WEEK 37: Ah, progress. Time for the Iraqi politicians to get in the way.
“There he goes again”
– President Ronald Reagan
The Tawafuq Front, the largest Sunni political bloc, is threatening to resign its ministries positions’ if the government again does not fulfill eleven demands. The Tawafuq Front had just returned to work in the Council of Representatives and the Ministry positions after a boycott initiated when a warrant was issued on one of the Ministers. The Coalition has been working with Sunni tribes and former insurgents to provide security and jobs. The Government of Iraq is meeting with the tribes and ready to create security jobs for the Sunni. And the Iraqi Accordance Front wants to again leave the government?
This time, however, it may be permanent. If the Tawafuq ministers resign, they cannot come back to work. The Prime Minister will have lost a total of thirteen ministers. Depending on how you do the math and read the Iraqi Constitution, three more resignations and the Maliki Administration is history. Ayad Allawi, the former Prime Minister and one of the three names kicked around as heir apparent, holds sway over four ministers from the Iraqi List. Do the math.
Perhaps President Talabani should be interviewing possible replacements.
He, however, does not hold all the keys. The Office of the Presidency must approve the new Prime Minister just as it must approve the laws. This office consists of the President and two Vice Presidents, Mr. Mehdi and Mr. Hashemi, Shia and Sunni respectively. One is left wondering if these three can agree on anything.
They agreed, once upon a time, to appoint Nouri al Maliki as Prime Minister. Though, this was not easy. He was the replacement for Mr. Jaafari who drew fervent protests from the Sunni members in the Council of Representatives.
As I previously mentioned, many Iraqi believe Prime Minister Maliki is not sectarian but those around him are very sectarian. He seems to be unable to control them. This is evident through the establishment of the Office of the Commander in Chief which has a reputation for unilateral sectarian arrests outside the Baghdad Operations Command.
If Mr. Maliki is replaced, the new Prime Minister will be faced with cleaning up sectarianism in the ranks of the Iraqi Security Forces and pushing through key legislation. With three days left in the current session and a likely summer vacation for the Council of Representatives, the council will likely not pass the current deal for oil revenue sharing. The crisis of replacing a Prime Minister will override any immediate legislation and may even undermine some near term objectives.
The Tawafuq demands consist of at least eleven separate items. Some of these demands are addressed in the current effort to employ the tribal members in the Iraqi Security Forces and to fight Al Qaeda. Ministerial resignations may dramatically undermine efforts as the government will lose whatever faith it barely has in any Sunni group.
Tawafuq is bluffing. This is a grand stand play to try and force the Maliki Administration into accelerating reconciliation related events like expeditious case review and releasing questionable prisoners back to their tribes. Other requests, like ending politicization of the ISF can only happen when enough Sunni are hired. They sensed a hint of compromise and wanted to get the whole enchilada in one bite.
The demands are nothing really new. On the surface, they seem reasonable but will not be answered over night. The attitude of the demands is probably a bigger issue.
No leader likes to be given ultimatums. He has to defend his turf. Pulling cabinet members out of the government won’t get us any closer to resolving the security plan in the near term. This may only cause a further turf grab when the government withdraws its support for tribal initiatives.
If Tawafuq is not bluffing, Mr. Talabani may need to refresh his list of candidates.