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IRAQ: Can flawed political agreement be implemented?

November 19, 2010 |  6:33 am

Iraq-maliki

Divisions emerged only hours after Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani and former prime minister and Iraqiya coalition leader Iyad Allawi agreed to create a new government in Iraq including all major parties and sectarian and ethnic groups.

Carnegie logo Two-thirds of the parliamentary delegation of Iraqiya — which received the overwhelming majority of Sunni votes in the March elections — walked out of the first session of parliament, claiming the compromise was being violated. While they returned two days later, Allawi did not, declaring the agreement dead. It is unclear whether he will return, but his departure serves as a strong warning that the agreement is extremely fragile and difficult to put into practice.

Implementing the agreement hinges on two main conditions: first, creating a National Council for Higher Strategic Policies with real executive power and second, lifting the ban on political participation by three important Sunni leaders — Rasem Awadi, Saleh Mutlaq, and Dhafer Aani. The agreement also calls for launching a national reconciliation process.

But the agreement does not appear to be legally enforceable. Take the National Council, for instance. While it was originally created to curb Maliki’s power, it cannot do so without a constitutional amendment, and the constitution precludes amendments until the end of the this election cycle four years hence. Therefore, the council’s influence will depend largely on Maliki’s willingness to comply with its decisions. That likelihood is not great.

The problem of reversing the ban on Mutlaq, Awadi, and Aani — who were accused of being members of the Ba’ath Party by the Justice and Accountability Commission — is also complex. Technically, its decisions can only be reversed by the courts. But the agreement requires parliament to lift their ban. On Saturday, the council voted to form a committee to study the issue.

As Iraq’s leaders struggle with implementing the agreement, one thing is clear: Maliki is the clear winner in the election battle, paradoxically thanks to the combined support of Iran, which delivered the other Shiite parties, and the United States, which delivered Iraqiya and the Kurds.

His own ruthlessness also helped. During the campaign, Maliki supported the Justice and Accountability Commission’s decision to ban a large number of candidates. When his coalition won two votes fewer than Iraqiya, he first delayed the election certification by demanding a recount in Baghdad (which left the results unchanged) and then stalled the government formation process until he could secure a winning coalition in the parliament. And when rival parties, including the majority of Shiite parties, refused to accept him as prime minister for a second term, he reminded Iraqis that as prime minister he commands the armed forces, an accurate but nevertheless threatening statement.

As prime minister-designate, Maliki has just 30 days to form a Cabinet and present it to parliament for approval, a task that will require negotiating and bargaining over government posts. In the weeks ahead, observers will see just how much power he really holds — and if the Nov. 11 agreement can actually survive.

-- Marina Ottaway and Danial Anas Kaysi

Photo: Iraq Prime Minister Nouri Maliki walks past lawmakers in Baghdad on Nov. 11. Newly reelected Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said he "will ask" Maliki to form the country's next government. Credit: Ahmad Rubaye / AFP/Getty Images

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