Saturday, November 13, 2010

No one will bring him some ham






Yesterday, horse trading allowed Iraq's Parliament to elect a Speaker, , and to elect Jalal Talabani (again) to the ceremonial post of president. Despite assurances and claims to US officials that Nouri would be named prime minister-delegate November 20th, Talabani immediately named him and the US government is currently attempting to figure out whether this was due to concern over the Iraqiya walkout or was part of a deliberate effort on the part of Nouri's bloc and the Kurds to deceive their US benefactors. On the horse trading, Nussaibah Younis (Guardian) weighs in:
If Iraqi politics is to continue in this way, we can all sit back and relax -- waiting every five years for the elections that mean nothing, the backstage horse trading in which politicians nakedly vie for personal advantage, and finally the divvying up of power between groups in a way that promises to hamstring the new government before it has even begun.
The 2010 elections gave Iraq's politicians a rare opportunity to take politics in another direction. Together, Allawi and Maliki gained overwhelming support because they spoke of Iraqi unity, reconciliation, and reconstruction. But when it came to forming a government, self-interest won. Neither could bear the thought of not being prime minister, and both were content to drag the process on and on -- waiting to clinch a political advantage while ordinary Iraqis paid with their lives in the escalating violence.
Jalal Talabani named Nouri prime minister-designate. That is not prime minister. Good for Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) who captures this: "Mr. Talabani then formally nominated Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a second term in office, giving him 30 days to form a cabinet of ministers." This is explained in Article 76 of [PDF format warning] the Iraqi Constitution:
First: The President of the Republic shall charge the nominee of the largest
Council of Representatives bloc with the formation of the Council of Ministers
within fifteen days from the date of the election of the President of the Republic.
Second: The Prime Minister-designate shall undertake the naming of the members of his Council of Ministers within a period not to exceed thirty days from the date of his designation.
Third: If the Prime Minister-designate fails to form the Council of Ministers
during the period specified in clause "Second," the President of the Republic shall charge a new nominee for the post of Prime Minister within fifteen days.
Fourth: The Prime Minister-designate shall present the names of his members of the Council of Ministers and the ministerial program to the Council of
Representatives. He is deemed to have gained its confidence upon the approval,
by an absolute majority of the Council of Representatives, of the individual
Ministers and the ministerial program.
Fifth: The President of the Republic shall charge another nominee to form the Council of Ministers within fifteen days in case the Council of Ministers did not win the vote of confidence.
Steven Lee Myers explains, "The long delay in forming a government -- still at least a month away -- frustrated the administration throughout the summer". And he documents some of the efforts by US President Barack Obama himself including phone calls. We've already noted that the US government thought they had a promise regarding the nomination of prime minister-designate coming in on November 20th -- they were either lied to or the walkout changed the dynamics. Eli Lake (Washington Times) emphasizes failed efforts on the part of both Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to get Jalal Talabani to step aside and to do so in order that the (ceremonial) post could be filled by non-Kurd Ayad Allawi. The president's son, Qubad Talabani, confirms to Lake that Barack pressured his father to step aside and states that "the Kurds were disappointed with the United States" over this.Qubad Talabani states, "The Kurds have been the strongest ally and partner of the United States since before the liberation and certainly during it. And for the United States to be leaning on us, as they are now, in effect handpicking the new leaders of Iraq, is not respectful of Iraq's parliamentary system and touches on all of the insecurities of the Kurds, that the United States will once again betray us." What would the Kurds have received if Talabani had stepped aside? Lake reports that Joe Biden promised them both the post of Speaker of the Parliament and the Minister of Oil. While it's long been known that the US government supported Nouri for them to offer the Minister of Oil -- a position Nouri's reportedly promised to three different people -- they must have had some indication from Nouri that he would go along with that. Did they misread Nouri's signals? Regardless, Kurds may not be happy their representatives shot that offer down. Considering the repeated and ongoing disputes over service contracts for oil fields -- conflicts between the Kurds and the central government in Baghdad -- holding the post of Minister of Oil could have given the Kurds tremendous power.
Before I discuss the G20, I want to briefly comment on the agreement in Iraq that's taken place on the framework for a new government. There's still challenges to overcome, but all indications are that the government will be representative, inclusive, and reflect the will of the Iraqi people who cast their ballots in the last election. This agreement marks another milestone in the history of modern Iraq. Once again, Iraqis are showing their determination to unify Iraq and build its future and that those impulses are far stronger than those who want Iraq to descend into sectarian war and terror. For the last several months, the United States has worked closely with our Iraqi partners to promote a broad-based government -- one whose leaders share a commitment to serving all Iraqis as equal citizens. Now, Iraq's leaders must finish the job of forming their government so that they can meet the challenges that a diverse coalition will inevitably face. And going forward, we will support the Iraqi people as they strengthen their democracy, resolve political disputes, resettle those displaced by war, and build ties of commerce and cooperation with the United States, the region and the world.

"Another milestone." Barack's waves of Operation Happy Talk repeatedly include "milestones." While I am aware his vocabularly is highly limited and even more repetitive ("Let me be clear" and "make no mistake" for example), he cries "milestone!" the way Bruce Willis' character constantly cries "miracle!" in Death Becomes Her (one minute and three seconds in on the linked clip). Today on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), USA Today's Susan Page, filling in for Diane, spoke with Rajiv Chandrasekaran (Washington Post), David E. Sanger (New York Times) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) about Iraq. Excerpt:.
Susan Page: Eight months after their parliamentary elections, there's finally an agreement in Iraq for a power-sharing arrangement but it fell apart almost immediately, Nancy. Tell us what happened.
Nancy A. Youssef: That's right. The Parliament went to meet to start putting together this government that, so far, has Maliki still as prime minister, Jalal Talabani still as president, the Sunni still as Parliament Speaker and within hours the Sunnis walked out. And it really exposed not only how fragile this agreement was but how much sectarianism still dominates Iraqi politics. One of the reasons the Sunnis walked out is that they felt the Shia partners were holding them liable or punshing them for maybe being Ba'ath Party members of some level during Saddam Hussein's regime. That they were still being ostracized if you will. So it now remains precarious once again. It's hard to celebrate this right now because sectarian based politics appear to still dominate Iraq and that's dangerous at a time when we're starting to see rising levels of violence, most notabley a hundred and fifty people killed in the last week.
Susan Page: Rajiv, was this a surprise to US officials?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: No. You know, this was sort of the deal that the Obama administration had been pushing for. They did want Ayad Allawi, who is a secular Shi'ite but who commanded large numbers of Sunni followers, in a more secular, nationalistic slate and who actually won a narrow majority of seats in parliamentary elections lo these many months ago there was a desire to have him assume the presidency -- a largely symbolic role, but it would have shown that a Sunni Arab could be president while Maliki, the Shi'ite incumbent prime minister, would have kept that job The minority Kurdish population, largely in the northern part of the country, did not want to sede that post and this was one of the principle reasons for these months of gridlock. So then the compromise position out of the administration was: 'Alright, let's try to get Allawi to chair a new kind of committee on national security and economic policy' -- a very undefined, vague type role and the powers of which has still not been clearly spelled out and this is partly at the root of a lot of the angst on the part of the members of his coalition. And so what had happened here is that the Obama administration was sort of unable to force that change. Maliki, of course, has a great deal of support from Iran and it was essentially a kind of continuation of the status quo showing yet again how American leverage is diminished over there, how Iranian influence is ascendent and that even though you had a party -- a largely secular party that commanded a slim majority in the elections they were unable to-to bring together enough support to form a government and that the hope that everybody had months ago, that maybe we were seeing the first sort of indications of a more unified, nationalist, secular government starting to take shape has been completely shattered and what we see is the continuation --if not rise -- of more sectarian, divisive politics that will play out perhaps for the next several years.
Nancy A. Youssef: You know, Rajiv mentioned the diminished US influence in the country and that's right but this I call it sort of census-based politics because it breaks down to the proportions of the populations, is something that the United States introduced in 2003 in Iraq still has not been able to let go of. I couldn't help watching the results come out. At what point does Maliki relinquish control of the [prime minister post] and is there some concern about a new kind of strong man setup that's emerging in Iraq?
Susan Page: David?
David E. Sanger: You know Susan in the first hour you were talking about [C.I. note: We are not plugging that book so this section is deleted] . . . what you hear is "You just destroyed Iran's greatest enemy and now you're leaving and you're allowing Iran to spread its influence throughout the region. What's your plan for this?" And I think what we're hearing in this process is that we didn't have a plan for this.
