The Political Impasse

This piece first aired in August, 2010, as part of the show, “Unfinished Business”

Listen here.

    Host Intro: Every week you hear us say that Iraq still has yet to form a working government. The parliamentary elections were in March, but the process has stretched on for three, four, and now FIVE months. The election results were close, and the biggest parties continue to wrangle over who will be the Speaker of the Council, President, and Prime Minister. Amandine Lee brings us more on the causes behind the parliamentary deadlock, prospects for the future, and the frustration of the Iraqi public about the process.

    AMANDINE LEE: Faiza Al-Araji is an Iraqi working for a women’s NGO and living between Baghdad and Amman, Jordan. She says Iraq’s public had high hopes for this year’s national elections – Iraq’s government had been notoriously corrupt, inefficient, and dominated by foreign meddling. Maybe this time, with a change of leadership, things might change.

    FAIZA AL-ARAJI: Well now, when we go to vote, we thought like if we change Al-Maliki to be Ayad Allawi, we can gain a better prime minister and we can gain better government. But we have seen – we have seen nothing there is just negotiation in the neighbouring countries and inside the country with no result. And today they announced there will be no new government until before the end of ramadan. It means to the beginning of september or to the middle of september maybe the government will come.

    AMANDINE LEE: The Iraqiyya coalition, led by Ayad Allawi, did lead in the polls, with 91 seats in parliament, but current Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition placed a very close second – 89 seats. Next biggest were ethnic Kurdish parties, which tend to vote as a unit, and a coalition of islamic shiite parties led by Iran-backed SIIC and followers of Mutaqa Al-Sadr. Though Iraqiyya has more Sunni politicians, and State of Law is dominated by Maliki’s Shiite Dawa party, they are both primarily nationalistic. Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi consultant for the American Foreign Services committee, explains.

    RAED JARRAR: There are very subtle differences between the two. I think the platform of Iraqiya and State of Law are very close to each other. they are both nationalists who believe in strong central government. They both believe that the U.S and Iranian intervention should end and the Iraqis should run the country free of foreign control. I think the main differences had more to do with the characters of leadership – Some very subtle issues, some very subtle details about the history of the leaderships of both coalitions.

    AMANDINE LEE: In a parliamentary system, the public only directly elects a collection of legislators, who then choose the leadership of the country. This means that a lot of the decision-making is left up to the politicians, with little to no input from the public. Here’s Sean Kane, Program Director for the US Institute of Peace.

    SEAN KANE: The issues that people have consistently sort of pointed to and care about are good governance and services and particularly services are something which have kind of become the litmus test of lack of effective government in iraq. When talking to politicians a couple of weeks ago, it has become fairly clear that at this point in time the negotiations in forming the government are not about issues or even about the distribution of a wider set of of posts but are focus almost exclusively right now on who will be PM and what the power and authority of PM will be and that they are struggling beyond that of assembling the government platform if you like about it’s policy priorities.

    AMANDINE LEE: According to the Iraqi constitution, the first session of parliament, which is officially known as the Iraqi Council of Representatives, is supposed to take place 15 days after the Supreme court ratifies the election results. This did happen, though it took until June 1st to confirm all the winning candidates, because of recounts, and because many Iraqiyya members were accused of being too closely linked to Saddam Hussien’s Baath party. The Speaker of the Council is supposed to be chosen during the first session. Then, the President, which anyone can run for, is elected by the parliament. The largest coalition gets to nominate a candidate for Prime Minister, who is confirmed by a 2/3 majority. But parliament sat for the first time on June 4th, and still none of these have been chosen. Raed Jarrar says this comes from a lack of respect for the rules.

    RAED JARRAR: Iraq is still a has a broken system a very weak system. The lack of institutions in iraq and the lack of the rule of law and the lack of respect to law and constitution. all of these things are actors that ended up delaying the process because there is no real institutions that can determine who and how the next PM and next president. Even for some of the steps that have constitutional and legal requirement, there is no real will on behalf of the political leaders to follow these constitutional and legal requirements just because they exist. and there isn’t a strong judicial system that can implement the law w/o being affected by the political pressure that is coming from the executive branch and other govt entities.

    AMANDINE LEE: However, the definition of ‘largest coalition’ is complicated, because party loyalty is very fluid in Iraq. And Ayad Allawi, who was thought maybe to replace Maliki, has been losing support, as Michael Rubin, scholar from the American Enterprise Institute, explains.

    MICHAEL RUBIN: He received the plurality of seats. and arguably, therefore, he should have been the one to have the first crack at putting together the parliament. However, as many Iraqis point out, since the elections in March, he has only been in Iraq perhaps 12 days. most of the rest of the time he’s been in london or he’s been in damascus, Amman, san’aa yemen, riyadh, cairo and so forth. so many iraqis have pulled away from him subsequently.

    AMANDINE LEE: This week, Maliki said in this TV interview that he asked his own bloc to freeze his nomination for Prime Minister. The Sadrists, who along with the Kurds are considered kingmakers in the negotiations, have said will not support a government with him as prime minister. But Maliki’s accession is far from certain. Possibly, it would take several more months for Dawa to find and vet another candidate, and they do not want to risk losing the Prime Minister’s office to another party.

    Part of the issue is that politics in Iraq are dominated by the notion that all ethnic and sectarian groups should be represented in the government. Almost certainly, each of the three winning coalitions, Iraqiyya, State of Law, and the Kurds, will each get one of the top posts. Then, there are 37 ministry positions up for grabs and will similarly be divided among the smaller groups. This frustrates Faiza Al-Araji.

    FAIZA AL-ARAJI: Well i don’t care who will be president or this or whatever. We just want good people to be our leaders we just want people who are thinking about the interest of iraqi people about defending their rights to have their basic human needs to have their services on the ground to have their decent living, stable life secure life. We care about these things. Most iraqis they don’t care about names, they don’t care about who’s going to come to be pm, if he’s sunni or hia or kurd, muslim or non-muslim. We just want him to be an honest man, a good man, taking care of his country or concerning about the care of his country. So we are waiting.

    AMANDINE LEE: For War News Radio, I’m Amandine Lee.

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