Progress, Not Completion, in Iraq's Government Formation

3 MINS READNov 11, 2010 | 21:22 GMT
Iraq's parliament made notable progress Nov. 11 toward forming a government. The legislature elected a speaker of parliament, the speaker's two deputies and a president. However, the key issue of reintegrating Iraq's Sunnis into the government has not been resolved. The next moves in the political bartering happening in Baghdad bear close watching.
Notable progress was made in a late-night Nov. 11 session to form the Iraqi government, but the most important element of this political negotiation — the reintegration of Iraq's Sunnis into the government — remains unresolved. After several hours of delay Nov. 11, the Iraqi parliament convened to elect a speaker of parliament, the speaker's two deputies and the president. So far:
  • Sunni Arab politician Osama al-Nujaifi was elected speaker of parliament. Al-Nujaifi is part of secular Iraqi leader Iyad Allawi's al-Iraqiya List, which is most representative of Iraq's Sunnis, but he also took care to distance himself from the party once elected when he told parliament that he is the speaker of the parliament, not the speaker of al-Iraqiya.
  • Qusai Abdul-Wahab, a Shiite from the al-Sadrite al-Ahrar Trend in the Iraqi National Alliance, was elected as first deputy parliament speaker. Arif Tayfour of the Kurdistan Alliance retained his position as second deputy parliament speaker.
  • Kurdish President Jalal Talabani has retained the presidency (though he was elected after members of the al-Iraqiya List walked out of parliament).
  • Talabani has asked Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of the State of Law bloc to form the government since al-Maliki's political bloc has allied with the pro-Iranian, Shiite-led Iraqi National Alliance to form the largest coalition.
But a critical component of the government formation process remains unresolved. The United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iraq's Sunnis are counting on Allawi's al-Iraqiya bloc to control a sizable share of the Shiite-dominated government in order to prevent a revival of a Sunni-led insurgency and to counterbalance Iranian influence in Iraq. The deal reached among Allawi, Talabani and al-Maliki going into the parliamentary session was for Allawi to concede on the presidency and premiership but be allowed to lead the newly created National Council for Strategic Policy, which would deal mostly with defense and national security issues. Allawi was uncomfortable taking a position for a body whose responsibilities had yet to be defined (especially when his political rivals would be working to undermine the power of the council). But he made the agreement on the condition that a vote be taken to define the council's authority and that the Accountability and Justice panel, which continues to implement a debaathification policy in the Iraqi government, be disbanded or at least lift its objection to three Sunni al-Iraqiya candidates. Those candidates are Saleh al-Mutlaq (running for foreign minister), Zavar al-Anni and Rasm al-Awadi. When it became clear during the session that those restrictions would not be lifted, Allawi led an al-Iraqiya walkout. Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni and leader of al-Iraqiya along with Allawi, was supposed to retain his position but left the parliament with Allawi before a vote could take place. The negotiations have thus reached a critical stage. By walking out, Allawi can attempt to freeze the political process until al-Maliki and Talabani come back with additional assurances. But he is also taking a risk that the Shiite and Kurdish-led blocs could proceed without him and further sideline the Sunnis — a move that would carry enormous implications for Iraq. Given the high stakes, such an outcome appears unlikely, but the political horse-trading currently taking place will bear close watching as al-Maliki and Talabani attempt to impose a fait accompli on Iraq's Sunnis. Parliament is expected to reconvene Nov. 13.

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