Tuesday, August 12, 2008

July 22

(I said the wrong month in the original version of this !)

"The July [not June !] 22 forces", AlHayat says, are now recognized as a potential threat to the big-bloc power-structure in the GreenZone, following their successful passage of the special clause for Kirkuk (in the Parliamentary vote on July 22) over the opposition of the big-bloc, an historic first, the AlHayat journalist notes.
What is noteworthy about the July 22 force is that it includes [people from] parliamentary blocs of different sects and races....The expression refers to the groups that voted in favor of [the Kirkuk measure] and in includes members who are Arab and Turkmen, Sunni and Shiia, from the Iraqi List (25 members), the Accord Front (44 members), the Sadr trend (30), the Fadhila party (15) the Front for National Dialog (15) National Reform trend (3), and including also a number of members from the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance. [The numbers in parentheses total 132, and they refer to the total parliamentary representation of the respective blocs, almost all of whose members voted together on July 22].

The force's total membership is 127 [the number that voted together on June 22] and this is approximately half of the Iraqi Parliament membership of 275, which means it would be able to decide the fate of measures and bills that are proposed to Parliament, accepting or rejecting them. Observers think what joins this group together is an attitude of opposition to the orientations of the main governing parties, which formed a little while ago a four-part alliance (Supreme Council and Dawa, along with the two main Kurdish parties).

Izzat al-Shabandar, a spokesman for the Iraqi List said the birth of a political or parliamentary grouping bringing together the July 22 forces reflects an urgent necessity in Iraq today, and it isn't as difficult as some people think...
Still, Shabandar said, there is a lot of work to be done to turn this into a group that is able to deal in a consistent way with all of the important issues that will come up in the coming period of time. The journalist also quotes a member of Jaafari's National Reform trend with a more enthusiastic assessment: "What happened in that session [on July 22]", he told the AlHayat reporter, "was a signpost of change in the political situation in Iraq, indicating that the current stage is a new stage compared to the [era of] polarization and lining-up, and completely different from the sectarian and ethnic basis that has characterized our politics since 2003."

Judging from the comments by leaders in the governing coalition, the new movement isn't something they are prepared to work with. Khalid al-Attiya, a leader of the Supreme Council parliamentary delegation, said the purpose of the new movement is wreck the political process. A Kurdish delegate, Mahmoud Othman, said these are people who have been working for a long time to take away from the attainments of the Kurds.

The new trend is something that Reidar Visser alluded to in some detail in the wake of the July 22 vote. But within the gravitational pull of Washington the movement has been ignored.


Blogger Unknown said...

... there is a lot of work to be done to turn this into a group that is able to deal in a consistent way with all of the important issues that will come up in the coming period of time.

That seems like the salient point, and an understated one. The success on July 22 is a notable accomplishment, to be sure, but what other significant issues are there where these blocs can find agreement? Anything that involves a positive allocation of spoils -- ahem, I mean resources -- seems likely to fracture them immediately.

I'd be very surprised if they can find the ability to agree on anything besides (as the article alludes to) sticking a finger into the eyes of the Kurds and SIIC.

7:14 PM  
Blogger badger said...

They also defeated the SupremeCouncil/Kurd alliance in the matter of including the Oct 1 eletions-deadline in the Provincial Powers Law. (Visser writing on this in Feb 08):

