Tuesday, July 17, 2007

No confidence

Today (Tuesday July 17) the Iraqi parliament met, and it was announced that the Sadrist current had ended its boycott, citing satisfaction about arrangements for rebuilding and protecting the Samara shrines, but with no mention of the other big unresolved issue: Replacements for the six Sadrist cabinet ministers who resigned en masse two months ago citing lack of a US-withdrawal schedule, and later citing the need for ministry-allocations based on expertise instead of sect-affiliation.

The Sunni blocs that have also been boycotting the legislature (the Iraqi Accord Front and the Dialogue Front) continued their boycott, because they said talks on the status of (former) Paliamentary speaker Mashhadani, and on stopping criminal proceedings against a Sunni cabinet minister and releasing Sunni security people who have been arrested, are still going on.

Most reports said nothing about what was actually discussed at the Tuesday session, but Elaph.com said there was a resolution to ask cabinet to send 6000 Peshmarga military people to take up security tasks in Kirkuk, in response to the recent bombings there.

There wasn't any mention of a no-confidence motion. Remember that? About ten days ago, on July 7, CBS News said it had learned that a group called Project Iraq was planning such a no-confidence motion, claiming they had the necessary votes. The news report said the motion would be tabled by "the largest bloc of Sunni politicians" (that would be the IAF) "who are part of a broad political alliance called the Iraq Project," but the report failed to name any other members of this "broad political alliance", noting only: "What they want is a new government run by ministers who are appointed for their expertise, not their party loyalty."

Pesonally I have never seen a reference to anything called the Iraq Project in any Arab-language media, Iraqi or otherwise. But we know that it was something that existed at least in the minds of US vice-president Cheney and Iraqi vice-president Hashemi, because CBS News said:
The Iraq Project is known to the highest levels of the U.S. government. CBS News has learned it was discussed in detail on Vice President Dick Cheney's most recent visit to Baghdad, when he met with the Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.
As a result of the pressure from this "Iraq Project", CBS News said, "the political situation [of Prime Minister Maliki] is desperate".

Subsequently there were cryptic comments by Hashemi in the media about how he would vote for a no-confidence motion if someone else tabled it, but the idea was never developed as an actual count-the-votes possibility. What there was plenty of, however, was panic and alarm, particularly respecting the possibility of a split between Maliki and the Sadrists, with all that could imply for the security/military situation in the country. This was connected with the Washington report about benchmarks, via the idea of more US pressure on Maliki to put down the "militias", meaning the Mahdi Army. Some of that I summarized in an earlier post quoting Sadrists and Maliki people in a confrontational mode.

What happened, between the CBS report on July 7 that the political situation of Maliki was desperate, and today's absolutely uneventful Parliamentary session? Here's my scenario:

With the Washington report about Maliki not meeting benchmarks, there would have been some pressure on Maliki, but only theoretically. What would make pressure (for a tougher line with the Sadrists) real and vivid for him would be an atmosphere of anxiety about his government being toppled. Since there isn't any coalition with anything like the votes to do that, the group involving Cheney and his Baghdad confidantes had to make do with a name only: "the Iraq Project". Either there was never any substance to the idea of IAF alliance with any other significant voting bloc except the small group headed by Allawi, or if there was, it was put to rest by the reports of Allawi's meeting with regional Mukhabarat agencies, something that effectively made this look like a straight Sunni rebellion against a Shiite government. Whichever, it seems clear to me that the no-confidence scare was something that came out of the Cheney White House to press Maliki to get tougher on Sadr. Whether this had any of the desired effect or not is another question entirely; my point is simply that this was a case of the US media (and the echo-chamber blogosphere: see this enthusiastic piece by Spencer Ackerman) playing a bit part in US tactics and strategy, while purportedly reporting actual news.