Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Kurdish, Sunni Frustration Could End Iraq Government Coalition

By Ali Rawaf

Kurdish President Threatens to End Coalition

Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki (Left) and Kurdish Regional President
Masood Barazani (Right)
Masood Barazani, the president of Iraq's Kurdish region gave harsh criticism of the Shiite Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, calling his party a "a small group that is hoarding all aspects of power while practicing ideological terrorism against those who criticize it."

The Kurds have been in a political conflict with Baghdad over several issues. On top of the issue is Baghdad's stubbornness to not let any oil companies enter into any contracts with the Kurdish government. Most recently, the central government threatened to exclude Exonn Mobil from future auction if the company signs any contracts directly with the Kurdish government. While the central government announced that Exon froze the contract with the Kurds, the Energy Committee in the Kurdish Parliament announced the contracts were actually still intact. 

The Kurdish regional president has also been critical of the way Baghdad has handled the case of Tareq al-Hashimi, Iraq's VP who is supposed to undergo a trial for alleged terrorism acts he oversaw. The VP's hiding has escalated the conflict between the PM Maliki and the Kurds, who view the trial as another way of intimidation to Maliki's rivals. 

Ayad Allawi (Head of the secular al-Iraqyia group), VP Tareq al-Hashimi,
and Salih al-Mutlaq (Deputy to the Prime Minister)
Iraqi Sunnis
Iraq's Sunni's have also been outraged at the authoritarian practices of Maliki's government. At the same time the US troops completed its withdrawal from the country, al-Maliki ordered the arrest of as many as 800 Sunnis ex-Baathist from Sunni provinces, accusing them of conspiring with al-Qaeda to overthrow the government.  

The PM went after his Sunni deputy, Salih al-Mutlaq, for publicly criticizing him. Maliki asked Parliament to vote him out of office but most of the parties in Parliament rejected the measure. 

The Sunni have become very dissatisfied wit the government and a few provinces have asked to form a federal state similar to the Kurdish model. The PM said it wasn't constitutional and went after the provincial councils who made the request and threatened them with legal consequences. When it turned out that the constitution required a vote of two-thirds of the provincial council or a vote of ten percent of the regional population to make a federation, Maliki said it wasn't the right time. 

Al-Iraqyia, the political entity of which both al-Hashimi and Mutlak are members, asked Maliki to step down from his post and let someone else take over. Al-Iraqyia has also been threatening to bring up internal political disputes during the Arab League meeting, which is set to take place in Baghdad at the end of March. 

Maliki Hoarding Power
Many of the decision recently made by the office of the prime minister have been alarming. After the government formation deal was cut, Maliki sent the Iraq's High Court to place under his control many independent entities such as the Electoral Commission, the Integrity Commission, and the Central bank. 

Maliki is also emphasizing on his role as the commander in chief of the armed forces, a role that is only ceremonial according to the constitution. His government has been known for establishing the Baghdad Force, a special unit that is trained by the Americans, which reports to Maliki him self. He has maintained both ministries of defense and interior under his control as acting minister, even though the government was formed long time ago. 

The PM recently announced that he is in a good position to be elected again, breaking a promise he made last election that he would push for term limits and that he wouldn't run for office again. 

'Discontent and Division'

According to a recent Gallup poll that measures a country's 'wellbeing', suffering in Iraq is the highest since 2008(before the end of the sectarian fight). The percentage of 'suffering' Iraqis is among the highest in the Middle East while the percentage of those 'thriving' is among the lowest.

The percentage of those satisfied with the living standards dropped to 32% in 2011, down from 50% in 2010. Joblessness and lack of security have also contributed to the rise negative emotions among Iraqis, particularly anger and sadness.

Looking Ahead

Iraq's fragile government coalition could be coming to an end. The Sunnis have been dissatisfied for a long time but they don't have a parliamentary majority to vote down the government and try to form their own. They need to have the Kurdish support and a couple of Shiite parties on board to actually form a different coalition. Shiite groups like al-Sadr's political wing (Which holds 40 seats in parliament) and Badr have been  in disagreement with Maliki's Dawa party over several issues. While it is unclear whether this type of political frustration could vote Maliki out of the prime minister office or call for new elections, they are good signs that there is some sort of opposition to check on the expanding powers of the PM. 

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