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February 28, 2008

Not a great day for Iraqi politics
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

This has not been a very good news day out of Iraq.  First of all, we have more stories about the Sunni Awakening Forces losing patience with the United States. 

U.S. efforts to manage this fast-growing movement of about 80,000 armed men are still largely effective, but in some key areas the control is fraying. The tensions are the most serious since the Awakening was launched in Anbar province in late 2006, according to Iraqi officials, U.S. commanders and 20 Awakening leaders across Iraq. Some U.S. military officials say they are growing concerned that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has infiltrated Awakening forces in some areas.

"Now, there is no cooperation with the Americans," said Haider Mustafa al-Kaisy, an Awakening commander in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, an insurgent stronghold that U.S. and Iraqi forces are still struggling to control. "We have stopped fighting al-Qaeda..."

In the past two months, he [a former commander in the Islamic Army, an insurgent group] said, 20 of his fighters have quit. Many felt their monthly salary was no longer worth the risk of fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq. His men also have not received their salaries in two months, he said. "We'll all be patient for another two months. If nothing changes, then we'll suspend and quit," Kassim said. "Then we'll go back to fighting the Americans."

If that isn't unnerving enough, we also find out that the provincial elections law was vetoed by the Presidential Council, which consists of the Shi'a Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi, Kurdish President Jalal Talabi and Sunni Vice President Tariq Al Hashemi.  So now it goes back to Parliament.  Many in American military and diplomatic circles have emphasized the importance of this law, and I agree that it's important (even though I have some reservations).  But what I find tremendously important here is that the whole point of how the three legislative pieces that were passed a couple of weeks ago was a negotiation between the Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'a to push through three bills as one package that would appeal to each.  If the Presidential Council is then going to cherry pick and send one of the three bills back while passing the other two, you'd imagine there would be some pretty unhappy people sitting in Parliament and that it will really undermine the Parliamentary process going forward.   

The other confusing element here is that the person who actually had the strongest objection to the provincial powers was Abdul Mehdi - a member of ISCI, the largest Shi'a political party.  Now ISCI is very much into a decentralized state with most of the power at the local level.  And the reason for the veto was that the provincial powers law gave too much power to the central government.  But, when the three bill compromise was worked out in parliament the provincial powers law was supposed to be the part that was meant to placate the Shi'a. I'm surprised.  Why would they then veto it?  Either there was something in the bill that they hadn't considered, or they were bargaining in bad faith.  We'll have to wait and see.

Anyway, the clincher for the day was Prime Minister Maliki's view on Iraq these days.

National reconciliation among Iraqis has succeeded. We have succeeded in eliminating sectarianism.

Yup.  Maliki must be taking his public speaking lessons from Bush.  If you say it enough times - even if it has no basis in reality - it must be true.

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Comments

Yeah, I found the Post similarly dispiriting this morning. Although the last veto threat, that time by the Sunni VP, apparently was a bluff. I'm a bit confused on what is up with the Presidential Council.

Why would they then veto it? Either there was something in the bill that they hadn't considered, or they were bargaining in bad faith. We'll have to wait and see.

Ilan,

ISCI doesn't want to hold provincial elections because they are likely to lose power in some areas, and so they tried to kill this part of the package.

The Sadrist current boycotted the last round of regional elections in January 2005. As such, ISCI is overrepresented. Add to that the fact that the Sadrists have been gaining in popularity, while ISCI has been tied to the unpopular Green Zone government, and - voila - ISCI opposes local elections.

For principled reasons I'm sure.

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