Sunday, January 13, 2008
I'm going to tread lightly on this one because people who are a good deal more knowledgeable about Iraqi politics than I am have been expressing some puzzlement over it. But there's been a recent flurry of Memoranda of Understanding coming out of Iraq, creating if not necessarily a new political landscape, then at least the outlines of the shape of things to come.
In late December, the two major Kurdish political parties, headed by Massoud Barzani and Jalil Talabani, signed a MoU with the leader of the Sunni opposition Iraqi Islamic Party, Tarik al-Hashemi. The agreement basically amounted to a power-sharing arrangement in Ninewa Province, and in particular the city of Mosul, scene of particularly brutal violence targetting the Kurdish population. It seemed to signal a possible Kurdish split from the governing coalition of PM al-Maliki. But Marc Lynch wasn't quite sure what to make of it, and Spencer Ackerman found it particularly puzzling that the agreement heavily favored the Kurds' position in the province, calling into question Hashemi's reasons for signing it.
Among the questions raised by the Kurdish-Sunni alliance was whether or not Iyad Allawi, a bitter rival of PM al-Maliki, would join them to bring down al-Maliki's coalition government. The answer came in an announcement this weekend of a MoU signed by a broad range of Shiite and Sunni political parties -- including Allawi's Iraqi National List, the Sadrist bloc, and, according to the AP, al-Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party -- basically reaffirming the Maliki government's positions in its dispute with the Kurds over oil and gas jurisdiction and the resolution of Kirkuk's status. (It's worth mentioning that AFP didn't mention Maliki's party as being a signatory to the agreement, and suggested that the MoU could serve as the forerunner of a coalition that could immediately pressure the Maliki government and potentially unseat it.)
Three things immediately occur to me from reading these reports. The first is to wonder whether the sudden emergence of an amnesty law for ex-Baathists, which had been one of the principle points of contention between Hashemi and Maliki, wasn't a tactical maneuver by Maliki and this second MoU group not only to undermine the logic of Hashemi's new alliance, but also to isolate the Kurds. The fact that al-Sadr, previously opposed to such a law, voted for it seems to suggest this might be the case.
The second is that a lot was recently made of a tactical alliance between al-Sadr and Abdul al-Haziz's SIIC party in Basra. It seems significant that while al-Sadr signed the new MoU, al-Haziz did not. Al-Haziz is also a proponent of an autnomous Shiite region in Southern Iraq similar to the KRG in the north, another point of tension between him and al-Sadr. So I'm very interested to see where he comes down on this issue. Should he side with the central government against the Kurds (still technically part of the Maliki coalition) he undermines his claims for a similar Shiite arrangement in the South. Should he oppose the government's position, it risks re-opening the hostilities with al-Sadr (a conflict in which, by all accounts, al-Haziz has the upper hand).
The third is that all the political construction that has occurred in Iraq to date has been based on kicking the tough, divisive issues -- Kirkuk, de-Baathization, oil revenue sharing -- down the road. Which is why "political reconciliation" has become a post-Surge catchphrase for a benchmark of progress, but it's in fact a misleading one. Because many of the competing claims and interests quite simply can't be reconciled. What's needed to elevate Iraq from the legal fiction it is today into an actual nation-state worthy of the name is an acceptance on all sides to submit to the political arena as the binding arbiter of these disputes. Instead, what seems to be happening is that everyone is using the political arena to confirm their worst suspicions and to draw the battle lines, while getting their militias ready to settle the score the moment America leaves. If not before.