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While the troops have since withdrawn, a lasting deal is still a long way off.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

 

Washington lauds Iran's role in Iraq

Iran slams boring Netanyahu's continuous lie-spreading in US speech

Saudi executing at 'unprecedented' pace

Libyan militants take control of two oil fields

'Saudi prince' New York apartment on sale for $48.5m

Women protest for peace ahead of Israel election

Concerns rise over civilians’ safety in Iraq military operation

UN invites Libya leaders for crisis talks in Algeria

Israel to double water quota to Gaza ‘within days’

Abbas: Palestinians ready to talk with "whoever" wins Israel election

Fire at Cairo convention centre injures 19 people

US, Iran wrap up three days of intense nuclear negotiations

EU reviews policy in response to Ukraine, Arab Spring

IAEA delegation to hold talks in Tehran on March 9

Tunisia rescues 86 African migrants at sea

Turkish Airlines plane skids off Nepal runway

British former marine 'killed' in Syria

Netanyahu warns Congress: Nuclear deal will free Iran to develop weapons

Bottle of juice vs. outspoken critic of Israel domestic policies

UN approves sanctions regime for South Sudan

Arab states to mull creation of joint force against ‘Islamic State’

Libya tit-for-tat airstrikes target airport, oil terminal

Iran holds memorial service for ‘Afghan volunteers’ killed in Syria

South Sudan general accused of abducting child soldiers

Netanyahu takes fight over Iran nuclear ambitions to Congress

UN delegation meets Aleppo governor to push ‘freeze’ plan

Yemen leader proposes reconciliation talks to be moved to Saudi

Jihadists use urban warfare to slow Tirkit adavance

Libya warplanes strike militia-controlled airport

Egypt court cancels call for parliamentary elections in March

Saudi diplomat kidnapped by Qaeda in Yemen released

South Sudan's oil wells pose environmental hazard

Obama lashes out at Netanyahu over Iran

Tunisia blogger jailed for 6 months for defaming army

US controlling ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels

Two killed in Cairo bomb blast

Erdogan in Riyadh as Saudi Arabia seeks to re-energise foreign policy

Palestinians prepare to lodge first war crimes complaint against Israel

Turkey probes soldier for failure to resist ‘Islamic State’

US envoy to Yemen throws support behind President Hadi

Libya recognized parliament names Haftar as chief of armed forces

How Islamic is ‘Islamic State’?

Separate battles rage on against IS in key border area

Reconciliation with Iran proves far from simple for Hamas

Before UN rights panel, Kerry delivers vigorous defense of Israel