President Talabani Asks Al Maliki To

President Talabani asks al-Maliki to Form a Government;
6 Dead in Sunday Mortar Barrage;
5 US Troops, 26 Iraqis Killed Saturday

The guerrilla movement replied to the political developments in Iraq on Sunday morning raining 11 mortar strikes down on various parts of the capital. Three mortar shells fell in the Green Zone where parliament meets. A mortar shell landed near the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad, killing 5 there alone. Early reports gave 6 killed altogether in the barrages.

Guerrillas killed 5 US troops in Iraq on Saturday.

Al-Hayat says that guerrilla violence killed 26 Iraqis on Saturday, with two big explosions in a popular market at Miqdadiyah and a multitude of other attacks around the country.

The Associated Press details some of Saturday’s attacks:

‘ In a sign of the security challenge, suspected insurgents exploded two bombs Saturday in a market in Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing at least two Iraqis and wounding 17. The second blast was timed to hit emergency crews arriving at the scene. The bullet-ridden bodies of 10 Iraqis were found in and around Baghdad, many blindfolded with hands and legs bound in rope. Some appeared to have been tortured, and one was decapitated, police said. Police also found a body with signs of torture floating in the Tigris River in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad. In the capital, gunmen in a speeding car sprayed a police patrol with machine-gun fire, killing one officer. Gunmen killed a civilian riding in a car, and a roadside bomb wounded two policemen. ‘

The LA Times reports on the election of key officers of the Iraqi government by parliament on Saturday. Borzou Daragahi and Bruce Wallace report that 266 of 275 elected legislators convened a a convention center [where the air conditioning is broken], and cast their votes in the sweltering heat of a Baghdad late April. The US military guards the Green Zone, a 4 square mile area of downtown Baghdad that is cordoned off with concrete blocks and razor wire, but apparently can’t fix air conditioners for a government that has a $17 billion a year budget.

Money quote from Mithal al-Alusi, a tolerant Sunni who has pledged to vote with the United Iraqi Alliance of PM-designate Jawad al-Maliki:

‘ “I don’t think there is a plan to end the violence,” said Mithal Alusi, a Sunni Arab legislator who has been mentioned as a possible defense minister. “There are some ideas which are beautiful ideas but which are not that far away from dreams.” ‘

The London daily Al-Hayat [Life] reports [Ar.] on the breakdown of the voting. Why am I the only one over here interested in this little detail?

Mahmoud al-Mashadani, a Sunni Arab fundamentalist and a physician, received 159 votes out of 256 cast. Note that 159 votes is not all that great. He needed 138 for a simple majority. There was obviously a lot of opposition to him, even though he was apparently running as the only candidate for the post among Sunni Arab delegates! In all the celebratory reporting about the “end” of the “logjam” and the “glimmer” of hope, it appears that no one is stopping to ask how stable the new political process is. If 20 MPs had declined to support him, Mashadani would have failed.

Al-Mashadani had been a member of the constitution drafting committee and hated the final product, of which he said, “We have reached a point where this constitution contains the seeds of the division of Iraq.” Last December, he told Knight Ridder of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, “Perhaps it will be difficult to control them.” He was among those who led the charge to unseat outgoing prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari. Since the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan Alliance are very committed to the constitution, he is unlikely to get along with them.

After a government is formed (if al-Maliki can succeed in putting one together), parliament will have four months to revisit the permanent constitution passed by referendum on October 15. Sunni Arab delegates are determined to overturn the provisions that allow provinces to form confederacies and to claim 100 percent of future oil and other natural resource finds, denying those resources to the federal government. Since Sunni Arabs have no such resources presently, they will be severely disadvantaged by such a system. Since Mashadani is speaker of the house, he will presumably have a certain ability to set the legislative agenda, and to influence the negotiations over the constitution.

