Friday, June 08, 2007

Baghdad Summer Politics

The hysterical verbal threats and accusations among Iraq’s politicians and leaders have moved up several notches since the coup panic was first felt in Baghdad. Now the hysteria has reached the top of the government pyramid.

Iraqis often say that when the summer heat goes up people lose their minds. Frankly I’ve seen this happen to some people I know and sometimes the damage is temporary, sometimes not. We’re already having days as hot as 45 degrees Celsius [113 degrees Fahrenheit] and our politicians are evidently not immune to the heat driven insanity.
The escalation began with a highly offensive joint statement by president Talabani and Masoud Barazani president of Kurdistan. Here’s part of it as it was published on al-Mashriq newspaper on June 6 [emphasis added]:

With regret and puzzlement the political bureaus of the KDP and PUK were informed about the statement dated April 29, 2007 that announces the formation of a political front that includes, in addition to the Islamic Party and Wifaq* movement, long-time traitors of the Kurdish people, the orphans of Saddam the butcher and chauvinist elements who are enemies of the rights and aspirations of the Iraqi people in its two major ethnicities, Arabic and Kurdish…
The meeting that was set up by the intelligence services of foreign countries led to the formation of a political front that is against the democratic march of the Iraqi people and working to destroy their constitutional achievements…Is it the quality of patriots to ignore their main, long-time allies and provoke them by cooperating with the representatives of racist traitors and suspicious chauvinists?… As the political bureaus of the KDP and PUK condemn this separatist act that is harmful to national unity and Iraq’s march towards democracy, we call upon the good among the brothers in the Islamic Party, Iraqi list and the Kurdistan Islamic Union to return to the lines of the broad coalition and withdraw from this suspicious political front.

(*Wifaq is the Iraqi National Accord movement (INA), the original party of Allawi.)

I can see why they are angry and terrified; a couple months ago Turkey hosted at least one meeting of some of the groups attacked in this statement. And at this moment Turkey’s soldiers and tanks are standing at the gates of Kurdistan. While hunting the PKK elements is Turkey’s declared objective, protecting Kirkuk from Kurdish domination is not an impossible mission upgrade to Turkey’s ambitions in the region.

The paper also provided some reactions to this statement from the other camp:

Usama al-Nijeifi, former minister of industry and member of Allawi’s bloc (the Iraqi list) said “This is provocative rhetoric and reflects a desire to monopolize power” and defended his bloc’s political movement by saying “The idea of forming a new political body came after we felt that the political process is stumbling and that we must (do something to) fix this…The reform project that this political body seeks will be according to the democratic ways and the constitution does not prohibit this type of discussions”

Saleem Abdullah al-Jubouri, member of the Islamic Party, part of the Accord Front said “The Islamic Party is dismayed by the Barazani-Talabani statement that should not come from heads of states… It’s the right of any political party to whatever it deems appropriate within the constitutional ways”

Salih al-Mutlaq, chief of the national Dialogue Front (11 seats) “harshly criticized Talabani’s and Barazani’s statement” according to the paper, and said, “we’re moving towards forming a bloc of moderate elements and the discussions involve the Accord Front, the party of former PM Iyad Allawi and a number of smaller parties”

Perhaps the only frank voice here is that of Mahdi al-Hafiz, the former minister of planning who stepped out of Allawi’s bloc last week over a disagreement between him and other members of the bloc concerning the policy of the bloc.
Hafiz spoke honestly about his vision. He has recently been calling for early elections based on a new election law that replaces slates with direct election of individual representatives and after that forming a new government on basis of parliamentary majority without sectarian or ethnic quotas.

But just when you think the insanity has reached a peak, it gets better!

For the second day in a row Maliki has been waving his “Iron Fist” vowing to use this fist to strike implied enemies of the country. On Wednesday he was apparently referring to some parties in Basra, probably the Fadheela, for allegedly planning to sabotage the ports and oil facilities in the southern city. Al-Sabah provided this report about statement:
The government vowed to strike with an iron fist on anyone who undermines public security in Iraq and executes evil plots that harm the highest interests of the country…A statement by the office of the Prime Minister said:
The government is warning all outlaws off harming the institutions of the state. The government will itself obliged to expose the local entities who stand behind the attempt to damage the ports and oil facilities and will expose their suspicious links to some countries in the region.

I wonder why he hadn’t exposed those criminals yet if their intentions were very well known to the government? Ideally a policeman who turns a blind eye to criminals is considered corrupt, so what does this make of a head of state if the threat he’s talking about was true?
Thursday’s “Iron Fist” show was even more bizarre. Here’s part of Al-Sabah’s lead story:
The Prime Minister sent a firm message to those who are paving the way for interference in Iraq’s internal affairs, he told the commanders of the armed forces “Strike on them with an iron fist for they have moved from the stage of conspiring to the stage of undermining security and siding with terrorism…The days of coups are gone with the former regime and there’s no going back to the days of ignorance, sidelining and despotism. There’s no place for conspiracies and we shall accept only what the democratic process yields”

My conclusion:
Since a coup using military force is technically impossible at this stage, the accusations and threats by Maliki, Barazani and Talabani do indeed reflect a desire to remain in power no matter what. This means they are prepared to use military force to suppress the attempts by some politicians to bring about a change in the government.
The other camp, with a few exceptions, doesn’t represent a good replacement option. It’s largely a combination of Islamists and pan-nationalists. However we can’t ignore that the leadership of this group will largely devolve to the secular elements. The secular leaders (Allawi’s group) will provide the support from the region and perhaps from the west. Hence, the relatively weak Sunni Islamists and defeated pan-nationalists will have to accept the secular leadership. After all, I don’t think Allawi would repeat Chalabi’s mistake when he relinquished power to the Shia Islamists.
Back to the guys in the current government: the Kurds are careful about protecting their alliance with the Shia alliance not out of patriotic feelings. It’s about the tactical cooperation through which the Kurds want to put article 140—which will decide the future of Kirkuk—into action. This is because the Shai alliance doesn’t care much about Sunni Kirkuk. After all there’s much more easy oil to be had in the south.

As for Maliki, time is critical for him. His declared plans for reform were not as effective as desired. He kept the situation — whether on purpose or not — within the framework of the old Kurd-Shia alliance. I can’t blame him. He’s been under extreme pressure, especially from within his bloc.

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