Last Updated: Thu Nov 11, 2010 09:59 am (KSA) 06:59 am (GMT)

Finally a government being formed in Iraq

Hasan Kanbolat

No party could secure a majority in the Iraqi parliament to form the government after the general elections were held on March 7, resulting in a power crisis. There is no president, prime minister, parliament speaker or government in Iraq.

A month ago or so I asked an Iraqi politician, “When do you expect the government to be formed in Iraq?” He replied, “Maybe tomorrow, maybe in six months.” There is finally light at the end of the tunnel.

A government led by Nouri al-Maliki is expected to be formed in the new year after a parliament speaker is elected from among Sunni Arabs and a president from among Kurds after the Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) holiday as 57 deputies have left for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. No nuisance is expected to rear its ugly head in Maliki’s government formation negotiations.

To analyze Maliki’s project for establishing the government, we can note that Maliki’s State of Law coalition secured 89 seats in the Iraqi parliament in the elections. After the elections, he formed a coalition with the Iraqi National Alliance, which has 72 deputies, to command 161 seats in Parliament. However, as Maliki insisted on becoming prime minister, the Islamic Virtue Party, the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq (ISCI) and the Badr Organization implicitly left the coalition.

Thus, the number of deputies who supported Maliki as prime minister dropped to 131, including 40 deputies from the Sadrist Trend, Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Ahmed al-Chalabi. Maliki had to secure the support of at least 163 deputies in order to become prime minister, and he made an alliance with Kurdish parties that command 58 seats in parliament. In order to lure the Sunni Arabs into the coalition, he planned to appoint some figures from the Unity Alliance of Iraq and Iraqi Accord (Jabahat al-Tawafuq) lists as ministers.

Why could a government not be established in Iraq since March 7? Reasons include efforts to prevent Maliki, who regained strength after the elections, from becoming prime minister once more, and Maliki’s resistance of these efforts as well as the failure of the Iraqiya coalition of Sunni Arabs, which emerged as the top party in the elections, to form the government despite its intention to do so. Iraqiya failed not only to form the government but also to conduct the political negotiations.

It tried to secure the prime ministry position until early October, but Maliki counteracted by developing cooperation with several Sunni groups. But it is more plausible that this was a tactical error rather than a strategic one. Iraqiya could not secure the presidential office either. It seems that it will be content with the position of parliament speaker. If it can act wisely these days, it may secure additional ministerial positions.

Otherwise, it seems, Maliki, having secured the support of Kurds and the Sadrist Trend, will dominate over Iraqiya. It is rumored that Maliki conceded to implementing Article 140 in order to secure the support of Kurds, who demanded a written commitment on the said article, not finding Maliki’s verbal promise sufficient. Maliki is apparently in the final stage of coalition negotiations. In particular, statements that 18 of 19 conditions the Kurds proposed before they would join the new government are giving Maliki a bigger edge over Iraqiya and other political groups in Iraq.

It further suggested that the US is warm to a Maliki-led Iraqi government. Some analysts voice the unfounded and superficial analysis that Maliki is “Iran’s man” and that he will become prime minister again with Iranian support.

Iran does not raise objections to Maliki as a prime minister, but this does not necessarily mean that Maliki is guided by Iran. It must be noted that although he found himself with a political career as the weakest politician, lacking any tribal, familial or political group backing in Iraq, Maliki has managed to become Iraq’s strongest figure by ensuing stability and security in the country and making correct appointments in the bureaucracy and military. Maliki seeks to formulate a government that can secure the support of the regional countries, and in particular its neighbors.

In this context, Maliki paid a visit to Turkey as part of his tour of support in Iraq’s neighboring countries. Even if a Maliki-led government is established in Iraq, Turkey will continue to be Iraq’s most reliable neighbor. Turkey will continue to maintain its policy of treating all ethnic, religious and political groups in Iraq equally.

Still, Maliki’s government lacks the backing of the ISCI and the Sunni Arabs supporting Iraqiya, and how this will affect the country’s stability is a good question. The attitude of Saudi Arabia, which supports Sunni Arabs in Iraq, is important as well. Another unknown is the impact of the promises Maliki made to Kurds and Arabs on the Sadrist Trend. Moreover, Turkey’s reaction to Maliki’s accepting Kurdish demand to hold a referendum in Kirkuk in two years will be important. Finally, Maliki will have to pursue a much more delicate policy to preserve stability in Iraq after the US pullout.

*Published by the Turkey-based TODAY'S ZAMAN on Nov. 11, 2010

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