Government to be Formed by Sunday?
Iraqi official sources maintained on Tuesday that negotiations between the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish Alliance to form a government are well advanced, and that the ministries have been apportioned among the two. Iraq nowadays is like the United States was in the early 19th century, during the spoils system. For a party to get a ministry means that it will bring its supporters in to staff the ministry, and will use it to give out patronage. The Kurds will get the foreign ministry and the Ministry of Petroleum, in addition to a few others, as well as the presidency.
The plan is apparently to give as few as 4 cabinet ministries to the Sunni Arabs, who did not vote in any numbers and are poorly represented in parliament. They would also get a vice presidency and the post of speaker of the house. I should think this lack of generosity toward them by the victors will spur further resentments. In early 20th century Lebanon, when the Shiites were the poorest and least powerful group in Lebanon, they were given the post of speaker of the house. It is not even clear that the position is that influential. The interim constitution does not guarantee that the speaker can control the legislative agenda in any way.
Ash-Sharq al-Awsat maintains that there has also been a fierce behind-the-scenes struggle over ministries and high positions between the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the al-Dawa Party, the two main constituents of the victorious United Iraqi Alliance. Shaikh Asad al-Faili, leader of the small Kurdish Shiite faction with 2 seats in parliament, bitterly complained that the two main parties had marginalized everyone else, including his group. (He has a vastly exaggerated idea of how many Iraqi Kurds are Shiite, by the way, which may inflate his sense of self-importance. Of the approximately 4 million Kurds, I can’t imagine more than 5 percent or 200,000 are Failis).
Three possible days have been bruited about for holding another session of parliament, in hopes of forming the government– Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. There is, of course, no guarantee that the negotiations will be done within a week.
Most Iraqis are appalled that this process of forming a government is taking so long, and Grand Ayatollah Sistani attempted to hurry it along with sharp criticisms on Monday, as well as by meeting some of the principals, such as Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani. Veteran Middle East journalist and blogger Helena Cobban has been warning for some time about the dangers that Paul Bremer’s interim constitution makes forming a government too difficult.
The plan was for the new Iraqi parliament to craft a constitution by August, and then submit it to a national referendum in October. Given that it is almost April and there is still no government, the likelihood that the parliamentarians will be able to resolve all the difficult issues in framing a permanent constitution by August is extremely low. The interim constitution will remain in effect until a new one is drafted and approved by the Iraqi people.
Al-Zaman says that negotiations were slowed by Now-Ruz, the New Year celebrated by the Kurds (rooted in ancient Iranian Zoroastrianism, this holiday commemorates the spring solstice –usually March 21– as the beginning of a new year). The Kurds tie their celebration to the legends of the Shahnameh, which tells the story of how in ancient times an evil ruler emerged, Dahhak or Zohak, who overthrew the glorious king Jamshid. Dahhak was a wizard who grew serpents on each of his shoulders, which needed to eat human brain every day. So Dahhak had young men rounded up from the subject populations, and two were sacrificed each day. Dahhak was finally overthrown by a young knight, Faridun, aided by the blacksmith Kaveh, who freed the captured young men on Now-Ruz. The Kurds have a legend that they are descended from those freed prisoners, and they celebrate their manumission on March 21. The story of Jamshid, Dahhak and Faridun is a variation on a widespread Indo-European myth cycle. In the ancient Indian sources the three are the king of the underworld, Yama; the world-serpent, Vrta, and Indra, who slays Vrta. The story is also echoed in the Nordic myth of Thor and the Midgaard serpent (Thor is a composite of Faridun the prince and Kaveh the blacksmith). At some point in Iran, the snake figure was historicized as an evil foreign king who brought drought and had serpents growing from his body, and he was also racialized. Dahhak or Zohak is a clearly Semitic word, whereas Jamshid and Faridun are Indo-Europeans. This development reflects the fights that took place when the Iranian peoples from Anatolia immigrated into Elamite and Assyrian territory in the 800s BC. Assyrians and Babylonians spoke Semitic languages related to Arabic and Hebrew. (Some US newspapers last year reported the struggle of Kaveh with Zohak as a historical event of the 7th century BC!)
The casting of the serpent monster as a Semitic ruler made it easy for Kurds to identify Dahhak with Saddam, and perhaps with the virulent strain of Arab nationalism he represented. You could imagine how Now-Ruz in Kurdistan, with its celebration of doomed enslaved youth being freed from the clutches of the Semitic tyrant-monster, would slow down a political negotiation requiring Kurds to accept once again Arab rule from Baghdad.
In my own view, applying ancient myths to current politics, especially where they have been racialized, is unhealthy. Myths have a positive power if they remain on the level of symbol and archetype. Historicize them, and they become perverted and a source of blind hatred.