First Published: 2013-01-06

 

Iraq back on the brink: Will early elections break deadlock?

 

Massive rallies, powerful cleric predicting ‘Iraq Spring’, Arabs and Kurds at loggerheads: Iraq looks locked in wave of disputes.

 

Middle East Online

By Prashant Rao – BAGHDAD

Where is Maliki heading with Iraq?

Massive rallies, a powerful cleric predicting an "Iraq spring" and Arabs and Kurds at loggerheads: Iraq is mired in a cycle of interlocking crises with elections increasingly seen as the only solution.

Almost since the moment the last US troops withdrew in December 2011, the country has been locked in a wave of disputes between political, ethnic and religious factions, with no significant laws passed since polls in March 2010.

And now, talk has revived of early elections in a bid to break a deadlock that only appears to be getting worse.

"Early elections might be the best solution," said Ihsan al-Shammari, a professor of politics at Baghdad University. "If these matters deepen, they will worsen divisions, and that's a very dangerous matter."

Provincial elections are set for April, with national polls not due until next year, but politicians in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law bloc have revived talk of dissolving parliament, initially mooted by the premier last June.

For the moment, the cabinet and parliament continue to meet, and while Maliki supporters may back new elections, an absolute majority of lawmakers is required to dissolve the 325-member Council of Representatives.

Analysts say Maliki has managed to survive thanks to tactical guile and poor organisation by his opponents, although he reportedly had to rely on Iran's backing to see off an effort to withdraw confidence from his government last year.

The latest crises reflect the lack of long-term solutions to years-old disputes, between Arabs and Kurds, between the central government in Baghdad and local authorities, and between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Analysts and officials often point to the unresolved row between the autonomous Kurdish region and Baghdad as the greatest long-term threat to the future stability of the country.

Recent months have seen tensions over the issue rise to arguably unprecedented levels, with both sides massing troops along a tract of disputed territory, and as disagreements over the dispersal of oil revenues persist.

While the troops have since withdrawn, a lasting deal is still a long way off.

Along with the Kurdish region, many majority-Sunni provinces have clashed with Baghdad and supported rallies criticising the Shiite-led government for misusing anti-terror laws to target their minority.

The local authorities in Nineveh and Salaheddin provinces have even declared general strikes in protests sparked by the December 20 arrest of at least nine bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi, a Sunni, on terror charges.

The arrests have also further worsened ties between Iraqiya, the secular Sunni-backed party of which Essawi is a senior member, and Maliki's mostly Shiite State of Law faction.

While the disputes have largely been seen in sectarian or ethnic terms, Maliki has also faced criticism from within his own Shiite community, with powerful cleric Moqtada al-Sadr predicting an "Iraq spring" and backing the protests.

All of this comes despite Iraqiya and Sadr's movement both remaining in Maliki's fragile unity government while also publicly calling for his ouster.

An eerily similar set of disputes broke out early last year, in the immediate aftermath of the American troop withdrawal.

"The political blocs tried, after the departure of the American forces, to exploit matters and went further than the constitution allows," said Abbas al-Bayati, an MP and State of Law member.

"Each side tries to interpret the constitution to serve its own agenda."

This time, however, a key mediator is missing. President Jalal Talabani is being treated in Germany after having a stroke, and there is little hope that Iraq's political leaders will make progress on their differences any time soon.

"There is no willingness on any side to sit down and deal with problems," said Mahmud Othman, an independent Kurdish lawmaker. "Each side just makes accusations towards the other side."

"I expect the worst is still to come."

 

Supplies dwindle, strikes intensify in Syria's Aleppo

Yemeni forces kill suspected Qaeda chief

Trump says he'll recognize Jerusalem as Israel's 'undivided' capital

British FM begins key Turkey visit

Famous archway collapses on Moroccan beach

Three Turkish soldiers killed in PKK attack

Moscow slams 'unacceptable' UN statements on Syria

Coalition prefers final Yemen settlement to 'short' truce

Bulgaria court error delays trial over Hezbollah bombing

Oman court closes national newspaper, jails three journalists

Oil prices rise modestly ahead of OPEC meeting

Qatari official banned from AFC vote

US, Russia split on Syria’s Aleppo carnage

Death toll from Egypt migrant shipwreck jumps to 168

Warplanes pound Aleppo ahead of UN Syria meeting

Dubai drops charges against Briton who promoted charity

Israel sentences Islamic cleric for incitement

Turkey sets precondition for joining US Raqa operation

Campaigning for parliamentary polls begins in Morocco

EU mission to train Libya coastguard faces delay

Gunman kills prominent writer on steps of courthouse in Jordan

Mosul offensive to start in ‘next few weeks’

New wave of air strikes pummels Aleppo

US, Russia trade blame for collapse of ceasefire in Syria

Hadi vows to ‘extract Yemen from claws of Iran’

Obama vetoes bill allowing 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia

Morocco asks to rejoin African Union

Air raids pound rebel-held Aleppo

Turkey arrests prominent writer brothers

Egypt shipwreck death toll rises to 133

Gulen says will return to Turkey if US backs extradition

Occupation troops shoot, wound Palestinian with knife

UN eyes alternate aid delivery route for Syria's Aleppo

Iran condemns Saudi strikes in Yemen

Turkey's Erdogan says US arming Syrian Kurds

Obama to block Saudi 9/11 prosecution

Oil prices ease as focus shifts to producers' meeting

Opposition 'minister' among 12 dead in Syria car bomb

'13 dead' in clashes with IS in Libya's Sirte

20 civilians killed in Yemen rebel port raid

Turkish border town hit by rocket fired from Syria

Syria's White Helmets win Swedish human rights prize

UN pleads with Assad over food aid stuck at Syria border

Rouhani jabs USA over nuclear deal in UN address

Dozens more feared dead in Egypt boat tragedy