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February 08, 2008

Why Benchmarks Will Never Work
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

As someone who spent a whole summer keeping track of various legislative benchmarks in Iraq, you'd probably be surprised to hear that I think the whole benchmark process is just deadly wrong.  Agreements on things such as how to split oil revenue or integrating former Baathists into the current government are critical.  The problem is the process.

Trying to pass legislation piecemeal through the Iraq Parliament is futile.  Not only because it won't work, but because it makes no sense as a conflict resolution mechanism.  If every issue is treated separately then the groups will take a maximalist approach on every bill.  It's as if you were to go to the Israelis and Palestinians and say "Negotiate an agreement on Jerusalem and only Jerusalem."  You wouldn't get anywhere.  But if you put Jerusalem, security, refugees, and other major issues on the table at once, you are more likely to have a productive process.  This approach forces the various sides to make trade offs and decide what is really truly important and where they might be flexible. 

But that's not happening in Iraq.  This is a one issue at a time negotiation that also has to deal with rigorous and complicated parliamentary rules.  So you end up with things like this.

Members of Parliament said they expected to complete the provincial powers measure in the next week, despite sharp disagreements between parties that want a strong central government in Baghdad and those that want more power to rest in the provinces and in the Kurdish region, which encompasses three provinces in the north.

During Thursday’s debate, about 90 members of Parliament walked out in protest over a provision that would give the prime minister a final say over the firing of provincial governors. They were from the Kurdish coalition and the largest Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance.

Another problem with trying to do this through parliamentary legislation is that the result is often some mixed and muddled bill that doesn't make anyone happy or chart a clear course (i.e. the de-baathification bill).  Of course, there is another option.  You can just threaten to take away people's pay until they come around to your position

As the lawmakers left the chamber, Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani threatened to dock their pay by the equivalent of about $1,700 each unless they stayed to work on the legislation.


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