What it all amounts to is something of a triumph for embattled Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Critics of this interpretation will perhaps say there are individual clauses in the budget that may limit prime ministerial freedom of action more than before. Some of his own deputies soured today and said silly things (Sunayd: “I consider resigning as a deputy because the parliamentary majority defeated me on article 36!”) But that is besides the point. What Maliki has achieved is a situation in which he doesn’t really need the Iraqi parliament for a long time, providing him with the cover he needs to take a relaxed attitude to demands for national conferences and the implementation of the Arbil agreement. To have achieved passage of the budget under adverse circumstances and with Iraq literally under fire from terrorists today is nothing short of a masterful accomplishment in statecraft.
It is quite emblematic of the situation in Iraq that earlier this week, Usama al-Nujayfi, the parliament speaker of the secular Iraqiyya, characterized Iraq as a “derailed train”. Today, Nujayfi went on to play exactly the role Maliki wanted him to play by shepherding the budget vote to a successful conclusion. Maliki plays it well when he manages to buy political support over the budget instead of making political concessions.
Symptomatically, perhaps, the Iraqi media almost forgot that another preparatory meeting for the elusive national conference had to be cancelled today because of the prolonged budget debate. That cancellation might well be a bellwether for Iraqi politics for the rest of 2012.