Thursday, November 11, 2010







Political issues? An Iraqi journalist tells the BBC today, "I think a lot of people who voted this time round will have hoped for a change, and will be disappointed to see the same people in charge." John Leland, Jack Healy and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) add, "Iraq's lawmakers took a small step toward forming a government of Thursday evening, hammering out the details of a deal struck one day earlier to end an eight-months political impasse."
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's eight months and three days and still counting.

Today the KRG website announces:

Baghdad, Iraq ( - Iraq's political leaders yesterday agreed to hold the parliamentary session as scheduled on Thursday and to name an individual for the post of Speaker of the the parliament (Council of Representatives). The Speaker post will go to the Al-Iraqiya bloc, which is headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi.
During the meeting, which was attended by the leaders of all the winning blocs at President Masoud Barzani's Baghdad headquarters, agreement was reached on two other points: to create a council for strategic policy and to address issues regarding national reconciliation.
President Barzani, who sponsored the three days' round of meetings, stated that today's agreement was a big achievement for Iraqis. He expressed optimism that the next government will be formed soon and that it will be inclusive and representative of all of Iraq's communities.
Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports one hiccup in the process today involved Ayad Allawi who US President Barack Obama phoned asking/pleading that he accept the deal because "his rejection of post would be a vote of no confidence". Ben Lando, Sam Dagher and Margaret Coker (Wall St. Journal) confirm the phone call via two sources and state Allawi will take the post -- newly created -- of chair of the National Council On Higher Policy: "Mr. Obama, in his phone call to Mr. Allawi on Thursday, promised to throw U.S. weight behind the process and guarantee that the council would retain meaningful and legal power, according to the two officials with knowledge of the phone call." So all is well and good and . . . Ooops!!!! Lando, Dagher and Coker file an update, Iraqiya wasn't happy and walked out of the session. Prashant Rao (AFP) reports that "a dispute erupted in the Council of Representatives chamber when the mostly Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc argued that the agreement they had signed on to was not being honoured, prompting the bloc's MPs to storm out. [. . .] Specifically, Iraqiya had called for three of their lawmakers, barred for their alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath party, to be reinstated before voting for a president." As The Economist noted earlier today, "An actual government is not yet in place; last-minute hiccups may yet occur." AP notes, "A parliament vote on the government could still take several weeks, as the factions work out the details of who gets what posts." According to Suadad al-Salhy and Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters), the Parliament today elected Jalal Talabani to the presidency, voted Osama al-Nujaifi Speaker and "Talabani then nominated Maliki to form a new government." They had to vote, first, on Speaker. That was al-Nujaifi and the two deputies -- Qusay al-Suhail and Aref Tayfoor. Nujaifi or Nejefi or Najafi is the brother of Nineveh Province Governor Atheel Nejefi who is part of al-Hadba Party. Following his 2009 election, he declared that they did not need the help of the Kurds in the province -- not for security, not for political partnership and that the borders being in question didn't mean they were for the Kurds to design (he's openly hostile to the Kurds and described as an Arab nationalist). He was the one leading one side of the repeated 2009 stand-offs over Mosul. In June of 2009, Patrick Cockburn (Independent of London) observed:
In Iraq, everybody is paranoid and everybody has a reason to be so. In Nineeh, the capital of which is Mosul, the Sunni anti-Kurdish party al-Hadba won the provincial election in January and took over the local council. The Kurds are refusing to retreat from territory where they are in the majoirty. Last month the new al-Hadba governor of Nineveh, Atheel al-Najafi, accompanied by some 50 police cars, tried to enter a Kurdish-held part of his province, and was turned back by Kurdish forces. They said they had received orders, though everybody denies issuing them, "to shoot to kill" if he persisted. Had they done so there would have been general slaughter.
