In spite of July temperatures in Baghdad that exceed 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) and are exacerbated by a severe lack of electricity, the daily topic of conversation among Iraqis is still the formation of the government and related issues. The controversial outcome of the 2010 Iraqi national elections and the ongoing slow government formation process – what some call a political crisis – have been dominating the headlines since the 7 March elections.
The constitutional deadline for Parliament to convene and elect its leaders was 14 July. This did not happen. The political blocs preferred to delay the meeting for two weeks, during which time they hoped to reach agreement over a package deal on who becomes the prime minister, president and speaker of parliament.
By failing to elect their leaders, they violated the Constitution of Iraq. But on the other hand, convening Parliament without prior agreement on the aforementioned package would not be productive because no political party received close to the 163 seats that form the simple majority required to fill any of these positions.
Many people blame the political parties for the delay, accusing them of preferring their own interests to those of the nation. Almost every party accuses others of favouring the positions and interests of other countries in the region, and allocates blame for the failure of negotiations thus far.
Though there is some truth in these accusations, there are also other, more complicated and more profound factors for this delay.
Iraq is undergoing swift and deep social, political and economic change. There is competition over the distribution or re-distribution of power among political entities: a struggle between those who held power pre-2003 – before the invasion of Iraq – and those who hold it post-2003, in addition to competition among diverse post-2003 parties themselves.
There are fears of losing power or of the abuse of power by others, and concern over the distribution of power and wealth among the central government, the Kurdistan region and the provinces, the disposition of disputed areas with the Kurds and relations with neighbouring countries. These struggles are often coloured by sectarian and ethnic divides, and further complicated by politics of fear driven by Iraq’s political history of oppression, making compromise more difficult.
The good thing, however, is that so far the political parties are referring to the Constitution and courts in their disputes, not resorting to violence.
Given these complexities, there is no quick fix. Perhaps a new government will be formed in the next two months, but even then it will need another three or four months to begin functioning. The ministers will be from different parties with different interests and views, and some may lack experience. Moreover, the government will face a tough agenda: at the top of the list are security and the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.
Both Iraqis and Americans agree that these forces will withdraw as determined by the security agreement between the two countries. By the end of this month, combat forces will complete their withdrawal, leaving some 50,000 troops for non-combat missions, who will remain until 2011.
In fact, the withdrawal of American combat forces has been ongoing for months. It meets Iraqi concerns about sovereignty, enhances the legitimacy of the Iraqi government and creates the right climate for Iraq to engage with neighbours who assist militant groups. More importantly, it denies militant groups the capacity to exploit the occupation for self-promotion, thus isolating them from the public and providing the Iraqi government with a great advantage in its counter-insurgency efforts.
In addition, the improvement in the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces is very real. Their daily activities demonstrate growing success in combat, despite the 2009 budget crisis and the recent stagnation in the political process. The probability of a renewed insurgency is low: the security forces are too strong for the fragmented insurgents and Iraqis are too tired of war to support them.
Nonetheless, Iraq will require continued aid, particularly from the United States, to develop its security forces to the point where they can effectively meet the internal and external security challenges facing the country. And Iraq needs civilian assistance. The Strategic Framework Agreement – which ensures international cooperation in various areas, including education, energy and communications – can be the outline for cementing an Iraq-US partnership that has the potential to profoundly alter relations between the West and Iraq, as well as the larger region.
After decades of brutal and oppressive tyranny and years of destructive conflict, the bottom line is that Iraq will survive this political crisis, despite it being an alarmingly slow political process – it still has a chance to emerge as a stable, prosperous and leading country in the region.
* Safa A. Hussein is a former deputy member of the Iraqi Governing Council. He served as Brigadier General in the Iraqi Air Force and currently works in the Iraqi National Security Council. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from bitterlemons-international.org