Friday, May 12, 2006

Mutlaq and Fadheela walk out, Maliki anticipates a deadlock.

Politicians here were saying last week that a government would emerge within no more than a few days and I was hoping they were right this time but obviously they are going to request some more time…as usual.

A few issues are complicating the talks; Fadheela Party announced their boycott to the negotiations of allocating cabinet posts; meanwhile Salih al-Mutlaq's Dialogue Front is most likely to stay out of the formation as well. Of course this is in addition to the already existing points of difference regarding some major posts.

These two blocs comprise 26 seats in the parliament, that's roughly 10% of the legislative body of Iraq, that's why such boycotting would undermine the image of the government that bigger blocs want to be viewed as a unity government.
So there are two options before the bigger blocs; one is to ignore the boycotting blocs which may damage the image of the government before the public and also may not be seen as an acceptable option by one or more of the bigger blocs. The other is to try to persuade the Fadheela and Dialogue to end the boycott and come back to the negotiation table to figure out a compromise but this will certainly consume additional time which is exactly what we don't have much of.

But the reasons for the boycott in the case of Dialogue Front differ from those in the case of Fadheela Party; the Dialogue objected the mechanism of distribution of cabinet posts and described it as one based on sectarian/ethnic quotas while for the Fadheela, the issue is about winning one particular cabinet post, namely the oil ministry which the Fadheela has been running in the past few months through an acting minister after the resignation of former minister Mohammed Bahr al-Iloom.

Actually there's something quite fishy about the oil ministry case; many believe that obsession on this ministry is fed by the-supposedly-fact that the new minister will-once in office-deal with signing contracts for the construction of 3 large oil refineries with a capacity of 250-300 thousand bpd each at an estimated total cost of 6 billion dollars.

And there's also last week's underreported incident where a big fire destroyed the contracts and accounting offices in one of the ministry's building floors, these two points make a lot of people here believe that the name of the new minister will decide whether massive possible corruption is to be exposed or to be given a chance to continue.
In my opinion and given the reasons for the boycotts, I think it will be easier to reach a deal with the Fadheela than with the Dialogue; Fadheela will probably come back and join the talks if promised another ministry but the Dialogue object the whole deal, thus they're most likely going to be on the opposition side.

As to the rest of cabinet posts, they still appear to be floating among the blocs despite all the news reports that we read and hear about definite allocations of the X ministry to the Y bloc; Maliki said more than once that interior and defense ministries must go to independent figures, yet Bayan Jubor's name is still on the table as a candidate among 3 others (Chalabi, Qasim Dawood and a police general in the outgoing ministry).

There's also the deputy PM post which the Iraqi list of Allawi and the Accord Front are fighting for and are both alleging that they have affirmatively won it and the fate of this post in turn will decides who gets the defense ministry…

In reaction to these obstacles, Nouri al-Maliki is apparently preparing himself for the worst and is already making a plan to override a possible deadlock; al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that sources close to Maliki said that if no deal is reached he will consider announcing his cabinet in the middle of next week and may appoint himself as acting minister of defense and interior until the concerned blocs reach an agreement on the candidates for these two ministries.

Anyway, there are 10 days left before the constitutional deadline expires on May 22nd so it's still early to worry about a constitutional breach or a new deadlock.

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