Susan Page: Well we don't have a plan and what is happening is, eight months after the elections, we still don't have a real, functioning government. Does that have the possibility of effecting US committment to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by the end of next year, Rajiv?
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Well certainly if violence continues ticking up and the last few weeks have been particularly ugly in Baghdad -- the siege of the church in which more than fifty people were killed, another string of bombings, further attacks on Iraq's minority Christian community. If that violence continues to rise, it's certainly going to put the Obama administration in a much more difficult spot in terms of trying to fulfill that commitment to get all the troops out by the end of 2011 and that is, I think, directly tied to what sort of government they have, If there is a perception and an actual reality in part as seen by the Sunni population that the government doesn't represent them and this government continues to further marginalize the Sunni population -- which you've already seen over the last couple of years with Prime Minister Maliki's efforts to disband the Sons Of Iraq type programs which were seen as instrumental in bringing down the violence a few years ago, you could see, potentially, some of those rejoining some sort of insurgency against the government so there's a very real path that could occur between the political tension that exists in Baghdad and a resumption of violence.
Susan Page: Nancy?
Nancy A. Youssef: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates this week for the first time introduced this idea of troops potentially staying. It was a very tepid introduction. Somebody asked him and he said if the Iraqis asked us we would consider it but there are two things that are in the way of it.
Nancy A. Youssef went on to discuss the cost and to note that "even if those troops stayed what effect could they have?" We'll pick up with Nancy next week, hopefully on Monday. My apologies to David E. Sanger who had good points, solid points to make. But we don't promote that book he mentioned (not his own book). That's our stated policy and I ignored Cindy Sheehan's wonderful column because it dealt with that. We are not helping to advance a War Hawk's book, we are not the street team to get the word out and move books for him. With Sewell Chan and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, David E. Sanger has "Obama's Trade Strategy Runs Into Stiff Resistance" in this morning's New York Times and we'll gladly link to that. The issue wasn't Sanger, it was that book and we're not noting it here, we're not going to help create a 'buzz' on it or make it 'controversial.' Our job is not to promote that book.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. November 10th a power sharing deal resulted in the Parliament meeting for the second time and voting in a Speaker. And then Iraqiya felt double crossed on the deal and the bulk of their members stormed out of the Parliament. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, "The fragility of the coalition was dramatically obvious Thursday as members of the Iraqiya party, which represents Sunnis, walked out of Parliament, claiming that they were already being double-crossed by Maliki. Iraqi politics is always an exercise in brinkmanship, and the compromises unfortunately remain of the save-your-neck variety, rather than reflecting a deeper accord. " After that, Jalal Talabani was voted President of Iraq. Talabani then named Nouri as the prime minister-delegate. If Nouri can meet the conditions outlined in Article 76 of the Constitution (basically nominate ministers for each council and have Parliament vote to approve each one with a minimum of 163 votes each time and to vote for his council program) within thirty days, he becomes the prime minister. If not, Talabani must name another prime minister-delegate. . In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister-delegate. It took eight months and two days to name Nouri as prime minister-delegate. His first go-round, on April 22, 2006, his thirty day limit kicked in. May 20, 2006, he announced his cabinet -- sort of. Sort of because he didn't nominate a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior and a Minister of a Natioanl Security. This was accomplished, John F. Burns wrote in "For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq" (New York Times), only with via "muscular" assistance from the Bush White House. Nouri declared he would be the Interior Ministry temporarily. Temporarily lasted until June 8, 2006. This was when the US was able to strong-arm, when they'd knocked out the other choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) to install puppet Nouri and when they had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Nouri had no competition. That's very different from today. The Constitution is very clear and it is doubtful his opponents -- including within his own alliance -- will look the other way if he can't fill all the posts in 30 days. As Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observes, "With the three top slots resolved, Maliki will now begin to distribute ministries and other top jobs, a process that has the potential to be as divisive as the initial phase of government formation." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) points out, "Maliki now has 30 days to decide on cabinet posts - some of which will likely go to Iraqiya - and put together a full government. His governing coalition owes part of its existence to followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr, leading Sunnis and others to believe that his government will be indebted to Iran." The stalemate ends when the country has a prime minister. It is now eight months, four days and counting.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
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