The political scene in Iraq these days is registering a level of activity like we haven’t seen since right after the elections, when the blocs squabbled over who got to be the new premier.
Political alliances are being redrawn right now -and three developments are shaping the change and dominating local news headlines at stories of violence’s expense.
A new political bloc has emerged. It’s not a fourth bloc as Mohammed anticipated some time ago; it’s a union of, so far, two existing blocs. The core of the new movement is pretty much the same as what Mohammed expected, though. The Accord Front has announced it has joined the bloc led by former PM Ayad Allawi, forming what they refer to now as the “Iraqi National Front”. This new alliance has 69 seats in parliamentm and is likely to gain an additional 11 seats if the Dialogue Front of the nationalist Salih al-Mutlaq decides to join in, which is not unlikely.
It’s still not decided who is going to be the leader in the new bloc, and none of the leading figures involved has talked about this yet. However I suspect that this position will be filled by Allawi who, although his group has only 25 out of the 69 seats, was the one who came up with the idea in the first place, and his charisma, history in leadership and his nonsectarian attitude qualify him over the others.
The second development, which is far more significant than the first, just took place in the corridors of the United Iraqi Alliance, the main Shia bloc. This morning, in a frank challenge to ayatollah Sistani’s earlier call for preserving the UIA’s unity, the head of al-Fadheela party -which controls 15 of its 130 seats- declared independence from the Shia bloc and said his team now would act as an independent bloc within parliament.
While al-Fadheela members are talking about working on their own, there are some signs that they are holding behind-the-scenes talks with Allawi and the others; at least one lawmaker from al-Fadheela spoke to the local press about ongoing negotiations to join the new bloc.
Apparently there’s good chance they will indeed join ranks because Fadheela and Allawi’s party share more or less similar nationalistic and nonsectarian views and they know that they will not have enough power do anything if they go alone. Fadheela, while inside the UIA, did not occupy any post in Maliki’s cabinet, and its leaders probably think that they have a better chance of winning a post or two after the cabinet’s reshuffle if they join the “opposition” block.
Speaking of the reshuffle, it looks like about 10 ministers will be changed -mostly of civil services ministries- of which six are run by ministers from the Sadr movement.
The Sunni and Shia blocs responded in different ways to the planned reshuffle. On the one hand ,the UIA leaderships say they authorize Maliki to act as he sees appropriate in this regard, but the question remains whether the PM will use this authorization and the mounting pressure on the Sadrists to cut them to size and redistribute some of the ministries they control among other blocs. Nothing is for sure so far.
On the other hand, the Accord Front is persistently demanding a change in the defense ministry saying that the post is part of their quota and it should be their call whether to keep the current minister. Very strange indeed, because this minister is one of the very few that has so far shown competence and made remarkable progress in his area of responsibility.
Fortunately, Maliki doesn’t seem interested in replacing his defense minister, according to what a lawmaker close to the PM said to al-Sabah.
Back to the new bloc subject…
This item from al-Sharq al-Awsat implies that Allawi has been contacting at least one of the Kurdish parties, trying to persuade them to side with him:
Fadhil Mirani, member of the political bureau of the KDP of Masoud Barzani, said it was still early to announce our position from this movement; we are waiting for President Barzani to return to discuss the subject and after that we’ll have to talk to the PUK of President Talbani to make a united decision for the best of the Iraqi people” and added “we stand with those who want to build Iraq save the country from this crisis and we will support any effort in this direction”
This could mean that the purpose behind this movement is not limited to stronger opposition but goes further, to a project for building a political power that can outnumber the UIA in parliament. But there’s little reason to think the Kurds would want to be involved in a political confrontation with anyone in Baghdad as long as the interests of Kurdistan are not at stake.
Nothing is impossible in Iraq. Either way, it seems this is going to be interesting.
Omar Fadhil is PJM Baghdad editor; his blog is Iraq The Model.