As the US looks for a face-saving exit strategy, Iraqâ€™s political muddle offers little hope, reports Nermeen Al-Mufti, of Al-Ahram in Egypt
President Bush is due to present his final report on his new strategy in Iraq to Congress by 15 September. He had a tele-conference with Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki last week to discuss the latest security and political developments in Iraq. A statement by the prime ministerâ€™s office said that the two leaders agreed that the joint military operations launched by the Iraqis and the multinational forces have been a success.
Well-informed sources however said that President Galal Talabani and Vice-President Adel Al-Mahdi met Al-Maliki after that and relayed a further message from President Bush. In the message, the US president blamed the Iraqi prime minister for the current political crisis in the country, in particular the withdrawal of 12 ministers from his government. In his message to Al-Maliki, President Bush said that the US was more interested in supporting the political process in the country than in supporting the prime minister. Vice-President Tareq Al-Hashimi was not invited to the meeting â€œout of concern for Al-Malikiâ€™s sensitivities,â€ the same sources added.
Al-Hashimiâ€™s office issued a statement saying that Talabani and Al-Hashimi met and agreed to call a meeting of the Presidential Council to examine the demands of the Sunni Accordance Front (AF). Talabani briefed Al-Hashimi on the meeting with Al-Maliki.
Following the meeting of Talabani, Al-Mahdi, and Al-Maliki, the former said at a news conference that Al-Maliki refused to accept the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Salam Al-Zawbaee. Al-Zawbaee resigned along with five AF ministers from the government to protest against Al-Malikiâ€™s failure to meet AF demands. An AF source said the ministers have no intention of going back to cabinet meetings.
Former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi has ordered the four ministers representing the Iraqi List (IL) in the government to stop attending cabinet meeting or taking orders from Al-Maliki, Iraqi papers reported. Allawi told the ministers that their orders should come straight from the president. The IL is represented in the government by State Minister Mohamed Al-Oreibi, Communications Minister Mohamed Allawi, Human Rights Minister Wajdan Salem, and Science Minister Raed Fahmi. A fifth IL member, former justice minister Hashem Al-Sheili, has already resigned from his post. The Fadila Party was the first to withdraw from Al-Malikiâ€™s government and from the United Iraqi Alliance List. Shortly afterwards, the Al-Sadr group did the same.
Mahmoud Othman, parliamentarian from the Kurdistan List (KL) said that Abdul- Mahdi of the Supreme Islamic Council, former Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi were all holding separate consultations with independent politicians, clerics, and party leaders concerning the formation of a new Iraqi government. Sources close to Al-Maliki admitted that such consultations took place, but said that the aim was to break the current deadlock.
According to Othman, the KL wants to enhance reconciliation by including Allawi in the political process. The aim of the current consultations is to enlarge the current alliance of the Supreme Islamic Council, the Daawa Party, and the two Kurdish parties so as to include Allawiâ€™s Accord Movement and Al-Hashimiâ€™s Islamic Party. Al-Jaafari, Abdul-Mahdi and Allawi are all hoping to replace Al-Maliki, but none of them has made their bid official yet, Othman said.
White House spokesman Tony Snow tried to play down the resignation of the AF ministers, but continued exchanges between Bush and Iraqi officials suggest that the resignations have alarmed the US administration. Vice-President Abdul-Mahdi received a phone call from President Bush last week, in which the two men discussed political developments in the country and reiterated the need for continued efforts to reconcile key political groups in the country.
Vice-President Al-Hashimi explained to the US president over the phone the reasons the AF pulled out of the government. Al-Hashimi promised Bush that the AF would remain active in the political process while pressing for the release of the detainees, for human rights, and assistance to displaced people. Al-Hashimi reminded President Bush of his earlier promises to release thousands of Iraqi detainees.
Supreme Islamic Council leader Abdul- Aziz Al-Hakim also talked to the US president on the telephone. The two men reiterated the need to push forward the political process and promote national unity, a source at the Supreme Islamic said.
In Kirkuk, US commanders and a visiting State Department official met Turkmen and Arab blocks to discuss the situation. The Turkmen Block, which has 9 members in the Kirkuk Governorate Council, and the Arab Block, which has 8 members, have boycotted the councilâ€™s meetings for the past 10 months to protest the Kurdish monopoly of top army, police, and administrative posts. The command of the occupation forces, which for long ignored Turkmen and Arab demands, seems to be interested in reaching a compromise over Kirkuk. The US consul in Kirkuk urged the city council to â€œreconsiderâ€ its policies. The British consul in Kirkuk also urged the Turkmen and Arabs to resume attending council meetings.
Sheikh Abdul-Rahman Al-Munshid, chairman of the Arab Consultative Council (ACC) in Kirkuk, a body that includes key politicians and academics in the city, said that the ACC was interested in ending the boycott of the Governorate Council. Its efforts, however, were hampered by the arrest of Saad and Muadd, sons of the Al-Obeid clan chief Sami Al-Asi. Al-Munshid called on the US forces to release the two men along with other detainees in Kirkuk.
During an interview with Al-Hurra television satellite service last week, Masoud Barazani threatened to set off a civil war in Kirkuk unless Article 140 of the constitution was implemented. Article 140 calls for a referendum on Kirkukâ€™s status to be held before the end of the year, although US and Iraqi officials now believe that the referendum must be postponed. The Turkmen and Arabs of Kirkuk refuse to implement that article, citing legal complications. In his book My Year in Iraq, Paul Bremer admitted that the Kurds were the primary beneficiaries of the situation in the country. A Turkmen official said that Barazaniâ€™s threats mean one of two things. â€œEither he has a green light from Bush or the Americans were encouraging him to dig his own grave.â€ Meanwhile, Kurdish police arrested over 60 Kurds who were waving Iraqi flags in Irbil to celebrate Iraqâ€™s winning of the Asian Cup.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has threatened the Iraqi government with a new â€œstrategyâ€ unless certain laws are passed. An Iraqi political analyst says that the US official was referring to the gas and oil law, which would give US oil companies full control of Iraqi oil. If passed, the law would allow President Bush to cite at least one â€œvictoryâ€ in Iraq.