Monday, November 24, 2008

What's US ally Talabani up to ?

There are at least two different versions of the talks that led to postponing the Parliamentary vote until Wednesday. According to the Kuwaiti paper AlWatan, citing unnamed high-level sources that were at these meetings, the process went like this:

(1) It became apparent that a simple majority (half the Parliamentary membership plus one) wasn't going to do the trick, partly because of the fact some of the Shiite UIA members were taking the Sistani injunction to heart, namely that this had to be an approval representing the assent of all parts of Iraqi society. And the simple-majority idea was based on a simple Kurdish-UIA combination. So the Sunni parties and others would have to be brought in.

(2) At talks held at the invitation of Talabani, that started Friday, representatives of the Sunni parties noted that the agreement(s) with the US would have the effect of solidifying existing governing arrangements, so that the time is now for realization of those changes that the Sunni parties have long been calling for (including constitutional amendments and an executive authority that would be "balanced", in contrast to the current one-sided authoritarianism).

(3) In addition to the Sunni parties, there was participation by the Fadhila party, the Iraqi List, and even the Sadrist parliamentary leadership in discussions about what would be necessary, outside the actual content of the agreements, to satisfy the current opponents of ratification.

The AlWatan piece also notes remarks by one of the Sunni-party leaders to the effect that the Americans have made commitments along these lines, and the Sunni parties are still waiting for those commitments to be made good. He said if the Americans are going to be saying that would represent intervention in internal Iraqi issues, then what was the 2003 toppling of the prior regime all about, not to mention all of the subsequent American intervention in the internal Iraqi processes (establishing the constitution, involvement in government-formation talks, etcetera).

(This is the first I have heard about "commitments" along these lines by the American government. But recall that there was a reference by AlQuds alArabi op-ed columnist Haroun Mohammed to talks between Obama people and Iraqi groups outside the political process that included a reference to going back over everything that has been done by the Bush administration from the days of Bremer to the present, in other words revising the entire political process, or at least that is what these groups thought they were hearing).

There is another version of the Talabani talks that started on Friday, and it is provided via remarks by Iraqi List parliamentarian Osama Najafi, reported by Azzaman. Najafi said he and others rejected a proposal by Talabani to pressure Maliki by threatening to form an alliance between the Kurdish parties and the Sunni Arab parties, on the basis that they both have grievances against Maliki (the immediate grievances being the Kurdish resistance to Maliki's formation of "support councils" in the areas bordering Kurdistan region; and the Sunni concerns about the release of thousands of Sunni prisoners), and that whether Kurdish or Arab they are both Sunni.

Najafi said: "[What Talabani was proposing] was an attempt to unite a number of politicians under the rubric of 'Sunnis, whether Kurdish or Arab', and this is a truly dangerous thing at this juncture, when we are starting to turn back the sectarian momentum..." (The Kurdish Alliance has denied any intention of toppling Maliki).

Najafi said this idea of non-confidence in Maliki on this basis is a dangerous one, "but he didn't rule out the possibility that some parties, which he didn't name, would withdraw confidence from Maliki, adding 'what Talabani wants is to draw us into a dispute with Maliki.'"

So what's going on? Is there an effort to twin ratification with constitutional amendments in a single Parliamentary deal, aimed at producing the kind of national consensus that Sistani has been talking about, as the AlWatan piece suggests? Or is this better described as a sectarian initiative by Talabani to threaten Maliki and his Shiite support-parties with being toppled by an all-Sunni coalition including the Kurdish and the Arab parties? Or is it something else?

Note that (1) the Democratic Party policy groupies are doing an excellent job of keeping their mouths shut at this critical time; and (2) as far as the conventional story-telling is concerned, this is a case of a certified "political process" working as it should with inter-party negotiations and so on, all to be confirmed in a parliamentary vote by the representatives of the people. It is like saying that the American financial system works via credit creation by certified financial institutions, so you continue talking about "pumping liquidity into the system" when all you are actually doing is pumping liquidity into the banks.


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