed groups, on a local basis at least, and while the Western accounts all report that as a feature of the war against AlQaeda, the Sunni-Shia significance obviously wasn't lost on the Green Zone politicians.


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