The second point of dispute regarding the law concerns the timing of provincial elections, and has received even less public attention. But in a context where the Iraqi parliament has suddenly stopped issuing its daily minutes and opposition parties (like the Iraqi Islamic Party) criticise “parties inside the Maliki government” for “deliberate obstruction aimed at avoiding elections” but dare not mention their name, one cannot help wonder whether this is in fact the key issue. Again, it is the alliance of Kurds and ISCI that is making itself felt, but this time in a manner that seems less ideological: they flatly reject the idea of any timeline for provincial elections being inserted in the law, arguing that it would simply be out of place and should form the focus of separate legislation to be adopted at a later stage. Plausible at that may be from a purely judicial point of view, it cannot escape mention that early provincial elections is something which Iraq observers almost universally tend to highlight as a step in the right direction for the country. Significantly, the challenge to the ISCI–Kurdish axis on this issue comes from the cross-sectarian alliance in parliament that the United States routinely overlooks in favour of its own “moderate” government partners, and includes parties like the (Shiite Islamist) Sadrists and Fadila, the (Sunni Islamist) Tawafuq and the (secular) Wifaq and Hiwar. Today, their “dangerous radicalism” is being expressed in a unified demand for a guarantee for local elections to be inserted in the governorates law (they complain that otherwise, the whole elections issue will tend to get further delayed), whereas Washington’s “moderate” partners (who greatly benefited from Sunni and Sadrist non-participation back in the 2005 elections) seem to be deliberately slow-moving over the elections issue.

9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 22 July group of parties have a broadly shared approach on several basic issues in Iraqi politics in addition to Kirkuk: Federalism (“No” to ethno-sectarian entities), ethno-sectarian quotas or muhasasa (they reject this), oil (strong centralised and national control preferred), US withdrawal (timetable demanded), plus the need to have early provincial elections.

On federalism there are certain internal splits inside the Fadila component of the group: all reject the Hakim project of a sectarian Shiite region but some Fadila members are centralists whereas others, mostly in Basra, are pro-federalists. However, on the federalism issue – and this is Nuri al-Maliki’s big headache – many Daawa members sympathise with the 22 July group. Also with regard to oil and a timetable for withdrawal it is clear that the views of these parties are becoming increasingly influential and that the government has been forced to at least take them into account.

4:50 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for the response, Reidar, and for an exceptionally well-written piece.

That said, I don't find the list of issues you cite compelling. Understandably, the July 22/PTA group are opposed to the sectarian-based approach that has left them on the outs, and they support elections that they hope will improve their representation.

With regard to oil, though, hasn't this already been blocked because the Shiite PTB and the Kurds can't agree? And wouldn't it be fair to say that Maliki's stance on withdrawal is being prodded by Najaf and general popular opinion as much as (IMO, far more than) any need or desire to consider opposition parties' opinions?

My sense, as I noted above, is that while the July 22 group can stop certain developments it doesn't like, assembling a platform for positive action is more problematic. What might be interesting is if they could unite behind an alternative formula/law for distributing oil revenues. (Have they tried to do this? It's possible they have, and I've missed it.)

10:49 AM  
Blogger badger said...

What you are saying, Swopa, is that where there are possible explanations based on self-interest, and others based on national policy considerations, you think that in Iraq the self-interested explanation is always the overriding one. The July 22 group wants elections for self-interest; the oil law is blocked primarily on Kurdish self-interest; a withdrawal schedule is demanded primarily because others are already demanding it. Your schtick is to reduce Iraqi political issues to matters of overriding own-group or sectarian self-interest, even where there is clearly an interest in the national good, with you as the judicious expert always coming down on the side of sectarianism--helped along by your signature "division of the spoils..ahem I mean resources" sense of rhetorical effect. Even the July 22 group's explicit anti-sectarianism is something you explain as a form of small-group self-interest because "it has left them on the outs". This is clearly circular, and a mugs game. I wouldn't want to foreclose any comments, but on the other hand I wouldn't want anyone to think they need to spend a lot of time trying to come up with something you "find compelling". When and if there are positive legislative proposals, probably we will hear about them.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My sense is that the oil distribution issue is one of those files whose importance and supposedly problematic character is grossly overblown in the Western media. If you bring it up with Iraqis they will roll their eyes and tell you that this is only a problem as far as Americans are concerned. The reason is that most Iraqis (and this includes even many Kurds and Basrawis) are pretty happy with a distribution formula in which demography alone decides which governorate gets what, i.e. a strictly per capita distribution with no special quotes based on ethnicity or sect. The notion of an explicit “Sunni share” for example (as per many US “plans for Iraq”) would certainly horrify Iraqis who are much too proud in their nationalism to accept this kind of language (they consider it retrograde just like racism).

