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.
The newswires began reporting this item yesterday and today it has been generally confirmed: Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has appointed the culture minister, Sadun al-Dulaymi, as acting minister of defence. Dulaymi held the same portfolio in the Ibrahim al-Jaafari government in 2005-2006.
The significance of the appointment relates to two levels. Firstly, in terms of the architecture of the second Maliki government, it means Maliki could be seen as moving towards consolidating a situation in which no regular parliament appointments may take place for some time with respect to the security ministries: In early June he appointed Falih al-Fayyad of the Jaafari wing of the Daawa movement as acting minister of state for national security, whereas Maliki himself continues as acting interior minister. This is a different scenario from what happened in 2006, at which time it was precisely the security ministries that held up the completion of the government after the first posts had been allocated in May, but a solution was subsequently found and the full cabinet was approved by parliament in June.
Secondly, at the political level, the latest move is a clear rebuke to the secular Iraqiyya, which has lately signalled unhappiness about the direction in which the second Maliki government is evolving. Whereas Dulaymi may technically belong to the Unity of Iraq faction (which has technically been enrolled in Iraqiyya recently), it is very clear that Dulaymi is not the candidate of the leadership of Iraqiyya. In other words, he is what Maliki sometimes describes as a “Sunni candidate” rather than an Iraqiyya candidate. The more this kind of sectarian logic gets reified in the Iraqi government, the more we get back to the political atmosphere of 2006 when sectarian violence was at its height.
The problem with what Maliki is doing is that he continues to act as a strongman with a parliamentary majority in a context where it has been proved time and again that he doesn’t. Firstly, he seems to think White Iraqiyya (a small breakaway faction of Iraqiyya) can provide him with a “secular” cover and Dulaymi can do the same thing in terms of “integrating Sunnis”, but the numbers just don’t add up. Secondly, he keeps forgetting that the all-Shiite National Alliance rarely exists as a true united force in parliament, with the Sadrists, ISCI and other elements frequently disagreeing with Maliki. Indeed, many of Maliki’s own moves to maintain focus on his own, smaller State of Law bloc undermine the idea of a unified Shiite alliance. It indicates a complete lack of realism when Daawa members call the Dulaymi nomination a “move to stop regional influences in the defence ministry question”, which effectively means they dismiss all the 9 named Iraqiyya candidates for defence as stooges of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
By circumventing a parliamentary vote, Maliki is trying to consolidate his own power despite his narrow parliamentary support base. The question is how long the other parties will tolerate this. Iraqiyya has already been talking about new elections for a while, though mainly with reference to the stalling process to establish a national council for high policies. Arguably, the defence ministry is a far better issue on which to bring matters to a head: A defence minister from Iraqiyya would deepen its integration into the government, whereas the strategic council is likely to remain a paper tiger. As usual, the swing vote will rest with the Kurds, who have been unhappy about lack of progress on their many demands to Maliki for joining the government, but who at the same time support the conceptual framework of ethno-sectarian quota arrangements that lies behind the Dulaymi appointment.
One potentially positive outcome of the appointment of Dulaymi would be the incentive to get rid of the useless culture ministry altogether and maybe merge the three education-related ministries into one: That at least would be in line with the latest signals from the Iraqi public who want an effective government fast.