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Baghdad Report: Never Missing an Opportunity to Miss an Oportunity

They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

This was said about the Palestinians, I believe, though it seems to apply just as well to our political class but with a difference. There are some opportunities our leaders never seem to miss: the ones that make things worse.

In the last few weeks, the major political parties in Iraq have kept taking turns at damaging the political process and ultimately their own government. First, the ministers of both the Accord Front and Allawi’s bloc withdrew from the cabinet almost simultaneously, just as the unjustified summer recess was starting.

Last week, the Kurds and Shias added their share of the damage by announcing their new coalition of four parties. The move is wrong in both timing and principle; on the one hand, the date for Gen. Petraeus’ progress report in September is getting near. On the other, it’s a step in the exact opposite direction to what is needed in terms of the surge – the lifeline America has extended to save the country and allow the government in Baghdad to win the confidence of its people.

In fact I don’t know what those people were thinking when they formed this coalition; instead of trying to mend the rift and glue back the fractured unity government they come and officially reduce the government to a Shia-Kurdish alliance and further sideline reluctant Sunnis and seculars.

And saying -as they did- that the door is still open for other blocs to join the new coalition is totally worthless in this case: by then, the Islamic Party of Vice President Hashimi (which the Kurds and Shia said they would welcome) felt shunned because they didn’t wait for them and rushed to announce their “front of the moderates”. And that without even inviting the arguably only true moderate secular group represented by the Iraqi list.

It’s even stranger to see someone like Talabani, who’s considered to be a sharp and thoughtful politician, wondering “why no one welcomed the new coalition.” What makes him and the other leaders of the four involved parties think that anyone would applaud this step? Are they really that na√Øve to think they did something good for Iraq, or even for their own parties? Apparently they thought renewing the vows of their old alliance would strengthen their grip on the executive and legislative authorities and allow them to impose their narrow partisan visions regarding Kirkuk and the southern provinces. But I believe they are shooting themselves in the foot. They made the ruling coalition less representative than ever, and made another change more likely and more appealing than it already was.

Every time we think they are beginning to wise up one of them comes and does something stupid. While regular Iraqis want nothing but a decent life, the fat rich suits care only about competing for more power. And even in this they disappoint. All of them.

So, what’s the solution?

Changing Maliki and his cabinet without holding new elections can cut the time needed to bring a change, but with the downside that the new Prime Minister will still have to pick his cabinet members from the same pool of candidates. Unless he’s an extraordinarily tough man his choices would be restricted with sectarian and ethnic quotas. While these quotas may prevent a “tyranny of the majority,” they also lead to one deadlock after another.

But even early elections might not bring a breakthrough. There’s no assurance that new elections will result in significant change in the political map, mostly because a) existing major parties aren’t likely to tolerate fair competition, and b) the current election system elects slates instead of direct election of individual candidates.

To be honest the situation is a dilemma-we can’t tolerate more incompetence and frustration, and at the same we are not sure what early elections are going to bring. But it’s a risk we Iraqis need to take if we want to end this awkward scene.

Omar Fadhil is PJM Baghdad editor. His own blog is Iraq The Model