In 2008, Sam Dagher (then with the New York Times) reported that Nouri had given support to Atheel al-Nujaifi -- apparently due to shared sentiments regarding the Kurds -- and also noted that Atheel was "a prominent businessman who owns a ranch in Mosul that once supplied purebred Arabian horses to Mr. Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay.
The New York Times' John Leland, Jack Healy and Steven Lee Myers report the Speaker was elected and "With the diminished numbers [following Iraqiya's walkout], however, there were not enough votes to give Mr. Talabani the required two-thirds majority on the first round. A second round of voting, requiring only a simple majority, was to follow." Mohammed Tawfeeq Jomana Karadsheh and Arwa Damon (CNN) report that Talabani was elected and named Nouri prime minister-delegate at which point the session ended with the plan to reconvene on Saturday. Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports has Talabani winning -- in the second round -- 199 votes and Talabani then declaring, "I ask Nouri al-Maliki to form the next government as his is the candidate of the largest bloc, according to the constitution."
Let's stay with Arwa Damon (CNN -- video) because she's grasping what many -- including NPR this morning -- can't.
Arwa Damon: Now the Iraqiya list won the highest number of seats following those inconclusive March elections. It is headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi, it's cross-sectarian and it also received the backing of most of Iraq's Sunni Arabs.
Damon's report is worth viewing in full and, as an added bonus, outside of an episode of Scooby Doo, when do you hear someone referred to as an "arch-enemy" (Damon calls Nouri the "arch-enemy" of Allawi.) But let's go to Kelly McEvers and Steve Inskeep on today's Morning Edition (NPR -- link has text and audio).
MCEVERS: Probably not. I mean the power always rests with the top man in Iraq, and that man is still the prime minister, who is Nouri al-Maliki. The key difference in this government is in this particular election cycle, actually, is that a Sunni bloc, called the Iraqiya Party, actually took the most votes in the election. But despite that, they were unable to form a coalition with other parties to then get a majority of seats in the parliament. So even though they took the most votes, they're actually in third place.
INSKEEP: So what happens to the guy who was the head of that Sunni group, Ayad Allawi?
MCEVERS: Well, he was vying for a top post. I mean he, you know, claiming all along, you know, I took the most votes in the election, I should be the prime minister. Then when it looked like that wasn't going to work out, he and his American supporters were really pushing for him to take the presidency. But the Kurds wouldn't budge on that. The Kurds have long held the presidency and it's a point of prestige for them. Allawi's case is an interesting one. You know, here's a secular guy - he's actually a Shiite - who has the support of nearly all of the country's Sunnis. The Americans and Iraq Sunni neighbors, like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, had really hoped that he could take some top position to sort of maintain the balance of power between Sunnis and Shiites and, you know, to keep the country from lurching back into sectarian unrest.
McEvers is correct that Allawi is a Shi'ite. But Iraqiya is not "Sunni." State Of Law is Shi'ite. But Iraqiya is cross-sectarian or non-sectarian (both terms have been used). A group of lawmakers came together to form the party and the did so on the basis of non-sectarianism. Far more serious errors took place on Democracy Now! yesterday where foundatin baby Nir Rosen was allowed to pontificate at length and traveled the globe unfettered by gravity or facts. Rosen declared that Nouri has "the support of some countries in the region." The region may just be Iran for Nir, but Iran's actually in the minority. And, no, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey were not pulling for Nouri. As Bushra Juhi (AP) observes of the reported deal, "The deal reached late Wednesday reflects a significant victory for neighboring Iran, which had pushed for al-Maliki's return." See Elaine's "What they actually know is much less" for more and also wonder why an Arab region is being 'expertized' by Nir Rosen when there are plenty of Arabs available.
Nouri wasn't supposed to be nominated today -- they were supposed to wait until near the end of the month, after a holiday -- so Talabani's decision to push through and nominate him today most likely goes to alarm and worry over the walkout and fear that the entire agreement could fall apart. Jason Ditz ( observes:
Iraqiya members seem now to be quite up in arms about the deal, having realized that all Allawi has actually gotten was a promise for a really long name plate at his seat in parliament. The bloc says if Allawi's position doesn't get some defined powers within the next month it will bolt from the fledgling coalition. As other officials have suggested the new government won't be finalized for 30 days, this could mean another seemingly done deal will collapse before a government can be seated.
Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) sees the stalemate over. Wrong. The issue that caused the bottleneck was the who would be prime minister. That issue is not yet resolved. Nouri has 30 days to try to move from prime minister-delegate to prime minister. If and when he does make that move, the stalemate ends.
Some attention is going to the concessions Iraqiya was asking for -- except for Speaker, none appear to have been met (wow, more broken promises from Barack). Namo Abdulla (Rudaw) states, "The Kurds say they support Maliki because he has agreed to most Kurdish demands including the implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution that determines the fate of the oil-rich regions like Kirkuk, whether they should be under the jurisdiction of the central government in Baghdad or join Kurdistan." That's important all by itself but it's especially important when Iraqiya is already pissed off.
Iraq has no prime minister. We're going to continue with the stalemate continues until the country has a prime minister. Nouri is the delegate, the prime minister delegate. When Jalal Talabani named him delegate today, the clock began ticking. He has thirty days to create a cabinet. Nouri needed every one of those days last time -- after boasting that he'd be done ahead of thirty days. Nouri can't afford to piss off anyone this time and it appears he's already pissed off Iraqiya which has the power right now to see to it that he is either renamed prime minister-designate in 30 days or someone else is. But let's stay with the Kurds. They want the oil rich Kirkuk. Baghdad also wants to control it. It is disputed territory and a heated topic. Years ago, a census was supposed to have been held -- mandated for 2007 per the country's Constitution -- and Nouri, prime minister then, played kick the can, kick the can. Most recently he had set a date of October 2010. Possibly he thought the wrangling from the March elections would be over by then? He kicked that back to the start of December. Back to December 5th. If it's not held by December 5th? Will Kurds see it as a betrayal and decide they should throw their support to someone else? If it does take place, will Shi'ite support for Nouri -- tentative at best -- collapse? December 5th is within the 30 days.
Nouri could pick ministers quickly -- and reported has bargained most of the posts away already with the US especially pleased by the Ministry of Oil post. But -- check the Constitution -- it's not that easy. Ministers not only have to be approved by Parliament, Parliament can change their mind -- at any time -- on a Minister. Let's stay with that latter part because that demonstrates the power everyone else holds should they feel double-crossed. Sa'ad Jafarri (made up name) is nominated to be the Minister of the Interior. Nouri's well on his way to creating a cabinet . . . except . . .
Each of those ministers requires approval by at least 163 MPs. The same number required for Nouri to become prime minister-designate. Each of those ministers and Nouri's entire ministral program must be approved by the Parliament with a minimum of 163 votes each time. If Nouri can't nominate a cabinet in 30 days, Talabani -- per the Constitution -- is supposed to name a new prime minister-designate (new, he can't simply 'renew' his previous nominee) who would then have 30 days. But it's also true that the same procedure kicks in if Parliament does not sign off on all the ministers in 30 days or on the program Nouri proposes. Should he nominate but even one not be approved in 30 days, Talabani, per the Constitution, must name a new prime minister-designate.
Piecing together votes was highly difficult for Nouri (both last time and currently), peeling off votes generally is a lot easier than picking them up. He's Prime Minister-designate. The stalemate has not yet ended and does not until Iraq picks a prime minister. (The presidential post is ceremonial. The prime minister runs the country.)

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Targeting Iraqi Christians, Beggar Media silencing Arabs"
"Veterans Day"
"Barack wants you to all eat cat food"
"Can he learn?"
"Will she break even?"
"The Cat Food Commission"
"Soledad is many things but . . ."
"No Ordinary Family"
"What they actually know is much less"
"Barack's silence on the slaughter of Iraqi Christians"
"Reality emerges"