Last Thursday it seemed that Iraq’s major political players had finally hashed out an agreement that would see a new Iraqi government formed. Yet when it came time to get down to business, the first meeting of Iraq’s parliament in months ended in drama. Sunnis (many of whom are part of Iraqiyya) who had decided to join the government on condition of this new agreement, decided to walk out of the proceedings en masse because they felt that the tenets of the aforementioned agreement had already been broken.
The issue surrounding the walk-out dealt with a controversial law that was put into place during the election campaign which barred three Sunni politicians from being able to serve because of their so called affiliations to the previous Baath regime. Included in the new agreement was a promise to reinstate them. When the Iraqiyya bloc sought to put the three politicians’ reinstatement to a vote however, it was flatly rejected–prompting the walkout.
Why? Well, Thursday’s agreement has no real legal significance, and it can only be put into law with the backing of all parties. In other words, although the parties agreed in principle to the change, legally it is a difficult thing to put through parliament because it would require over-stepping Iraq’s constitution. Prime Minister Maliki could thus put a damper on the reconciliation process by rejecting their reinstatement on the grounds of adhering to the judiciary(when the decision was originally made to ban these candidates, Maliki agreed with it-prompting suspicion by Sunni leaders that he was seeking to de-legitimize them).
Reidar Visser, an expert on Iraq who has been closely monitoring the politics of the country, wrote that
In actual fact, if this came about as a result of parliamentary action, it would make matters worse! Unless one believes in some kind of parliamentary absolutism it simply is not the job of the Iraqi parliament to interfere on an ad hoc basis with the judiciary. Even though it was framed as a request for goodwill and involved “testing the waters”, it was clumsy and parochial of Iraqiyya to go ahead with the narrow request for three persons to be cleared in an extra-judicial way.
Although Sunni leaders decided to rejoin parliament on Saturday, this episode illustrates the still tenuous relationship between the various sectarian factions within Iraq’s new government. It seems that even where there is an agreement, there will also just as likely be a dispute.