Thursday, February 14, 2008

Grandeur and skepticism

Parliamentary president Mashadani confirmed that the Provincial Powers act passed on Thursday included a provision for holding provincial elections on October 1 of this year, and he added that he thinks the actual Provincial Elections law (necessary in order to establish procedures for the elections) should be "ready in three months time". This is reported by the government paper Al-Sabah, as part of a series of congratulatory and self-congratulatory remarks by "three presidents" (Maliki, Talabani and Mashadani)--actually four because the president of the United States is also quoted as having phoned Mashadani to congratulate him for getting this done. On the question of the provincial elections, the paper added that the UN representative in Iraq, de Mistura, who also spoke at the press conference, said he was surprised at the speed of the decision, and said the UN is going to have to get to work setting up the provincial offices that will be involved in monitoring the elections.

Maliki's office issued a grandiose announcement of the non-sectarian principles that will govern the coming cabinet-shakeup, but Azzaman leads today with a series of comments from all over the political spectrum expressing skepticism about that possibility, on the general theme that sectarianism is already too deeply embedded in the GreenZone system, and that participating parties are not likely to give up anything that they have gained.

Probably more interesting was Al-Sabah's choice of spokesman to deliver what amounts to a refurbished ideological program, and it wasn't Maliki. Following the passage of the three laws, it featured across the top of its front page (Thursday Feb 14) remarks by Adel abdul Mahdi (a member of Hakim's Supreme Council, but also an economist and part of the IMF-World Bank milieu), in which he said the sectarianism the country has suffered from up to now was unavoidable because there weren't any alternatives following the fall of Saddam, but the country is now entering a new era, that will be characterized by private initiative and investment, including foreign investment. I will spare readers the details, but that was the gist of his remarks.

I don't know it means politically if the GreenZone establishment is putting up a free-market ideologue, with all the charisma of a Washington bureaucrat, as its potential leader in the face of crises involving sewage, water, electricity, and food (in the budget news, I haven't seen any additional information on the cutbacks in the food-ration program imposed on the government by the IMF. See the end of this post and the comments for the latest as far as I know on that issue). I just mention the possibility.


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