Saturday, February 14, 2009

What's next in the Green Zone

Recent news in English about Iraqi politics has been unusually fragmentary. Some of the pieces:
  • There are increasingly convincing reports of a rapprochement between Maliki and the Sadr trend.
  • There was the report last week of an unusual meeting in Najaf between Ayatollah Sistani and Iyad Allawi.
  • And the battle to the death continues between two opposing alliances in Parliament over the naming of a successor to Mashhadani as President (speaker) of Parliament.
What appears to be happening is that two sides are lining up for a potential confrontation in Parliament over a possible motion of no-confidence in Maliki and the naming of a new Prime Minister. In this confrontation, if it happens, Sadr, Maliki and others will be on one side, and the two big Kurdish parties, along with the Supreme council and the Islamic Party of Iraq and others on the other side.

This explains the unusual importance of who is Speaker of Parliament; it explains the increasing closeness of Sadr and Maliki; and as for the Allawi-Sistani meeting, the prevailing opinion is that this represents Allawi switching sides--abandoning the so-called July 22 movement and preparing to be part of an alliance with the Supreme Council and others in a post-Maliki government, for which he needs Sistani's tacit blessing.

The conventional explanation--when and if this becomes news in English--is going to be that the challengers--two Kurdish parties, Supreme Council and Islamic Party--are so worried about Maliki's popularity as reflected in the recent elections, that they feel they need to remove him before the national elections scheduled for the end of this year.

But that leaves out the most important part of the story. The reason for Maliki's popularity--in addition to his exploitation of the perks of "government", legitimate and illegitimate--was the appeal of his speeches about the need to reform the current political system at its roots. When Maliki said he opposed the system of "muhasasa" (literally "allocations", meaning sectarian slicing of the governmental pie), and more fundamentally the whole system of sectarian labeling, he was speaking against the system that has been in place since Bremer inaugurated it, and which has benefited (leaving Maliki himself out of the picture for the moment) primarily the two big Kurdish parties, the Supreme Council, and the Islamic Party of Iraq. He was campaigning, in other words, against the American-imposed system and intimating there was a possibility of real change.

What the Kurdish/SupremeCouncil/Hashemi alliance is concerned about isn't merely the prospect of additional gains by Maliki in the national elections. They are also concerned that his campaign rhetoric, which struck such a deep chord among the Iraqi people, could now start to be turned into reality in specific ways before then: for instance, by way of constitutional changes that could disadvantage the big-federal-region prospects; or for instance by denying the Islamic Party nominee his "legitimate" right to be appointed Parliamentary speaker because that is part of that party's "muhasasa". What Maliki represents to them, following his electoral victory, is a threat not only to their privileged position as beneficiaries of the governmental cake-cutting, but also the threat of a campaign to reform that whole system. That is what the fight is about.

This is what accounts for the drama behind the Allawi move into the Kurdish/SupremeCouncil camp; and for the increasing signs on the other side of a Sadr/Maliki rapprochement; not to mention the death-struggle over the Parliamentary speakership.

In today's update in AlQuds alArabi, sources say the Kurd/SupremeCouncil side is likely to propose--if they succeed in ousting Maliki--that the new Prime Minister be Adel AbdulMahdi of the Supreme Council, and that Allawi would likely be rewarded for his role in this by appointment as a vice-president of the Republic (replacing Mahdi, presumably). The report warns that some think the scheme will still fail, in spite of Allawi's support, but the reasoning isn't spelled out in detail. Moreover, the whole scheme is fraught with danger, the paper's sources warned, because of the possibility the confrontation "could go off the rails" of peaceful constitutional and legal procedures.

Among the other implications: Whether the Obama/Biden administration will in fact continue its support for the crypto-separatist Kurdish/SupremeCouncil alliance, or whether on the other hand they might see the advantages of shifting to support for a national, non-sectarian alternative.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There has been a while since these kind of rumours were the staple of the day. But I think you analysis is spot on.

Before the elections ISCI were running around saying "just wait until we win the local elections. Then we have a mandate and can throw Maliki". Now they are in panic, seeing the whole ground disappearing before their eyes.

My problem though is that I have never been able to get a 138+1 majority out of this plot. It is hard to see this time around, even with IIP and Iraqiya in on it, that there is such a majority.

I also wonder about Allawi, he has been running on a nationalistic theme lately, and I can not quite see what value half a year as vice-president should give him. Being an opportunist, why would he go with the loosers?

8:48 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Good points. But just as food for thought, let's hark back to the original Oct 11 2006 vote where the existing federalism-procedures law reportedly passed with 140 or 138 votes. We still don't where all those 140 votes came from. See Visser at and myself here for the conflicting reports at the time. It's like someone said: Stuff happens. Also, it seems a lot depends on who the Speaker is.

As for whether Allawi has picked the wrong side this tie, maybe we should set up a betting line--I'd go so far as to say it's not certain.

11:52 AM  
Blogger badger said...

"this time" not "this tie"

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Allawi is acting on the behest of a foreign power? He is an intel 'asset' after all. If this situation were to "go off the rails," as it were, would this be an opportunity for the U.S. to abandon the SOFA and claim it needs to stay to maintain order?

But why would Sistani undermine Maliki by baking Allawi? I haven't read your site for a while (my mistake) so I may have missed something you addressed before.

5:49 AM  
Blogger badger said...

The big question re Sistani is why he doesn't intervene to rein in Hakim and the Supreme Council. (In other words, does Sistani's sectarian core takes precedence over his nationalist rhetoric).

You're probably right about Allawi, whether or not the project goes off the rails.

8:57 AM  

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