Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Post-election parliamentary drama in Iraq

The new Iraqi National Assembly (parliament) chosen in the famous January 30 election is scheduled to have its first meeting this week (Wednesday, March 16).  But the majority United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) has not been able to form a govenment yet. Jill Carroll gives an account of the current status in the Christian Science Monitor: Iraq parties gridlocked over terms 03/15/05.

UIA, the Shia electoral alliance, won 51% of the parliamentary seats.  But they can't form a government despite having a majority, because the interim constitution under which they operate specifically requires a 2/3 (66%) majority.  Their only practical possibility for a partner to form a 2/3 majority government is the Kurdish bloc, the Kurdistan Alliance, who hold 27% of the seats.

They had reached a tentative agreement in which Ibrahim al-Jaafari, head of the Dawa Party, would be the prime minister on behalf of the UIA, and Jalal Talabani would be the president. Talabani is head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which is part of the Kurdistan Alliance along with its main Kurdish rival party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is headed by Massoud Barzani.

But negotiations have stalled over Kurdish demands to immediately declare the oil-rich city of Kirkuk as Kurdish and to make the Kurdish private militias, the peshmerga, part of the Iraqi Army and guarantee that only they would be present in the Kurdistan provinces.  They are also demanding a large share on revenue for the Kurdish areas.

Now, this may turn out to be a last-minute bargaining ploy.  The city of Kirkuk has a very mixed population, including Turkmen, and the Iraqi national government can hardly agree to let the oil revenues from Kirkuk be exclusively reserved to the Kurdish areas.  Also, making the peshmerga the official army in the Kurdish areas would essentially be putting the private partisan militias on the state payroll while they remain factually under the control of the Kurdish politicians.

If no government can be formed, the current interim prime minister Iyad Allawi will remain in power until one can be formed.  Such an outcome would give added validity to this comment by Juan Cole (Shiite-Kurdish Deal Collapses 03/14/05):

The artificial requirement of a 2/3s majority is producing this roadblock, which could derail democracy altogether. Countries sometimes don't get second chances, or at least not for a century. ...

The US spiked the Iraqi parliamentary process by putting in a provision that a government has to be formed with a 2/3s majority. This provision is a neo-colonial imposition on Iraq. The Iraqi public was never asked about it. And, it is predictably producing gridlock, as the UIA is forced to try to accommodate a party that should be in the opposition in the British system, the Kurdistan Alliance.

And Carroll explains:

The transitional constitution was written in part to appease the Kurds who dominate three northern provinces. One provision allows the new constitution to be scrapped if it is rejected by two-thirds of the voters in any three Iraqi provinces.

This so-called "Kurdish veto" angered many Shiite political leaders and clerics, but was accepted as the price of faster elections. But now the Kurds are, in essence, seeking to keep the parts of the transitional constitution they like and throw out the parts they don't, like the provision that the ultimate status of Kirkuk should be left aside until a later date.

No comments: