4-Party Coalition for al-Maliki; Basra Deteriorating; 9 Dead in Baghdad Bombing

Four parties have formed a coalition in parliament to support Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. They are the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the Islamic Call (Da`wa) Party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The parties are led respectively by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Nuri al-Maliki, Massoud Barzani, and Jalal Talabani.

The coalition failed to attract the Sunni fundamentalist bloc, the Iraqi Accord Front, which has 44 seats and which has withdrawn from the al-Maliki government. It apparently also does not include about 30 self-described independents who had earlier been inside the Shiite fundamentalist United Iraqi Alliance.

The coalition is designed to exclude two Shiite parties, the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhila) (15 seats), which is strong in Basra, and the Sadr Movement (32 seats) of Muqtada al-Sadr. While both parties have been problematic in the behavior in parliament and on the streets, I’m not sure that, in a consensual political system like Iraq’s, it is wise to exclude major groups.

One problem with the new coalition, according to Al-Hayat writing in Arabic is that it probably has no more than 110 seats in parliament, 28 less than a simple majority, and so does not protect al-Maliki from losing a vote of no confidence should one be called. While that difficulty would be resolved if they could attract the Iraqi Accord Front to join them, this development seems unlikely at the moment.

I think one hope of the American authorities that encouraged this coalition was that if they could dissociate al-Maliki from Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army, that would make him more palatable to the Sunni Arabs. This calculation may have been incorrect.

If al-Maliki moves away from Muqtada, he is more dependent on the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), which the Sunni Arabs code as an Iranian organization, and on its Badr Corps paramilitary, which the Sunni Arabs accuse of engaging in death squad activity and ethnic cleansing of Sunnis.

Moreover, SIIC is dedicated to two political principles that are anathema to the Sunni Arabs. One is that US troops should remain in Iraq for as long as they are needed and the second is that a Shiite super-province should be formed in the south, on analogy to the Kurdistan Regional Government.

In contrast, the Iraqi Accord Front strongly opposes the formation of any more regional governments, fearing it will break up the country and concentrate oil wealth in other than Sunni areas. And it wants a timetable for US withdrawal.

Ironically, the IAF figures appear to be considering an alliance with the Sadr Movement, the very group the Americans had assumed was ruining their relationship to al-Maliki!

The Sunni Arab parties at a total of 55, the Sadrists at 32, and Fadhila at 15, could get to 102. If they could attract the Shiite independents, that would put them to 132, in striking distance of a majority. They might find some support from members of the Iraqi National List (25 seats) of Iyad Allawi, who gets along with the Sunnis but not with Muqtada. Any such coalition strikes me as likely to be highly unstable and to have difficulties surviving very long.

The Iraqi constitution specifies that when a new government has to be formed, the president must first ask the largest bloc in parliament to form it. In the past two instances, that has been the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, which, however, now appears to be falling apart.

The death toll in the bombing of two Yazidi villages in the north has risen to over 400. Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih visited, and said that it looked to him like the area had been hit by an atomic bomb.

Ben Lando of UPI explains the political and economic morass in Basra with exceptional clarity. As we speak, the governor has been unseated but won’t step down, Shiite militias are at each others’ throats, and tribal militias function as mafia– with all the armed groups vying for rights to gasoline smuggling.

UPI is also doing an Iraqi press roundup. Some in Iraq are talking about the need for a dictator again. (Hint: You can’t have a dictator without a strong army.)

McClatchy rounds up major violence in Iraq on Thursday, noting that 19 bodies were found in the streets of Baghdad. Also:

‘ Baghdad
– Around 11 a.m., a roadside bomb exploded at the outside fence of Baghdad Zoo in Mansour neighborhood injuring three people .

– Around 3.40 p.m., a roadside bomb targeted an American convoy at Zayuna neighborhood ( east Baghdad) injuring 5 people .

– 1 Ministry of Interior commando killed and 1 injured in IED explosion that targeted their patrol in Dora, south Baghdad at 04:00 this afternoon.

– 2 civilians injured in IED explosion in Salhiyah, central Baghdad, at 04:00 pm.’

Reuters has more:

‘* BAGHDAD – Two U.S. soldiers were killed and six wounded in combat north of Baghdad on Wednesday, the U.S. military said. . .

BAGHDAD – Nine people were killed and 17 wounded by a car bomb near al-Russafi Square in central Baghdad, police said. At least 15 cars were set ablaze. . .

DIWANIYA – Gunmen killed Sheikh Nadhim al-Bdairi, a Fadhila Party official in Diwaniya, 180 km (110 miles) south of Baghdad, in a drive-by shooting on Wednesday, police said.

* KIRKUK – Four policemen were wounded by a roadside bomb in southern Kirkuk, police said. Another two policemen were wounded by a second roadside bomb in central Kirkuk. . .

KIRKUK – Two people were killed and 33 wounded by two car bombs in a crowded market in a Kurdish area of the northern city of Kirkuk on Wednesday, police Brigadier-General Sarhet Qadir said. Police had originally put the death toll at five.

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