Al-Hayat reports that in the voting for speaker, 97 blank ballots were cast. Apparently among those who abstained in this way were the delegates of Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National List (25 MPs) and Salih al-Mutlak’s National Dialogue Council (11 delegates). These two largely secular parties, which include many ex-Baathist nationalists, were protesting the “sectarian” character of the new government. It will be dominated by Shiite fundamentalists, Sunni fundamentalists, and Kurdish autonomists. Allawi and al-Mutlak and their secular MPs have apparently been cut out of cabinet and other high posts, since their lists garnered so few seats in parliament and the religious parties decline to forgive them for their secularism and the Baathist pasts of many of them. Allawi, for instance, has frequently publicly attacked Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s influence on Iraqi politics, a stance that inevitably makes him a pariah for most of the fundamentalist Shiites.

For more on the way Allawi and al-Mutlak have been sidelined and their reactions, see Swopa’s Needlenose.

It is not clear who cast the other 61 blank ballots, but it seems clear that some Shiites and/or some Kurds could not go along with the deal worked out by their party leaders.

Parliament then elected the president and two vice presidents. Talabani received 198 votes, with 57 blank ballots cast. He is clearly substantially more popular across the board than is Mashadani. Talabani then asked al-Maliki to try to form a government.

al-Maliki announced that his first priority would be to induct members of militias into the regular Iraqi military and police. (Note that everyone implicitly excuses the Kurdish Peshmerga paramilitary from such plans; it is only the Shiite militias to which objections are raised by the US and its Iraqi allies). says that al-Maliki added that future politics in Iraq will not be pursued “on the basis of distinctions, sectarian contradictions, and racism.” He continued, “From now on, our struggle will be to efface all these concepts and to work on the basis of an Iraqi identity and on the basis of national sharing.” Al-Maliki has a history as a Shiite hard liner from the fundamentalist Dawa Party, but he has also been a strong Iraqi nationalist. He will have to convince the other forces in parliament of the latter if he is to form a stable government.

One problem: Al-Maliki only has 132 sure votes in parliament. He has 128 from the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, and 2 from the Risaliyun, followers of Muqtada al-Sadr. Mithal al-Alusi, a Sunni Arab with a single seat, has said he will vote with the UIA, and so has the Chaldean Christian MP. That gives Al-Maliki 132. He needs to find at least 6 more to get to 138, which is 51%, though of course that would be a razor thin margin and ideally it should be much greater.

The problem is that there are not six obvious votes for al-Maliki in what is left of parliament. The 58 Kurdish MPs have said that they will vote as a bloc. On many issues, the 44 Sunni fundamentalists of the Iraqi Accord Front will be opposed to UIA stances and al-Maliki could not depend on them. The 11 Sunni secularists of the National Dialogue Council and the 3 Sunni secularists of the Reform and Conciliation party have a lot of ex-Baathists in their ranks and would not be acceptable partners. Some of the Allawi National Iraqi List is similar.

But you wonder whether among the 25 MPs of the National Iraqi List, some of them ethnic Shiites, there might not be some possible defectors. For instance, Judge Wa’il Abd al-Latif of Basra, although he is a staunch secularist, worked with some of the UIA leaders when he was on the Interim Governing Council (revised). If the UIA can find ways of attracting 6 such individuals to join it, it can form a government. Likewise the Yazidi religious minority and the Turkmen ethnic minority each have one seat, and some promises might be made of tolerance for them in the new system. Al-Maliki could also do as former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon used to do, and depend on different parties as partners for different votes, operating a kaleidoscope in which the ruling party always comes out barely on top.

It won’t be easy, and the result would be fragile, but I suppose al-Maliki could just pull it off. Under ordinary circumstances, I would predict that this parliament would fall before too long. It faces extremely contentious and divisive issues, and does not have a strong and cohesive majority. But the consequences of the government falling are so horrible, that maybe sheer self-preservation will make the MPs reluctant to allow it to happen.

Al-Hayat also reports that its Iraqi sources in Basra and Nasiriyah say that the Italians are making preparations to begin gradually pulling their troops out of Iraq.

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