The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford and currently based at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
It is fair to say that the life cycle of the all-Shiite National Alliance (NA) – the all-Shiite bloc that delivered a second premiership to Nuri al-Maliki in November 2010 – has been an unusual one. In the first place, one could of course argue that when it first came into existence in 2010, the NA was really a reincarnation of the previous Shiite coalition that had existed as the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) from 2004 to 2008 and that was partially re-launched with Iranian support as the Iraqi National Alliance by Ahmad Chalabi, ISCI and the Sadrists in the spring of 2009. But that’s another story. Suffice to say in this context that the National Alliance was actually born twice after the 7 March 2010 parliamentary elections – first in May, when INA nominally merged with the State of Law bloc of Nuri al-Maliki but nothing much happened and no name was given to the new bloc, and later in June, when the leaders of INA and State of Law tentatively began a process of selecting a prime minister candidate and claimed the position as the biggest bloc in parliament in order to challenge Iraqiyya and Ayyad Allawi (who had emerged as the biggest bloc based on the elections results). Not until October 2010, thanks to steady support from both Iran and US ambassador Chris Hill, did Maliki emerge as prime minister candidate of the Shiite super-bloc.
Now the NA is dead again, or so it seems. The thing is, there is no death certificate as such , only the much-overlooked selection yesterday of Khalid Atiyya, from the bloc of independents affiliated with Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, as parliamentary head of the State of Law bloc. That in itself may not sound terribly exciting but it is: One of the few defining criteria for a bloc (kutla) in Iraqi parliamentary practice post-2003 is that it must have a head or rais. Now, importantly, after much dithering, the National Alliance did eventually agree on such a bloc leader in December 2010, when Ibrahim al-Jaafari was selected. Accordingly, Atiyya’s emergence as head of the State of Law faction yesterday amounts to nothing less than a de facto secession from the NA, since the recognition of State of Law as a kutla by implication negates the continued existence of the National Alliance. It should be added in a footnote that Iraqiyya has actually moved in the opposite direction, despite lots of centrifugal forces being at work. Also in December 2010, the Iraqiyyun faction led by Usama al-Nujayfi announced the election of its own bloc leader in what seemed to be tantamount to a secession from the broader Iraqiyya coalition. But since at least February 2011, Salman al-Jumayli has quite consistently been described as the bloc leader of Iraqiyya.