About two weeks remain for returning Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to form his cabinet, and some issues are starting to develop that may fissure any so-called power-sharing agreement. The entirety of the Iraqi parliament must agree on Maliki’s cabinet choices and politicians and their parties are scrambling to nominate candidates for the ministries that they want to control.
The power sharing deal itself, which Washington has praised and credits itself as putting in place has come to be seen by many as a short term solution to a long-term problem. Now, it seems as if even a short term solution may soon evaporate. Reidar Visser, an expert on Iraq and the Gulf, has criticized the power sharing deal as fragile and a distortion of Iraq’s constitution. In a recent article in the Atlantic he writes:
so far, the power-sharing deal has been disconcertingly lacking in substance. Right now, it appears that the notion of power-sharing in Iraq is nothing more than a spin-doctor operation by the Obama administration — to which Iraq’s dominant Shiite Islamist parties are happy to pay lip service. Looking at the distribution of influential positions in the new government, only one player has been given true power: Nouri al-Maliki.
If the power sharing plan as it was drawn up were to take effect and Allawi and Iraqiyya were brought fully into the fold, Iraq’s constitution would essentially have to be subverted in order to re-constitute the Political Council for National Security, a defunct and extra-judicial committee that was formed by the Coalition Provisional Authority to “facilitate and coordinate national security policy among the Ministries and agencies of the Iraqi government tasked with national security issues.” It has been re-imagined by the U.S. to fill the vacuum that excluded Allawi and Iraqiya.
The re-establishment of this committee would be difficult and this threatens to leave Iraqiya out in the cold. Even if it was agreed upon by the new government, Visser states that it:
would still be an extremely weak institution with little real power, due to the requirements for consensus decisions (in the range of an 80 percent majority threshold). The list of proposed members of the council is also long, making it hard to see how Allawi or any other Iraqiya leader could turn the head of the body into an effective post.
Meanwhile, as Maliki seeks to form his cabinet, various reports are coming out of Iraq which seem to indicate that all is not exactly well. Many are concerned and see this as a power-grab, and this is not just Allawi and his Iraqiyya bloc. Even within Malaki’s alliance, some feel he is overreaching. Radio Free Europe reported yesterday that a member of Maliki’s National Alliance bloc has asked him to relinquish his duties as commander-in-chief of Iraq’s security forces, citing that this position should be handled by a non-aligned member of parliament. The same politician has asked Maliki to resign from the party if he keeps the post.
In Al Ahram, a major Arab newspaper out of Egypt, journalist Salah Humeid is skeptical of progress as well, writing that:
Maliki has said that each party should nominate three individuals for each of the ministry posts it has been assigned, with the prime minister then having the final say on who should be appointed.
Iraqiya has already rejected this proposal outright.
While it would be tempting to hope that Al-Maliki will be able to form a cabinet within the time limits agreed upon, given the fractious nature of the political groups in Iraq a new government is unlikely to emerge before the end of the year.
So, will the government form on schedule? There is still plenty of time for Maliki to make his decisions and bring them to a vote in parliament. Yet one can be certain that many back-room discussions and dealmaking initiative are still being conducted. It will be interesting to see if the end result finds a united Iraqi government under his leadership or one that is lopsided and parochial. It may be difficult to create the former, but Iraq cannot afford the latter.