Beyond the nationalism factor, I think the reason this works well and is reasonably uncontroversial in Iraq is the actual geographical distribution of oil – i.e. in this case nationalism and “rational choice” self interest seem to pull in the same direction. The Western media image of an oil-rich Kurdistan and “Shiite areas” flowing with oil is simply misleading; most of the oil reserves – probably like 60 to 70 percent – is in a single governorate, Basra, with another 10 to 15% or so in the two adjacent governorates. Kirkuk has maybe 15% and cannot last forever; Najaf has no more oil than Anbar (and probably less). In other words, also from a rational choice perspective, with a 50-year horizon for example, the vast majority of Iraqi governorates probably stand to gain from a demography-based sharing formula that will give them proportional quotas of the revenue that accrues from the Basra fields. It is probably no accident that the only real popular interest in federalism in the Shiite areas has emerged precisely in the three far southern governorates in the shape of non-sectarian small-scale regionalism, but even here regionalism has yet to establish itself as the dominant trend - another indication that we cannot reduce this to economics alone and exclude ideology and nationalism.

As Swopa says, the main stumbling block in the oil legislation is between the Kurds and the rest of the government parties, but differences have focused more on the signing of contracts and the administration of the oil sector (between centre and regions) than the distribution of income. Most of the 22 July parties are firmly in the centralist camp on this. They are also more nationalist when it comes to foreign investment and so may at first seem less attractive to the USG for that reason. But I think the fact that they are able to offer solutions with real popular appeal in many basic constitutional issues should make them important for anyone who is thinking of sustainability and political stability in the region in the long term.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks, Reidar -- and perhaps I should have been clearer (or perhaps Badger's interpolation colored your response), but I actually offered oil as an example because I thought it was a relatively promising ground for compromise, rather than the most challenging.

Contrary to the image that others have presented of me here, I don't discount the sense of nationalism among ordinary Iraqis; what I doubt (based on observations of their actions for the past 5 years) is the willingness of any of the factions on the current political scene to act on behalf of that national interest.

It's notable that even at the moment when a cross-sectarian national resistance seemed not only possible but likely -- when Sadrist-inspired civilian convoys from Baghdad helped break the siege of Fallujah in April 2004 -- Sadr's militia was forcibly occupying the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf as part of its own-group conflict with the SIIC, a move that proved to be far more typical of the factional decision-making that has guided events in Iraq.

My schtick... ahem, I mean tendency to "reduce Iraqi political issues to matters of overriding own-group or sectarian self-interest" occurs not because I'm "on the side of sectarianism," but because it's been the most effective explanatory model for understanding and predicting the course of events in Iraq. (I won't bore people with the details now, but I will if someone wants me to.) I'm not rooting for sectarianism any more than the National Weather Service roots for hurricanes.

When the factions start behaving differently, I'll be happy to switch to a new model that explains their behavior better. Which is why I laid down the standard I mentioned in my initial comment -- when the out-of-power blocs can agree on something besides spiting the blocs in power, then it'll be time to take their professed unselfish nationalism seriously. Until then, it seems like wishful thinking.

8:09 PM  
Blogger badger said...

Reidar, thanks as usual for taking the trouble and for the enlightenment. (Sorry about the chutzpah...)

11:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was in the August of 2004 when the Sadrists took over the Iman Ali shrine, not in the April uprising. The reason why the Sadrists did not rise up in support of the November assault of Fallujah was probably because Abu Musab al Zawqawi had been using the city as a base to ethnically cleanse the shiites, with the aim of igniting a full scale Shia/Sunni civil war.

The July 22 movement should be seen as a positive development, imo, as the parties are developing political/parliamentary tactics to achieve their goals, as opposed to military.

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Abu Musab al Zawqawi had been using [Falluja] as a base to ethnically cleanse the shiites..."

That's what the Americans claimed, but I, for one, never saw a shred of evidence. Did you?

3:59 PM  
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