Barzani Throws Down the Gauntlet

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.

In the clearest statement yet, Kurdish leader Masud Barzani has said he will not attend any national conference to deal with the current political crisis if it is held in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Barzani’s stance is supported by Ayad Allawi, the leader of the secular and increasingly Sunni-supported Iraqiyya party, and is strongly resisted by the Iraqi premier, the Shiite Islamist Nuri al-Maliki.

The question is whether the move will prove a bridge too far for Barzani. Or rather, the real question is whether Maliki truly needs the national conference, tentatively scheduled for the end of January.

Maliki has after all spent the weeks subsequent to the US withdrawal in mid-December to signal a complete disregard for the issues that his detractors (and partners in government) want to discuss at the national conference. Above all, Maliki has gone far in saying that the Arbil agreement of November 2010 is mostly unconstitutional (which is true), and that having received his share of the bargain (the premiership) he intends to ignore anything in the agreement that cannot be found in the constitution. This includes calls for the creation of a high council for strategic policies, ethno-sectarian balances in government ministries and ethno-sectarian formulas for the allocation of security ministries.

To some extent, developments over the last weeks have indicated that Maliki may in fact succeed with an audacious policy of ignoring both Iraqiyya and the Kurds at the same time. In the first place, despite the Iraqiyya boycott, parliament has continued to meet and has made some progress on the 2012 budget which needs to be passed over the next month or so. Iraqiyya has seen a flurry of defections, quite a few of which have occurred in Sunni-majority areas and cannot easily be attributed to intimidation by Maliki supporters (as has been claimed with respect to the south). Some Iraqiyya ministers – in particular independents and those from smaller factions like Al-Hall – have continued to take part in cabinet despite an official boycott. When Maliki presides over elaborate military displays and emphasises his role as commander in chief, he is probably thinking of an alliance of his own Shiite coalition and new breakaway elements from Iraqiyya and the White party that alone can reach the critical absolute-majority mark of 163 deputies in parliament.

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