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 The end of the beginning as the Iraqi government gets to work

 Opinion — Analysis
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The end of the beginning as the Iraqi government gets to work  25.12.2010   
By Bashdar Ismaeel,
a longtime contributing writer for  

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December 25, 2010

After nine months of intense political jockeying and instability as major Iraqi factions struggled to reach a consensus on power-sharing, lawmakers finally approved the new cabinet headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in a special session, which is hoped to foster a new path towards rebuilding Iraq's shattered economy and infrastructure and promoting national unity.

Bridging together deep mistrust and animosity amongst the socio-ethnic mosaic was never going to be a simple undertaking. However, inconclusive results from the national elections in March of this year made the task an even tougher nut to crack.

After a heated race for the right to form the next government, al-Maliki proved triumphant thanks to the key support he mustered from the Sadrist bloc and the Kurdistan Alliance.

This left the challenging task of convincing the al-Iraqiya list, headed by Iyad Allawi and the victors of the polls, to grudgingly join the new government.                     

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel, senior UK Editor.
The critical task in the Iraqi political sphere remained ensuring that the Sunnis were not sidelined once again for fear of returning to the dark days of the past.

However, as the actual bargaining to form the government produced tentative results and was marred by resentment and mistrust, there was a great danger that the cabinet formation would be tainted by the same connotations.

Faced by a constitutional deadline to announce his new cabinet, al-Maliki only presented 29 permanent nominees which were all approved, with the remaining 13 filled by temporary stand-ins.

This was to give al-Maliki vital breathing space to assess the candidates for these roles that would have overall support of parliament.

With an air of distrust that stills looms over the political chambers, finding suitable candidates to fill key security based positions that would fit the criteria of all sides is a difficult undertaking. As such the influential positions of Ministers for interior, defense and national security are still undecided.

With the security forces often accused of sectarian favouritism, any controversial candidates in these positions would only fuel further suspicion and unrest.

The tough predicament that has often handicapped the Iraqi transitional road to democracy, was perhaps best highlighted by al-Maliki's speech before parliament - "the most difficult task in the world is forming a national unity government in a country where there is a diversity of ethnic, sectarian and political backgrounds."

Simply put, this cabinet or government does not satisfy all sides and under the wide-spectrum of agendas, objectives and viewpoints amongst the embittered groups it is ultimately impossible to appease all parties.

Therefore, this government is a "best fit" against the current backdrop of pressures, delays and common disunity.

There was always going to be a sectarian flavour to the makeup of the cabinet and this is next to impossible to avoid. Whether in the streets and villages, the national assembly or the cabinet, the disparate and fractured nature of the Iraqi landscape is difficult to evade.

The notable appointments include former Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani as Deputy Prime minister for Energy, which was viewed as a great relief as it provided some comfort that contracts signed under his stewardship would be honoured in the absence of a national hydrocarbon law.

Abdul Kareem Luaibi as the new Oil Minister will provide further reassurance to would be investors having played a key role in negotiations with international oil giants.

Rafie Al-Esawi was named Finance Minister with Hoshyar Zebari maintaining his long-held role as Foreign Minister. There was plenty of Sunni representation with a total of 11 posts,
www.ekurd.netwith Saleh al-Mutlaq, who ironically only several months ago was banned for alleged ties to the former Baath party, named as one of the Deputy Prime Ministers.

Finding the formulas for short-term concord and stability has been difficult enough. Finding a formula that will allow long-term national harmony and peace where Iraqis work towards a greater common vision will take much longer.

The current cabinet may close a lid on the ethno-sectarian cracks for now but this will likely be at the expense of an effective government.

As strenuous as it proved to glue the pieces of the political jigsaw together, the pieces are susceptible to falling off at greater ease.

Allawi gave his crucial backing to the new government which was seen as a major boost for instilling positivity but it is still unclear how much power he will be afforded as leader of the new National Council for Strategic Policies.

In the realm of executive decision making, it waits to be seen how much sway al-Maliki will endure if there are attempts at curbing his power.

Much in the same way, the support of influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was critical in allowing al-Maliki to stand a second term. However, his support is far from unconditional and thus not only did he demand a key number of ministries but he will have a firm eye on the candidates enlisted for key security positions.

This has been one of the key reasons in delaying the announcement of the remaining 13 posts as negotiations ensue to find compromise candidates.

Away from the sectarian fault lines, the biggest danger to the stability of the new government is the long-term relationship between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad. The Kurds, whose support with the kingmaker status was crucial in sealing victory for al-Maliki, have been at loggerheads over many articles that have been allowed to brew and fester over the years and are now reaching boiling-stage.

The key areas of contention include the implementation of article 140 concerning Kirkuk and other disputed territories and ratification of oil contracts signed by the KRG.

The Kurds have been weary of more failed promises and submitted a 19-point precondition for joining the government, which was approved primarily by the National Alliance.

It remains unclear whether this will be explicitly signed by al-Maliki as the Kurds demand, and how legally binding it will prove in practice. It is more uncertain how al-Maliki may trade-off his partners in their respective goals. It may well come to the stage, where al-Maliki will have to decide which partners support is more crucial.

It is next to impossible, to satisfy all parties long-term without greatly forsaking another. The status of Kirkuk is the best example, where any agreement with the Kurds would be on al-Iraqiya's doorstep.

Although, Luaibi as the new Oil Minister enjoys good relationships with the Kurds, al-Shahristani, may well maintain similar hard line rhetoric with the Kurds.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Primary Sources of Republication:, Various Misc.

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel is a London-based freelance writer and analyst,
a regular contributing writer for website. Ismaeel whose primary focus and expertise is on the Kurds, Iraq and Middle Eastern current affairs. The main focus of his writing is to promote peace, justice and increase awareness of the diversity, suffering and at times explosive mix in Iraq and the Middle East. Most recently he has produced work for the Washington Examiner, Asian Times, The Epoch Times, Asia News, The Daily Star (Lebanon), Kurdish Globe, Hewler Post, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), KurdishMedia, PUK Online and OnlineOpinion. He has achieved seminar recommended readings for Le High University (Pennsylvania) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His work has been republished extensively elsewhere on the Internet. You may reach the author via email at: [email protected] , Bashdar's website

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