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While the troops have since withdrawn, a lasting deal is still a long way off.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

 

Mattis: We are not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil

Iraq forces battle their way to Mosul airport

Famine grips parts of South Sudan

Iran says Saudi, Israel working to damage country

Women named to head Saudi financial institutions

Syria army escalates shelling near Damascus ahead of talks

Coalition expects to remain in Iraq after Mosul operation ends

Egypt court hands out death sentences over football riot

Israelis optimistic on Trump despite mixed messages

Prime minister's convoy comes under fire in Libya

Four Russian military personnel killed in Syria

Prince of Poets returns to Al Raha Beach theatre

Merkel in Algiers hoping to curb Africa migrant flow

Debate on Muslim Brotherhood ban reflects battle lines in US

IS claims suicide attack by British bomber

Le Pen in Lebanon for first head of state meeting

Israeli PM sets off on Asia tour

HRW says IS jihadists raping, torturing Sunni Arab women too

Trial of 'Erdogan assassination plot' suspects opens in Turkey

Hundreds of migrants storm Morocco-Spain border

Iraq digs anti-IS trench around Ramadi

Israel's Lieberman fears Palestinians will dilute 'Jewish state'

At least 14 dead in Mogadishu car bombing

Arab leaders, Netanyahu held secret peace meeting

Obesity a major health problem in Jordan

350,000 children trapped in west Mosul

UN envoy to Syria : 'Where is the US?'

UN says aid to Sudan expected to drop

Mosul civilians divided over Iraqi army advice to 'stay home'

Iraq forces launch operation to retake west Mosul

US-led coalition praises Iraq's 'militias'

Egypt tourism shows signs of recovery

Turkey eyes strong US alliance, despite Trump splits

Former Ahmadinejad VP eyes Iran presidential bid in May

Turkey car bomb kills child, wounds 17

Russia seeks 'post-West' world order

Veteran Moroccan politician M'hamed Boucetta dies

Iran set to conduct new military drills

Viral video shows Syrian boy caught in barrel bomb attack

41 jihadists executed by rival group in Syria

Erdogan begins campaign for referendum to expand powers

Turkish shelling kills 9 in IS-held Syria town

Erdogan supporters 'increasingly demonising' 'no' voters

US backs political solution in Syria claim allies

Rare ancient busts rescued from Palmyra to be returned