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While the troops have since withdrawn, a lasting deal is still a long way off.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

 

Turkey, Saudi Arabia could launch anti-ISIS ground operation in Syria

Saudi Foreign Minister: No Assad in the future, period!

Sadr loses patience with stalled progress on Iraq reform package

French PM warns major terrorist attacks will hit Europe again

Pope mends 1,000-year-old rift with Russian Patriarch

Russia sees ‘new Cold War’ amid strains with West

Assad vows to retake whole of Syria ‘while negotiating’

Israel denies dropping controversial Brazil envoy pick

Yemen loyalist forces advance towards Sanaa

Italian PM warns Egypt friendship on the line

Tunisia prepares for possible intervention in Libya

UAE to deploy jets, commandos in anti-IS campaign

100,000 refugees in Syria border camps near Turkey

Greece given three-month ultimatum to remedy border ‘deficiencies’

Ankara hails world powers' Syria ceasefire plan

Five Yemen police killed in ‘Qaeda’ attack in Aden

Kuwait to finalise Eurofighter jet deal with Italy

S.Sudan president names arch-rival his deputy

Berlin film fest competition kicks off with Arab film

War-torn Syria gears towards 'cessation of hostilities'

Iraqi PM urges Kurdistan to drop any plans for independence

Russia accuses US planes of hitting Aleppo

Anti-ISIS coalition looks to decisive new phase

Turkey, Israel open new normalisation talks

Assault on Aleppo displaces tens of thousands

Moroccan King inaugurates Aquaculture Farm in Oued Ed-dahab

Turkish forces end operation in southern town

NATO launches unprecedented Aegean migrant naval mission

Erdogan threatens to send millions of refugees to EU

Suspected PKK militants attack two Turkey pro-govt newspapers

Train derails in Egypt’s Bani Sueif province

Iranians mark 37 years since Islamic revolution

Moscow ready to discuss modalities of ceasefire in Syria

Egypt hires UK firm to review Sharm security

Tunisia makes $500 million from assets of ousted president

Turkey dismisses pressure to open borders as 'hypocritical'

Efforts to form Libya unity government stumble over defence portfolio

Iran blames failure of Syria peace talks on participation of ‘terrorists’

Syria opposition hopes for end of sieges

UAE names women state ministers in major government shake-up

French Foreign Minister steps down with criticism of US role in Syria

Germany hopes Syria talks in Munich will agree to provide aid

Syrian Kurdish separatists open Moscow representation

Jordan rejects France extradition request for 1982 terror attack suspects

Libya parliament extends deadline for formation of new unity government