November 13, 2010

Iraqi parties agree to new government - finally

Eight months after the parliamentary elections in Iraq, the three major parties have agreed to form a new government based on a power sharing arrangement that maintains both the incumbent prime minister and president in their positions. Usamah al-Nujayfi, a member of the party that actually won the most seats in the elections, the al-Iraqiya alliance, is relegated to fill the position of speaker of the national assembly.

The "kingmakers" in this convoluted arrangement are the Kurds. The Kurds, at the behest of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, allied with the party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to put together a coalition with enough seats to form a new government. Although Iyad 'Alawi's al-Iraqiya party won two more seats than the al-Maliki's State of Law party, 'Alawi was not able to convince the Kurds to join him in forming a government.

The Kurds feel that their interests will be better served through an alliance with the Shi'a-dominated coalition of al-Maliki, and unfortunately, rabid anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The Kurds, who suffered under the Sunni-dominated Ba'th Party rule of Saddam Husayn, are wary of trusting the Sunnis again. The Sunnis were a major part of the al-Iraqiya alliance, although 'Alawi himself is a moderate Shi'a.

The future status of the city of Kirkuk is also an issue - the Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Turkmans are all claiming it as rightfully theirs. The Kurds may have secured support from al-Maliki's party for the Kurdish desire to incorporate Kirkuk into the Kurdish autonomous region. This will be a divisive issue in the country.

While it is obvious that Nuri al-Maliki is a winner under this arrangement, after all he retains the post of prime minister, there are others that gain as well. Radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr further legitimizes himself as a key political power in the country and possible successor to al-Maliki. However, the biggest winners in this power-sharing agreement are the Iranians. Both al-Maliki and al-Sadr are heavily influenced by Iran. (See my earlier piece,
Iraq - the consequences of another term for al-Maliki.

As a sort of consolation prize for Iyad 'Alawi, a new government body was created, the National Council for Strategic Policies, which will oversee security in the country. It is expected that 'Alawi himself will head up that organization.

All in all, as President Talabani designates Nuri al-Maliki to form a new government, the biggest celebrations are likely to be in Tehran, not Baghdad.