Iraq: on the path to national salvation?

The current political impasse in Iraq is damaging to all parties involved. A National Salvation Government sponsored by the UN may be the only feasible way forward, says Mohammed Hussainy

The “Non-Dialogue” dialogue is still going on among the Iraqi political powerhouses in their attempt to form or rather “un-form” the government. As the election results were inconclusive in that they gave significant weight to all major stakeholders involved in the formula, forming the government in Iraq has become even more difficult as time goes by. At the time when everyone was talking about a Maliki-Allawi competition over the office of prime minister, new details surfaced only to render an already complex situation even more complicated. All sides now play a major role – in other words, they do not play any role since they all have a major role! The political agreements and disagreements among the winning blocs led to a political stalemate accompanied by deterioration in security and living standards.

The current situation in Iraq is a classic example of conflict over power – a conflict that is trans-sectarian and trans-ethnic although it might look otherwise. One indicator of this type of conflict is the hard-line attitude Sadrists and the Supreme Islamic Council (SIC) show when it comes to allowing Maliki to remain in office notwithstanding the fact that these three heavily rely on their Shiite religious base. At the same time, we find that Sunni powers support the secular Shiite, Iyyad Allawi, and show no objection to the fact that he might seal deals with the predominantly Shiite National Alliance (NA). Meanwhile, the Kurds are on their toes awaiting the outcome of the days to come so that they can decide on their next steps to attain the maximum possible power-related gains.

In light of this political incapacity and the inability of Iraqi political powerhouses to form a government, let alone their inability to form a majority bloc in the parliament, alternative scenarios for potential solutions have been raised. These various scenarios have one thing in common: they have all originated abroad; to this effect, a national salvation government is one such scenario that is rigorously promoted nowadays.

As part of this scenario, the minister of interior, Jawad Boulani, is one of the names put forward to serve as prime minister of the proposed national salvation government. Despite the fact that Boulani did not perform as should be during the recent elections, his name often surfaces as a figure that everyone, or at least most blocs, might entertain as the next prime minister.

There is talk that the United Nations might adopt a US proposal to form a national salvation government; rumor has it that the Iraqiyya List would support such a government as it expects to have a considerable share of the ministerial portfolios. To this end, an indicator might be found in the fact that certain Iraqi political personae who did not run in the elections or ran independently of the Iraqiyya List, have recently joined, albeit unofficially, to be represented in such a national salvation government.

Leaks from within the National Alliance indicate that the Supreme Islamic Council and Sadri Movement will not mind if such a scenario materialises, as long as it does not entertain the idea of keeping Maliki in office, and as long as that proposed government will guarantee them cabinet ministerial positions of a weight equal to that which they won in the elections.

With regards to the State of Law Coalition, it might be split as there are internal voices that call for keeping Maliki as prime minister whereas others from within the coalition find it better to take part in the next government regardless of whether Maliki remains as prime minister. The former side is the one that was implied when the issue of serious coordination with Allawi was brought up.

Despite the fact that it might sound an easy option on paper, this scenario is not complexity-free in reality. Even if all stakeholders accept Jawad Boulani as prime minister, it should not necessarily mean that the conflict has come to an end, for there is still an equally fierce showdown that awaits to be resolved when all sides face each other again to choose who will be appointed for the offices of the president and house speaker. Only once these posts are settled can all sides attend the conflict and competition over the other sovereign cabinet posts in the government.

Kurds insist that the political consensus established during recent years gives them the right to keep the office of the president, for they emphasize that the role President Jalal Talabani played was that of a national patriot par excellence. In their opinion, some Kurdish powers even blame Talabani for not being blatantly biased in favor of Kurdish demands while in office. In proportion to the weight of their bloc in the parliament, Kurds believe that their claim to this office in particular is thus justified.

By contrast, the Arab Sunnis are being more vocal now as they insist that the president of Iraq should be a Sunni Arab under the pretext that Iraq is an Arab state in a Sunni Arab region, and that its president has to be so that he will be accepted in the Arab Sunni space. Sunni Arabs in Iraq also fall back to the argument that the office of the president has long been allocated to them in Iraq – stressing the fact that what has happened throughout recent years has been an eccentric case and that the record should therefore be set straight.

Despite such difficulties, the scenario for a national salvation government gains momentum over time for four key reasons. The first is the inability of the Iraqi political powers to reach an agreement to form a government that would win the confidence of everyone or the majority of the members of parliament at least.

The second reason pertains to the huge deterioration in security and living conditions that have threatened to drain the patience of Iraqi citizens. The latter are now regretting and bitterly wondering about the outcomes of the democratic process so far. The voices that undermine the validity of such democracy are now heard louder – a logical consequence in a country where, although it is supposed to be one of the richest nations in the region, citizens still lack the simplest means to a decent life. It is most certain that such circumstances brought about by the political stalemate in the country will create an enabling environment for the growth of extremist groups, an increase in violence and the deterioration of security.

The third reason results from the interventions of neighboring countries; Iran supports a government led by a Shiite religious figure, preferably from the National Alliance (specifically from the Supreme Islamic Council), although it would not mind if the next prime minister came from the State of Law Coalition, whether Maliki or someone else. Other countries like Turkey and some Arab states support Allawi as the next PM. Amidst all these tensions, the scenario that proposes Boulani as the next prime minister might qualify as acceptable or feasible at the regional level.

The fourth and final supporting factor pertains to the United States directly. As the ultimatum for its troops combat mission mandate grows nearer, the US would like to see that happen under the umbrella of a stable Iraqi government that can assume responsibility as it is handed over from the US army – as part of the preparations for pulling out US troops from this US-occupied country after seven years. Naturally, reaching that stage will not be an easy task in light of the current political and security situation. With only one month remaining before that ultimatum matures, the US government might support the option of forming a salvation government to facilitate the handover of security and military control.

As all Iraqi political powers are keen on avoiding accusations of being followers or satellites of the United States or neighboring countries, their best hope might be to see a salvation government put forward by a non-partisan organisation – the United Nations. The question, then, is whether the UN is willing to risk its credibility and objectivity by throwing itself into the scorching political inferno that is today’s Iraq.

About the author

Mohammed Hussainy is a Jordanian writer specialising in Iraqi issues who writes for the Arabic language Al Ghad newspaper and Al Arabiya.net.

He is the director of the Identity Center in Amman, Jordan, which aims to encourage political participation in Jordan and the wider Arab world.