Iraqiya suspends talks until demands are met

Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi’s decision to suspend talks with prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki until demands on reform are met is the biggest threat to Iraq’s political stability since the current government was formed

Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi has withdrawn from negotiations with Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki over the latter’s failure to implement the Erbil agreement and to appoint ministers of defence, national and interior security. Allawi has also threatened to call for early elections if his demands are not met.

The Erbil agreement, mediated by Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani, ended a nine-month political deadlock in November 2010 following the inconclusive March elections, in which Allawi’s Iraqiya won 91 seats, making it the largest single group, and Maliki’s State of Law 89 seats (GSN 890/5, 878/1).

The deal secured Maliki a second term, and Allawi was compensated with the leadership of a proposed new executive body, the National Council for Strategic Policies (NCSP). The role and influence of the council, for which there is no legal or constitutional precedent, has never been clear. Many Iraqi political observers regard the fact that it is still unformed eight months after being proposed as the chief disappointment of the accord. It is also a key reason for Iraqiya’s public dispute with Maliki and his party. The delay has also concerned international analysts because the post was conceived as a way of keeping the prime minister’s powers in check – powers which, many argue, have become increasingly authoritarian, particularly in security issues.

Trading insults

Allawi responded by highlighting the prime minister’s failure to uphold the conditions of the Erbil pact, as well as his party’s mismanagement of government and alleged corruption.

The two political blocs have also clashed over the appointment of ministers of defence, national and interior security. Under the Erbil agreement, Iraqiya has the right to designate the minister of defence, but Maliki had maintained his authority as acting minister over all three ministries. However, on 7 June, he appointed Faleh Al-Fayad as acting national security minister, according to Alsumarianews.

An Iraqiya spokesperson told GSN that the party’s disagreement was not with the coalition government headed by Maliki, but with his State of Law party. He said the issue was not so much the party’s possession of certain seats in parliament, but a matter of sharing the decision-making on issues such as security, economics, domestic and foreign policies.

Iraqiya has often accused Maliki’s State of Law of undermining the constitution and monopolising power in parliament, and has threatened to call for early elections if a real partnership is not achieved within the power-sharing government, a move that is likely to be welcomed by organisers of recent anti-government protests.

Deep roots of conflict

While the roots of contradictions between Iraq’s feuding political parties run deep, the public nature of this dispute has drawn criticism of Maliki and Allawi for exposing the already fragile government to yet another political deadlock at a time of popular unrest and growing public frustration.

With Maliki forced to extend the 100-day deadline to halt demonstrations by another 100 days, the focus of the two leading political blocs on this dispute has been viewed by some as an indication of the increasing disengagement of the political parties and their leaders from the needs of Iraqi society, particularly as months of political arguments have left the country without fully functional security ministries, despite deteriorating security conditions (GSN 901/6).

There has also been an increasing fragmentation within the government itself, reflected through certain responses to the current political crisis. The resignation of Adel Abd Al-Mahdi from his position as one of Iraq’s three vice presidents in May, for instance, was a significant blow to the credibility of Maliki’s power-sharing government and the Erbil pact. Al-Mahdi, a prominent figure in the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, once the main Shia rival to Maliki, claimed to have resigned in protest over the bloated government and its failures to fulfil the demands of the people.

Other commentators have attributed Maliki’s failure to appoint security ministers – while maintaining his authority over all three ministries – as a sign of his growing distrust of members of rival parties within the power-sharing government. Indeed, Maliki’s statement this month that the “Iraqi parliament has no right to legislate”, confirms fears that his escalating grip on power is significantly challenging the concept of power-sharing, and will continue to hinder any future reconciliation attempts between Iraq’s different political blocs.

Originally published in Issue 902 - 10 June 2011.

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