|Maliki announcing State of Law Coalition 2009|
Internationally, the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki faces criticism for allegedly helping Iran circumvent the economic sanctions imposed on it by the US, European Union and other countries given its failure to curtail its development of nuclear energy. Maliki is also under pressure to take a more proactive position on Syria where Iraq has been very equivocal and unwilling to follow the the Arab League's lead in strongly condemning the Bashar al-Asad regime for its attacks on it own citizens.
Meanwhile, Iraq's Kurdish leadership has been lobbying the US not to sell sophisticated weaponry to Iraq, especially F-16 fighters. While the US wants Iraq to be able to protect itself from the fallout of the chaos in neighboring Syria and to be able to stand up to Iran, it is seeking assurances from Maliki that any new American weapon systems will not be used against the Kurds or to assist any "dictatorial regimes" (read provide assistance to Iran).
Among the Shi'a political blocs, the Sadrists and the State of Law Coalition have stood against the National Alliance's desire to introduce a general amnesty law now that Ramadan has ended. While the Sadrists are willing to cut a deal with other parties which would link the amnesty law to a new electoral law and law affecting the Iraqi federal court, Prime Minister Maliki is firmly against an amnesty arguing that it will end up releasing "criminals and terrorists." The Iraqiya Coalition sees the law as critical for national reconciliation given the fact that many accused have been incarcerated for years and have yet to have trials.
If the Shi'a bloc is experiencing internal divisions, so is the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). With questions over President Jalal Talabani's health, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) has been trying to gain more power at the expense of its rival the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The KDP and PUK are currently involved in renegotiating their 2005 power sharing agreeemnt.
However, a wild card is the upstart Gorran (Change) Movement which has been gaining in popularity among the Kurdish population with its constant criticism of the KRG government for its extensive corruption and nepotism. According to sources in the KRG, corruption has in fact come down due to Gorran's efforts. Because most Gorran members were formerly part of the PUK, the growth in its popularity has only further weakened Talabani's negotiating position. A number of KRG offices which were located in Sulaimaniya has been relocated to Arbil This imbalance between the two main parties has led many observers to point to the end of the Kurdish alliance.
While these death knell scenarios may be premature, they point to the fracturing of the Kurds who, at the time of the US invasion in 2003, were unified in their political position towards the central government in Baghdad. The ability or inability of the Kurds to sustain a unified KRG in relationship to Baghdad has ramifications for Kurdish oil policy and its ability to stand up the Maliki government on a new hydrocarbon law.
The Sunni Arabs face their own problems. One of the worst is the rise of terrorist attacks in the so-called Sunni Arab triangle. The ongoing violence in neighboring Syria, which can no longer control its borders with Iraq, allows operatives of al-Qa'ida and its affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq, to infiltrate Iraq with great ease. The failure of the Iraqiya Coalition to push through a vote of no-confidence in the Iraqi parliament designed to bring down the Maliki government only underscores their marginalization within the larger Iraq political equation.
Meanwhile, the efforts to try Iraqi Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashimi, and members of his bodyguard, for terrorism have been postponed to September 9th. Hashimi's defense lawyers have been rebuffed by the High Criminal Court in Baghdad to call President Jalal Talabani and former Vice-President Adil Abd al-Mahdi as witnesses in the trial. The prosecution of al-Hashimi, which most observers feel is baseless and a vendetta, only adds to the Sunni Arab community's feelings of political alienation.
The recent decision to fire 140 Minstry of Oil employees of the Baiji Refinery due to ties to the outlawed Ba'th Party has created a new conflict between the central government and the provincial government of Salah al-Din Province (see al-Hayat, Aug 24). According to Shaykh Khamis al-Jibara, head of the Salah al-Din Tribal Council, this decision by the government committee responsible for implementation the law to remove former Ba'thists from government posts is purely political and "electoral" in nature. This decision follows the removal of 140 employees of Tikrit University last October, most of whom were faculty, which was likewise viewed as a political move.
Despite the constant references by members of Iraq's political elite, and numerous members of parliament to the need for national reconciliation, little is being done to achieve this end. In the meantime, the country's political class finds itself embroiled in ever more conflicts while important development projects fail to be implemented. Critical social services are likewise not forthcoming within a context of political crisis and quasi-paralysis in government ministries.
Iraq's political elite is failing to provide the critical leadership which the country desperately needs. The only hope is the emergence of younger politicians in parliament, in the federal ministries and in the provincial councils who realize that security, economic development and the ability to provide the populace at large with needed social services requires a new cadre of political leaders. Until such a new political class acquires meaningful political power, we can expect little change in the current political status quo.