Iraqi Politics: A mystery wrapped inside an enigma

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Reidar Visser, a known expert on Iraq has come up with what he sees as the three potential outcomes of Iraq’s current political stalemate.  We all know of the Maliki/Allawi fight for power, but I think what is most interesting in the piece is when Visser alludes to the American unhappiness that Sadr’s bloc could potentially play a big role in the next government.  The U.S. has been pushing for a third way, hoping to group the other major blocs together (therefore excluding the Sadrists) so that they can form a government and end the deadlock.  One of the propositions that the U.S. has made is that Maliki retain the premiership while giving some of his powers to an Allawi presidency.  This would require a reformation of the Iraqi constitution.  Visser warns of the complexities of this type of endeavor, both from a legal standpoint, as well as looking at how long it might take to be put into action:

Any government-formation involving constitutional reform is risky and potentially time-consuming business. If the route to constitutional reform under article 142 is chosen one needs to remember that the Iraqis have been working on this package of reforms since 2007 without being able to agree on it. The other alternative, however, involves a special majority in parliament of 216. The question then is, even if Washington should succeed in pushing for a move that would strengthen the presidency to such an extent that it becomes attractive to Iraqiyya, is it not likely that Iran would seek to introduce counter-measures if it felt threatened? It would then need only 109 deputies on its side to derail the whole project and everything would be back to square one. Have we already forgotten what happened in Iraq in February and March this year, when almost the entire Iraqi system succumbed to the pressures from Iran and Ali al-Lami, the great de-Baathification leader? And then of course, there would be the long wait for confirmation in a referendum and the concomitant risk involved for the party that is banking on an empowered presidency: What if the referendum disapproves of the changes and the presidency remains in its current form, with symbolic powers only? Clearly, it would be unconstitutional and therefore quite impossible to “upgrade” the presidency before any such a move had been approved by the population in a general referendum.

The bottom line is that any government-formation process involving constitutional reform (i.e. the “broadly inclusive” policy of the Obama administration) is likely to take many months, with no realistic prospect for a referendum on the required changes until some time in 2011, at best. For this reason alone, the more straightforward but competitive attempts at acquiring absolute majorities of 163 in parliament seem more realistic in terms of timely government formation in Iraq.

One thing is certain, a high stakes game is being played behind closed doors and the race to form a government is only heating up.  How much longer can Iraqis take the heat?

The Competing Paths to the Next Iraqi Government : Iraq and Gulf Analysis


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