Ramadan Agreement: Some Answers but Uncertainties Linger

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. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

As has become usual in Iraqi politics, a nightly gathering of politicians during Ramadan has helped towards resolving certain political issues, although yesterday’s meeting at the invitation of President Jalal Talabani also left many questions unanswered.

The one thing that is clear is that Iraq will now ask some US forces to stay beyond 2011 as “instructors”. The dissenting voices on this were the Sadrists and ISCI, meaning that the decision probably involved something that Iran did not want to happen. At the same time, the latest move poses a challenge to those in Washington that may have been hoping for a straightforward SOFA extension: Any activity by the US forces in Iraq after 2011 that cannot be plausibly described as “instruction” will now be susceptible to challenges – politically as well as military – precisely from forces such as the Sadrists.

The other points of “agreement” from yesterday’s meeting come with greater ambiguity. Firstly, there is the festering issue of the strategic policy council – demanded by the secular Iraqiyya as a key element in “power-sharing” and resisted by the Shiite Islamist coalition headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki who finds it “unconstitutional” (and not without reason, since the council simply isn’t in the constitution). There is now agreement that the draft law will be presented to parliament through the presidency, and apparently there is agreement on the text of the draft that will be introduced. Let’s not forget though that there will be two readings of the law in parliament before it gets voted on, and members of Maliki’s alliance are already signalling that they may bring up again some of their points of opposition to the bill. What has largely escaped notice is that in its current form, the council has such a high threshold for making executive decisions (80% majority) that it is unable to constitute much in the way of an effective check on prime ministerial power anyway. In that context, the demand by Iraqiyya that the head of the council – expected to be Ayad Allawi – be voted on by parliament rather than by the council members seems more like a way of symbolically restoring some of Allawi’s dignity after he won the elections and then lost the premiership last year.

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