This week has been about the Shaabaniyya pilgrimage to Karbala; next week is the last full working week in Iraq before Ramadan starts around 11 August. Alas, signs are that Iraqi politicians have already resigned and do not expect any political movement before the month-long holiday period in which business slows down considerably and at least some appear to be planning an exodus from the summer heat of the Iraqi capital.
More worryingly, the limited activity that can be discerned at the level of coalition-discussion seems to be getting less and less focused by the day. Regretfully, even some of the parties that did best in the 7 March elections are now getting engrossed in nonsensical detours that will only increase the delays in forming the government and could potentially lead to an outcome very far from the wishes of their electorates. Take the secular Iraqiyya, for example, and its recent attempt at declaring the current government a caretaker government. On 27 July, Hani Ashur told media in all seriousness that the “dissolution of parliament” creates a situation in which the government becomes a “caretaker government”:
وأوضح عاشور :” ان الدستور ينص على ان حل مجلس النواب يحيل الحكومة الى حكومة تصريف اعمال
The only problem, of course, is that this paragraph of the constitution is the second part of an article (64) that deals with the special case of parliament dissolving itself by a special majority in case it wants to terminate the parliamentary session prematurely, i.e. before four years have lapsed. But the paragraph quoted by Ashur obviously does not relate to a regular, automatic dissolution of parliament after four years – which is what we are dealing with today – and as such just underscores the futility of the whole idea of bothering about the status of the existing government instead of taking bold steps towards the formation of a new one.
This episode just highlights a series of unfortunate turns within Iraqiyya towards focusing more and more on far-fetched arguments in the coalition-forming process. Not infrequently, these are part of a rather heated anti-Maliki discourse, where the latest idea is that any second premiership by Maliki would somehow be problematic because it would jeopardise “the peaceful rotation of power”. Again, Iraqiyya is at odds with the Iraqi constitution: There is no limitation on the number of times a premier can serve. Focusing on problems of authoritarianism is of course legitimate, but at least with Maliki there are common views between him and Iraqiyya on a range of basic issues relating to the centralised structure of the state and the centrality of a state-led oil sector, which after all makes up most of Iraq’s economy. Conversely, Iraqiyya’s current conversation partners among the Kurds and ISCI have an opposite, pro-federal position on these key issues, and – lest we get too deeply immersed in the “anti-authoritarian” argument against Maliki – feature a considerable number of autocrats in their ranks.
The latest idea to create distractions in Iraq is the notion that a meeting of the UN Security Council next week will somehow engage in a robust manner with the process of government formation in Iraq. It probably won’t. The Security Council is not more than the sum of its members, and the Obama administration clearly isn’t interested in a pro-active role in the government formation process beyond the repeated expression of a preference for a large coalition of the four winning blocs. Few Americans other than Ken Pollack have suggested more active machinations of the kind associated with the Bush era, and the likelihood that Obama/Biden will pick up these ideas seems limited: “Bush reintroduced democracy in Iraq; Obama cancelled the elections and imposed a salvation government”?? Probably not. Nonetheless, Iraqiyya – which unfortunately has a past habit of often expecting the UN to rise as a sphinx and intervene in Iraq quite irrespective of the explicit disengagement strategies of its constituent elements – seems to be paying attention to proposals that will probably never become US policy and are using them to lull themselves into a state of inaction in the government-formation process.
Finally, by all means, Iraqiyya is not the only bloc that seems to have immersed itself in futile schemes and strange readings of the constitution. Lately, there has been a mushrooming of claims to “entitlements” (istihqaqat) in the next government on the alleged basis of the elections result. Again, this notion – which above all has been articulated by the Kurdish alliance, but has also been found more recently among others – is pure nonsense. In fact, there is only one kind of electoral entitlement in the Iraqi constitution, and it relates to bigness. The biggest bloc which is able to unite and agree on a single, named and identifiable premier candidate has the right to form the government, period. Every other idea of entitlement – whether ethnic, sectarian or demanding the inclusion of a particular number of blocs or even all winning lists – is rubbish without any constitutional basis. Their proponents are either racists, sectarian bigots, ignoramuses, or all of the above – and need a crash course on the Iraqi constitution.
If these trends of unfounded bickering between Iraqiyya and State of Law continue, the result will be the dominance of regional and particularly Iranian forces who stand ready to accept any outcome that produces a weak and oversized government. The fear is that this whole process will take so long that Iraqiyya and SLA forget where it started, and they end up taking a couple of ministries in a 50-strong cabinet headed by a weak compromise figure from the Iraqi National Alliance.