Iraq: Can major concessions end the political crisis?

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A hand out photograph made available by the offices of Iraqi President on August 11, 2014, shows newly elected Iraqi parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi (L) watching as Iraqi President Fuad Masum (2nd L) shakes hands with deputy parliamentary speaker Haidar al-Abadi (R) after he was tasked with forming a government during a brief ceremony broadcast on state television. (Photo: AFP-Iraqi Presidential Office)

Published Monday, August 25, 2014

The National Iraqi Alliance is preparing to make major concessions in order to form a government before the set deadline passes. At the same time, some parliamentary blocs have criticized a decision by the Union of National Powers to boycott the negotiations after the massacre at the Musab bin Umair Mosque.

Only two weeks are left for the constitutional deadline given to the Iraqi prime minister designate, Haider al-Abadi, to announce the formation of a new government, but he still has not received nominations from the political blocs for ministerial positions.

Abadi, who is strongly backed by the National Iraqi Alliance, realizes the difficulty of the situation and the concessions that need to be made, especially after he announced what has been since been merely a rumor about the withdrawal of the Union of National Powers from the negotiations to form a government.

What the political blocs have agreed to so far is the number of ministerial positions given to each bloc. The National Iraqi Alliance will be given half plus one of all the ministries. But the selection for candidates are still not clear inside the alliance, which is yet to receive nominations for the new ministerial positions from the other parties.

Leaks from within the National Iraqi Alliance indicate that “everyone has agreed to concede three things that were considered a red line for Shia, in agreement with their religious authority in Najaf.”

The most important concessions of the three is in regards to abolishing the Accountability and Justice Law, which used to be known as the de-Baathification law.

It is one of the main demands for some Sunni leaders since the de-Baathification law was passed and later modified under the title Accountability and Justice.

Sources told Al-Akhbar that there is “near unanimity to abandon the Accountability and Justice Law a decade after the fall of the previous regime,” especially that the outgoing prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, exempted many people who were supposed to be covered by the law as some of them have continued to occupy sensitive positions within the government.

Sources confirm that there is also near unanimity on releasing two symbolic figures from the previous regime. They are Tariq Aziz, who served as foreign minister for many years under Saddam Hussein, and Sultan Hashem who was defense minister at the time. This demand has also been made by political leaders who have tried to exonerate Aziz and Hashem, both detained since 2003 by United States occupational forces after they were included in the US most-wanted list.

The third concession that is expected to be made by the various Shia political forces forces is the issuing of a general amnesty. This is one of the most important demands in cities that have witnessed sit-ins and protests. It was called for by several Sunni politicians, who complained about the politicization of the justice system.

Sources said to Al-Akhbar that “the aim behind these concessions is to reassure Sunni politicians and to have a positive impact on Sunni public opinion and even on the kind of candidates that will be nominated for the ministerial positions.”

The sources further pointed out that “there is a sense of relief among the Kurds regarding the intentions of the National Iraqi Alliance. They have intervened in the negotiations to convince Sunni politicians to quickly submit the names of their candidates for the ministries and to support the prime minister designate in order to form a genuine national unity government.”

The sources claimed that “[Iraqi prime minister] Abadi asked all the political blocs to send their nominations for the ministerial positions before Tuesday,” indicating that the negotiating Kurdish Alliance delegation met Saturday night with Salim al-Jabouri, Osama al-Nujaifi and Saleh al-Mutlaq. They discussed with them the mechanism of nominating the new ministers and stressed the need to support the prime minister designate.

Despite Abadi’s acknowledgment of the difficulty of the situation and the constitutional sensitivities, he began another serious effort that he prepared for with a series of statements issued in the past few days. In these statements, he identified the standards that should be available among the candidates for ministerial positions. The most important qualities are competence, professionalism, experience, having a university degree, having no criminal record and no suspicions of corruption.

Abadi’s media office said in a statement that “the prime minister designate sent letters to the political blocs asking them to nominate candidates that have all the necessary qualifications in order to have the right person at the right place in the next government.

While Sunni leaders in Iraq held meetings with and made visits to a number of neighboring countries a few days after naming Abadi as prime minister, leaders of the National Iraqi Alliance began discussing the next phase and the possibility of persuading everybody to contribute to a strong central government that would fix the problems that have afflicted Iraq in the past period.

In the meantime, the Kurdish Alliance is trying to get the Finance Ministry in return for giving up the Foreign Affairs Ministry. However, neither the Union of National Powers nor the National Iraqi Alliance wants to nominate a candidate for the Ministry of Electricity, which is subject to great popular pressure due to increasing power outages.

According to National Iraqi Alliance MPs, the prime minister designate will carry out a decisive round of negotiations next week to name the new ministers and determine the qualified figures without going through with his assertions about reducing the number of ministries and other senior positions.

The Coalition of National Reform led by the head of the National Iraqi Alliance, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said yesterday that the decision by some political blocs to stop the negotiations for forming a new government because of the incident at the Musab bin Umair Mosque, where 70 people were killed on August 22, is not the answer but rather serves the perpetrators of the massacre.

Sadek al-Mihna, a member of the coalition, said that “any terrorist crime anywhere is condemned. The National Iraqi Alliance officially condemned the massacre regardless of who is behind it and investigations are underway to determine its circumstances.”

He said: “It is a surprising position as many terrorist crimes took place in the recent past such as the Spyker crime, the killing of Yazidis and the displacement of Christians but we did not see any political bloc suspend its negotiations to form a government.”

(Al-Akhbar)

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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