Iraqi Parliament Gives up on Drafting Electoral Law; Cross-Sectarian Political Coalition Announced

President Barack Obama’s meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Tuesday generated few deadlines, but some important things were said.

Obama stressed the need for the Iraqi parliament to pass an election law to enable parliamentary elections to be held on January 16. If the law isn’t passed soon, the elections won’t be held on schedule.

This delay would be a severe problem for the US military, which is stuck in Iraq without much to do but waiting to play one last big role, in closing down the country and providing enough security so that elections can be held. While the Iraqi army has gotten better at doing independent patrols and taking on gangs and militias in Shiite areas, it still is not very much in control of the Sunni regions, and it is not clear that it could oversee elections even in the wilder Shiite provinces such as Maysan. (That Iraq still cannot hope to have a simple election without massive security and the prohibition of vehicular traffic for 3 days speaks eloquently to how hard a row genuine democracy still has in that country. That US troops are available for joint patrols with the Iraqi army, which it helped train, but that the Iraqi army is studiedly disinterested, shows how much Americans are actually disliked in Iraq, a very nationalistic country that feels itself run roughshod over).

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that the Iraqi parliament has thrown up its hands in despair about crafting an election law. Many parliamentarians haven’t even been coming to the sessions, because there is such bad blood among the MPs over this and other issues. Some blame the intransigence of the Kurdistan Alliance, which is sensitive about the conditions under which elections are conducted in Kirkuk Province, which the Kurdistan Regional Government wants to annex, but the annexation of which is opposed by Arabs and Turkmen.

So parliament is asking the Political Council for National Security to draft the legislation, and to have parliament simply conduct an up and down vote on the resulting bill. The PCNS consists of President Jalal Talabani, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, Vice President Adil Abdul Maliki, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and Kurdistan Regional Government president Massoud Barzani. The council is not specified in the constitution, much less having been given a legislative role, and some critics of this plan are complaining that it is unconstitutional.

It takes 90 days to organize an election in Iraq, so last Monday was technically the deadline for the passage of the legislation. The election must be held by Jan. 31 to be constitutional. The prospect of another sketchy election, after the fiasco in Afghanistan, is worrying the UN and the US military.

Meanwhile, what is probably the last of three major political coalitions was announced on Tuesday, and is analyzed by Reidar Vissar. It comprises both the Sunni Awakening Councils of al-Anbar under the leadership of Abu Risha, and the coterie of Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani, a Shiite independent. Reidar hails it as cross-sectarian but admits that it may not amount to much in the actual election. I concur in his pessimism. My guess is that the Shiite religious coalition and the Government of Laws coalition (mainly the Islamic Mission or Da’wa Party) of PM al-Maliki will be the major Arab forces in the election, and will likely go into a post-election coalition with one another, preserving the dominance of the religious Shiites.

One wild card is that the Iraqi constitution stipulates that the largest single party in parliament gets the first shot at forming a government. If al-Maliki’s party doesn’t do as well as he expects, he could well lose the prime ministership. Since some of the improved security in Iraq derived from al-Maliki’s talent in gaining control of the army and security forces, and since a new prime minister may not be as adept, the post-election situation in Iraq could be very unstable. That situation would in turn put pressure on the Obama administration to slow the US troop drawdown, at a time when Afghanistan will likely still be very hot and making demands on the administration’s resources. Bush bequeathed Obama two major wars, and it would be ironic if Iraq and Afghanistan both deteriorate simultaneously, putting a squeeze play on the administration and endangering its reelection prospects.

Here is the White House video of the Obama/al-Maliki press conference. (Al-Maliki looks a little impatient during the long preface on Afghanistan issues, which surely signal which country is more important to President Obama). The emphasis on investment opportunities in Iraq is probably premature; if a country can’t hold elections without a large foreign army’s help, it is too soon to make big investments in it.

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7 Responses

  1. That situation would in turn put pressure on the Obama administration to slow the US troop drawdown, at a time when Afghanistan will likely still be very hot

    This could be read as implying that:

    a) US soldiers are a net help in establishing security in Iraq

    b) the "war" in Afghanistan will intensify in the short term, but draw down in the long term (rather than e.g. spiral out of control…)

    are any of the two assumptions plausible?

  2. Bush bequeathed Obama two major wars, and it would be ironic if Iraq and Afghanistan both deteriorate simultaneously, putting a squeeze play on the administration and endangering its reelection prospects.

    It is easy, just get out of Iraq and of Afghanistan. What are you doing in these countries anyway ? Obama should begin to hold on his promises of withdrawal for Iraq and he should end the Afghanistan war, since he wasn't able to achieve anything there either.

  3. These things occur by stealth, but not by chance. Plenty of reports of the Afghanistan war, the jihadists in Pakistan, USA bombing and efforts at rebuilding and the uncertain morale of our troops have appeared on the front page and elsewhere in recent weeks in the New York Times; yet not until the long pause of the administration over General McChrystal's request for a major escalation did the newspaper of record show what the pressure of its desires could amount to.

    War Mongering Fever at the New York Times: A Five-Day Log

    When five days pour forth a lead story on the way "a coordinated assault" of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan has caused a grave risk to American interests; a lead about the serious counter-offensive mounted by Pakistan; a flash suitable for any date but run as a lead concerning the heroin trade of the Taliban ("Vast Network Reaps Millions from Drugs"); the launching of a serial memoir by a reporter "Held Captive by the Taliban," which will extend to five parts; a flattering stoic-soldier profile of General McChrystal in the Times Magazine; a Pakistan follow-up suggesting that Pakistan's army's now fights well but is "meeting strong resistance" from the Taliban and cannot win without help; a sequence of three stories by different hands, tracing with approval the acquiescence of President Hamid Karzai in calls for a run-off (the very agreement the administration made a precondition for expanded American commitment); two op-eds over three days by military men not of the highest rank, urging escalation; and a reckless "scoop," filled sparsely with random and often anonymous interviews regarding the supposed discontents within the armed forces at the length of the administration's pause — when all this is the fruit of five days' harvest at the Times, the conclusion draws itself. The New York Times wants a large escalation in Afghanistan. The paper has been made nervous by signs that the president may not make the big push for a bigger war; and they are showing what the rest of his time in office will be like if he does not cooperate.

  4. ref: the US military, which is stuck in Iraq without much to do” : “The USA is still spending about $7.3 billion a month on the Iraq war and [KIA and WIA casualties are] still a daily reality in some parts of Iraq, and U.S. troops are being killed here at a rate of about one a week. What an ignominious ending to the greatest failure of American media, political will and military leadership in the history of the United States. Your words, Juan, "Stuck In Iraq Without Much To Do [but defend ourselves]" could just as well be the most apt epitaph, the most succinct history writ for 8+ years of war-making Over There ~ une guerre sans raison! ~ save for the political pursuit of ‘Unitary Executive’ power, and the unprecedented plunder of the U.S. Treasury, Over Here.

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