Monday, March 14, 2005

Gridlock in Iraq

From Informed Comment:

Al-Hayat: The Shiite/Kurdish negotiations to form a government before parliament is seated on March 16 have fallen apart, apparently because the Kurds reneged on the deal they had worked out with the United Iraqi Alliance.

Al-Zaman reports that a high Kurdish official said that the process has never been closer to gridlock than now.

AFP said that Kurdish leaders insisted that the agreement reached recently between the Kurds and Shiites "needs reformulation and amendment." A Kurdish delegation will return to Baghdad soon to resume negotiations with the UIA.

Al-Hayat: The issues over which the deal collapsed include the disposition of the oil rich city of Kirkuk, demands that the Kurds have a bigger share of cabinet posts, the retention of the Kurdish paramilitary or peshmergas in the Kurdish regions, retention of a greater share of the petroleum revenues of the north, and the fears of the Kurds that the UIA will attempt to establish a theocracy. The Kurds insist on resolving all these issues in writing before the formation of a government.

BBC World Monitoring notes, "Al-Mashriq publishes on page 2 a 100-word report saying that Kirkuk Council failed to choose its chairman due to the absence of the Arab bloc at the meeting held yesterday, 11 March." It is not clear to me whether this is the Kirkuk city council or the Ta'mim provincial council, but either way it seems clear that the sullen Sunni Arabs are holding up the political process by continuing their boycott. The Arabs of Kirkuk were outraged that Kurdish former residents of the city, expelled by Saddam, were allowed to vote as though they were still residents.

Ed Wong of the New York Times describes the ethnic tensions now burning in Kirkuk.

Meanwhile, maneuvering for cabinet positions continues.

BBC World Monitoring says: "Al-Furat publishes on the front page a 100-word report citing Jawad al-Maliki, deputy speaker of the interim National Assembly and member of the United Iraqi Alliance, informing the newspaper that as is the case with other files, the security file has become an Iraqi national file following the elections. He added that there is no veto, whether by the US or others, regarding any candidate for any post in the government, including the security posts. Al-Maliki asserted that he has not been officially nominated for the post of state minister for security affairs."

BBC monitoring also reports, "Al-Adalah carries on page 4 a 1,000-word text of a letter delivered by Abd-al-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI, giving advice and instructions to the Governorates' Councils." SCIRI won 8 of the 18 provinces in Iraq, so al-Hakim, as the SCIRI leader, has a good deal of extraparliamentary power at the local level, which he is exercising in the South.

The artificial requirement of a 2/3s majority is producing this roadblock, which could derail democracy altogether. Countries sometimes don't get second chances, or at least not for a century.

Here are some rules for forming a government after a parliamentary election:

' After a general election, in general, the party with the most MPs become the government, and the party with the next lowest number of MPs forms the official opposition. This always happens if one party has a majority of MPs. The leader of the government party will become the Prime Minister. The government in the House of Commons sits on the government benches, and the opposition and all other MPs sit on the opposition benches on the other side of the House.

It is usually necessary for a government to have the majority of the MPs in the country. If no party has an overall majority, the party with the most MPs has the first chance to form a coalition. In a coalition government, the government consists of two parties rather than one, and there will need to be some compromise on issues where the parties disagree, although the coalition will almost certainly be between parties with similar views. It is usually advantageous to both parties, who have more power together than they would otherwise. '

Do you note how if a party has 51% in this parliamentary system, it automatically gets to form a government?

So why is the United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition of Shiite parties that can count on about 53% of the members of the Iraqi parliament to vote for it in the wake of the Jan. 30 elections, not able to form a government? If it were the Labor Party in the UK, which is the parliament described above, Ibrahim Jaafari would already be Prime Minister.

The US spiked the Iraqi parliamentary process by putting in a provision that a government has to be formed with a 2/3s majority. This provision is a neo-colonial imposition on Iraq. The Iraqi public was never asked about it. And, it is predictably producing gridlock, as the UIA is forced to try to accommodate a party that should be in the opposition in the British system, the Kurdistan Alliance.

Likewise, in France, a simple majority of the National Assembly can dismiss the cabinet. Likewise in India. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the 2/3s super-majority is characteristic of only one nation on earth, i.e. American Iraq. I fear it is functioning in an anti-democratic manner to thwart the will of the majority of Iraqis, who braved great danger to come out and vote.

It is all to the good if the Shiites and Kurds are forced to come to a set of hard compromises. But not everything can be decided at the beginning of the process. Some issues (Kirkuk is a good example) must be decided by a long-term negotiation. I perceive this latest Kurdish demarche to consist in a power play where they grab all sorts of concessions on a short-term basis, just because they are needed to form a government, even though no national consensus has emerged on these issues.

I think there is also a real chance that Iraqis will turn against the idea of democracy if it only produces insecurity, violence, and gridlock.