Friday, June 10, 2011

Rocky Road Ahead For Iraqis

Mohammad Akef Jamal writes: The 100-day reform deadline actually saw a deterioration in security and lack of government services
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 10/06/2011 

The political crisis in Iraq is coming to a head as the 100-day government ultimatum ends today. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki had sought the time to undertake reforms.

Al Maliki had not been expected to meet his goals because he does not have the capabilities to fix the situation in Iraq in such a short time. Moreover, his pledge could have worsened the situation. And this is exactly what happened, as no one has seen any kind of improvement on the ground. In fact, things have deteriorated further in the country.
The prime minister had a major role in the deterioration of the political situation in Iraq, a country that is on the verge of collapsing as a result of the Arbil agreement not being implemented.

This agreement included nine chapters, and was concluded last November between Al Maliki and Eyad Allawi, Chairman of the Al Iraqiya list. It was sponsored by the President of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani. It put an end to the government formation crisis that had lasted nine months.
The agreement included the establishment of the Supreme Policies Council, to be chaired by Allawi, and the formation of a real, national unity government. Both did not happen, resulting in protests by Al Iraqiya, which had received the most number of votes in the elections.

Al Iraqiya also suspended its members' attendance of parliamentary sessions while threatening to leave the political process altogether and calling for early elections to break the political deadlock.
The 100-day time limit also witnessed a noticeable deterioration in the security situation, and a lack of government services, especially electricity outside Baghdad's Green Zone.

What made things worse was that the political blocs in parliament agreed to appoint three vice- presidents, thereby disregarding people's will.
The crisis entered a new phase with differences seen between the prime minister and the house speaker regarding the authority of the parliament to make laws. The resignation of the first vice-president also revealed the size of the problems facing Iraq and its inability to address them.

Will the end of the 100-day deadline today be critical to the political process? Will Iraqi politicians keep their promises? Or will the most influential group force the others to sit down for talks?
The government crisis has been going on for 15 months, as a result of its weak structure and its members' unclear stand regarding the Arbil agreement.

The departure of the Al Iraqiya list may not lead to the collapse of the government, however it will lead to the destruction of the Iraqi political process. It will leave the prime minister with one of two options: dissolve parliament as per constitutional mechanisms or annul the national accord as he has threatened to do on several occasions, to establish a majority government.

Both options are not without difficulties. For the prime minister to establish a majority government, he will have to maintain the unity of the National Alliance, which secured him the premiership in the first place. He will also have to secure the approval of the Kurdish alliance. The prime minister will be obliged to resist US pressure on this matter, as it will not be pleased with this turn of events.
The government's approval of Mahdi Army's military parade a few weeks ago is one way of appeasing the Sadrists, as the prime minister will need their support to maintain the unity of the National Alliance, despite the harm such a parade inflicted on the image of the state.

Dismantling parliament is another thorny road to tread. Public support for different political blocs has changed since the last elections, and the street protests and demonstrations indicate changing loyalties and preferences.
However, the biggest loser of public support is the prime minister himself, because he is the one in the eye of the storm. Hence, it is not in his interest to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections.

Great efforts are being made behind the scenes to stem the collapse of the Iraqi political process, but this is accompanied by contradictory statements.
The statements made by Barzani are important and more attention must be given to what he has to say as he will no doubt have another approach to solving the crisis.

Dr Mohammad Akef Jamal is an Iraqi writer based in Dubai.

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