x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Trust is missing as Iraq rebuilds

UAE leaders send messages of hope, but analysts say distrust of Nouri al Maliki, who is poised to stay on as prime minister, runs deep.

BAGHDAD // A power-sharing deal over the government may have ended an eight-month political deadlock in Iraq, but a crisis of trust continues to divide parties as they now carve up positions of influence.

Nouri al Maliki, who will retain the position of prime minister for another four-year term, yesterday stood in the front row of Baghdad's parliament alongside his arch-rival, Ayad Allawi.

But in a discouraging signal of the kind of logjam that lies ahead, yesterday's crucial parliamentary session was delayed at least three times after MPs arrived, as parties bickered over the appointment of deputies to presidential and prime ministerial posts.

The delays, as constitutional lawyers examined the legality of increasing the number of deputies to these key posts, cast a shadow over the first parliamentary meeting in months, which was supposed to be a showcase of unity.

It also underlined the problems inherent in a coalition government containing bitter opponents with differing agendas. Later in the day, members of Mr Allawi's political bloc walked out of parliament following a disagreement among lawmakers over the appropriate procedure for the session.

In a secret ballot, MPs eventually cast votes for Osama al Nujaifi, the sole candidate for the influential speaker's post, as previously agreed. Under the power-sharing arrangements signed by all major political blocs, Mr al Maliki, a Shiite, will be reappointed, as will the Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani.

Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, yesterday sent a congratulatory cable to his Iraqi counterpart, Mr Talabani, the WAM state news agency reported.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said the power-sharing agreement reached by Iraqi parliamentary blocs paved the way for a new era of a prosperous, stable Iraq, WAM reported.

The Iraqiyya alliance, Mr al Maliki's principal rival for power led by Mr Allawi, controls the speaker's position and will also head the proposed National Council for Political and Strategic Policies (NCSP).

The establishment of this council was a key concession demanded by Iraqiyya in exchange for participation in Mr al Maliki's government.

Setting it up will require constitutional amendments - which may prove difficult and time consuming to pass - and there are still no clear details as to its role and powers.

Iraqiyya believes it has a guarantee that the council will play a central role in decision making and will be able to reduce the prime minister's power on matters of security and long-term planning.

"The council will be powerful and al Maliki's powers will be limited," said Mohammad al Jabouri, an Iraqiyya MP.

He also hinted at the simmering sense of injustice felt by many in Iraqiyya, which won the March election with 91 seats to Mr al Maliki's 89 but could not find the allies to secure a parliamentary majority.

"Iraqiyya will join al Maliki's government even though it took our rights," he said.

Iraqiya MP Mustafa al Hiti told Agence France-Presse that the US president, Barack Obama, had "telephoned Mr Allawi to confirm to him that the NCSP would be a decision-making body and that the law creating it would be voted on before the formation of a new government".

Iraqiyya drew wide support from the country's Sunni Arab community, the backbone of a long-running anti-government and anti-US insurgency.

It remains to be seen how Iraqiyya supporters will respond to the bloc's entry into a coalition with Mr al Maliki after a bitter election battle and months of pledges that he would never be allowed to return to office as prime minister.

Other parties involved in the coalition government deal had expressed a similar determination to see Mr al Maliki, reviled by critics as excessively controlling and partisan, removed from the premiership.

Their support for him was given reluctantly, and with a warning that it was not unconditional.

"We are part of the government on the condition that al Maliki confirms it will be a real national partnership," said Juma'a al Atawani, of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), a Shiite party that less than a month ago had refused to endorse Mr al Maliki for the prime minister's job.

Mr al Jabouri, the Iraqiyya MP, echoed the sentiments, saying the government would only hold together as long as all parities "participated and stuck to their promises".

"We have a deal on the government, now there has to be some trust; otherwise, if promises are broken, there will be a big problem," he said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a parliamentary official yesterday underscored the point. "It's a trust problem," he said. "If there is not trust, there will be no government."

Deep mutual suspicions between Iraq's various factions, and their inability so far to settle major differences, will be the key obstacle faced by the new government as it faces an ongoing insurgency, rampant corruption, ethnic and sectarian divisions and stumbling redevelopment programmes, said independent political analyst Hussein al Mullah.

"At the moment there is no trust between the main blocs," he said. "The Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds do not trust one another, and inside each group there is more mistrust and division."

Those differences had not been resolved by the decision to form a national unity administration, according to Mr al Mullah.

"The deal on the government was done under pressure of time. They had to do something, but it has not addressed the actual problems," he said. "And there are many questions about the council that is supposed to limit Mr al Maliki's power - I don't see how it will do that in practice. Things will be the same as before."

After yesterday's parliamentary vote, Mr al Maliki will have a window of approximately 30 days in which to form a cabinet.



* With additional reporting by the Associated Press