The end of the beginning as the Iraqi
government gets to work
By Bashdar Ismaeel,
longtime contributing writer for ekurd.net
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.
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
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
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
With the security forces often accused of sectarian
favouritism, any controversial candidates in these
positions would only fuel further suspicion and
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
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
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
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
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
Although, Luaibi as the new Oil Minister enjoys good
relationships with the Kurds, al-Shahristani, may
well maintain similar hard line rhetoric with the
First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Primary Sources of Republication: eKurd.net,
Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel is a London-based freelance
writer and analyst,
contributing writer for ekurd.net 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:
, Bashdar's website
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