M.I.A. File: “Missing Information Added”

Political Breakthrough in Iraq : Al-Maliki to Head New Government

On Sunday (April 23rd), two stories …

  1. a fresh rant by Osama bin Laden aired on al Jazeera
  2. a stale 60 Minutes iteration of the lie that Saddam had no nuclear program (bullhocky!) … displaced the genuinely important event of the weekend – a breakthrough in the formation of a unity government in Iraq.

Since the odds of your hearing anything remotely intelligent on this subject from MSM are nil, here’s a primer on the issues involved.

The crisis: For two months after its appointed time, the Iraqi Council of Representatives failed to convene to confirm a prime minister, the chief executive of the new state.

The legal framework: Under the Iraqi Constitution, the prime minister is nominated by the parliamentary party holding the most seats.  This nominee is then presented to the parliament by the President, to be accepted or rejected by a majority vote.  The prime minister is responsible for nominating the cabinet, without which there is no government.

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The backdrop: Four parliamentary blocks, each composed of multiple parties, dominate the 275-member legislature that was elected December 15, 2005.  The United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), a combination of Shi’ite parties, controls 128 seats.  The Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan (DPAK) controls 53.  Iraqi Accord Front, a group of Sunni parties, holds 44, and a secondary Sunni party, the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, holds another 11, for a total of 55.  The Iraqi National List, a grouping of liberal parties led by Ilyad Allawi, claims 25.

Constitutionally, the UIA nominates the prime minister.  But the UIA is itself a coalition.  In caucus, the candidate of its dominant party, SCIRI, was defeated by a single vote by the candidate of the second and third largest parties, the Dawa and the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr.  Al-Sadr, the radical cleric whose militia briefly battled the coalition in Baghdad and Najaf, threw his support to the Dawa candidate, Abrahim al-Jafari, who served as chief executive under the provisional government.

Al-Jafari is unacceptable to Sunnis.  During his ascendancy, death squads operating out of the Ministry of the Interior targeted ex-Bathaaists and their families, creating a fair amount of “collateral damage” in the process. It was pay-back time.

But the paralysis of government was not precipitated by injustice to Sunnis.  The pre-election assumption of most observers was that the Shi’ite and Kurdish parties would form the core of the new government, and that the Kurds would bring some of the National List liberals along in order to curb the fundamentalist tendencies in it UIA.

But al Jafari was unacceptable to the Kurdish parties.  Among their principal demands is a referendum on the status of Kirkuk, which they hope to incorporate into the Kurdish federal region authorized under the constitution.  The Kurdish parties believe that that al Jafari betrayed them on this.  They announced their intention to pull out of their alliance with UIA were he their nominee – a move facilitated by al-Jafari’s  razor-thin support in his own caucus.

What happened: Al Jafari stood down.  In his place, the UIA nominated another candidate for prime minister: Jawad al-Maliki, the second-in-command of the Dawa.  

Al-Maliki was schooled as a literary man.  He worked in the Iraqi Department of Education before fleeing the Baathist regime in 1979.  He spent 23 years in exile, serving as a key Dawa operative in the underground opposition to the Baathists.  He re-entered Iraq surreptitiously in 2002, during the build-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

In theory, the Dawa Party is more amenable to democracy than the SCIRI.  The Dawa platform holds that the people, as vice-regents of Allah, are to be entrusted with the legislative and executive powers.  The Dawa was the original Shi’ite anti-Ba’athist insurgent party.  Saddam assassinated its leaders in the late ‘70s.  He attempted to exterminate all its known partisans after a 1982 assassination attempt.

The mullahs who made the Iranian revolution hosted the SCIRI in Iran.  Its Badr brigades constitute the largest of the Shi’ite militias, and SCIRI is the largest single political party in the new Iraq.  Its original platform reflected Iranian influence, advocating a clergy-dominated legislative process.  But one must hasten to add:  post-war, both Dawa and SCIRI have accepted democracy as the basis for the new Iraq.  The Iranian press regularly denounces both for their “ingratitude” and “treachery.”

Apart from his role as spokesman for the united UIA, Al-Maliki is associated with two acts in the post-war era:  He was an important drafter of the Iraqi Constitution, where he forged close ties with Kurdish leaders.  And he was chairman of the Security Committee of the National Assembly.  If you read descriptions of him as a “hard-liner,” it is in reference to this latter role.  The security committee under his leadership aggressively purged former Baathists from public positions.

The compromise:  The UIA is constitutionally entitled to nominate the prime minister, and through him, a cabinet.  With al-Jafari as its nominee, it lacked even the simple majority needed for confirmation.  But a “simple majority” was not the sticking point that halted political progress for two months.  All the parties to the new Iraq understand that the new prime minister will need a two-thirds majority to make important constitutional changes regarding the distribution of oil revenue, the definition of federalism, the integration of militias into the national government, and the establishment of security forces that are accepted as national rather than sectarian. 

The two-month delay in convening parliament to confirm a prime minister was occasioned less by the inability of the UIA muster enough votes – the block needed only 10 more  – than by its inability to form a unity government around al-Jafari – one that could command a two-thirds vote on critical agenda items.

All the major parliamentary blocks were parties to the compromise of April 22.  In return for approving al Maliki (and, implicity, the majority rights of the UIA), the other blocks assumed major posts in the new government.  Mahmoud Mashhadani, a Sunni Islamist with a solid record of opposition to (and incarceration by) Saddam, will become Speaker of the parliament.  The deputy speaker posts will go to the Shi’ite Khalid al-Attiya, and to Aref Tayfou, a Kurd.  DPAK leader Jalal Talabani retains the Presidency, a post of ceremonial and diplomatic significance, flanked by two vice-presidents:  Tariq al-Hashemi, a prominent Sunni leader, and Adel Abdul Mahdi, a  leader of SCIRI.
In effect, al-Maliki now has an opportunity, sanctioned by all the major blocks, to form the “national unity” government essential to stabilize the security system in the central provinces, and to design a functional budgetary and fiscal system for the new democracy.

We at DD wish him well. 

American politicians, particularly Democrats, have taken regular pot-shots at elected patriots of the Iraqi parliament, accusing them of everything from insincerity to idiocy.  Main stream media has treated their negotiations as dilatory and bogus.  But it took our own nation 12 years, from the submission of the Articles of Confederation to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, to resolve the types of issues with which Iraqi democrats are wrestling.

Nothing in the Middle East is certain.  With our help, Iraqis are moving toward a national democratic consensus with remarkable speed.  They – and we – deserve this opportunity.  If the cycle of tyranny and extremism in the Middle East can be broken in Iraq, we will share the benefits.

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