The former US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, recently described the Iraqi elections and their aftermath as "high drama and low comedy". It is the perfect description, yet he should have added that this was a natural outcome of the occupation, Iraq’s vague and divisive constitution, US insistence on standing by the corrupt and failing people who came in with the US forces after the invasion, and the sectarian-quota policy.
More than four months have now passed since the elections and Iraq remains without a government, with the parliament not convened properly to nominate a president, prime minister or head of parliament. The High Federal Court, which was supposed to be professional and unbiased, only complicated the matter further by not handing down a decisive ruling about who could be nominated as prime minister according to the election results.
This, however, was due to the ambiguity inherent in Iraq’s US-drafted constitution. In every normal democracy, the head of the list or party that secures the majority of seats in parliament would be given the right to try and form a government. If that fails, the opportunity would then be handed to the head of the second-largest list or party. The Federal Court, however, ruled that the right to form a government belongs to the biggest coalition in parliament, i.e., it disregarded the results of the elections to allow different lists to establish majority coalitions.
Iraq is thus still ruled by a prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whose term in office should have expired the moment election results were officially declared. Maliki, however, is very keen to remain in office, and is helped by a similar desire on the part of the present president, Jalal Talabani, who is supported by Massoud Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party. While members of his own Shi’ite coalition oppose Maliki’s ambition, Talabani faces opposition from some Arab and Kurdish lists who claim he has failed in performing his duties. Talabani responded by suggesting a new vote, which further antagonized his opponents. The crisis, indeed, is self-perpetuating.
This situation has resulted in an exacerbation of the chaotic situation in Iraq, and has opened the door wide for foreign and outside actors to interfere. Thus, on top of the violence that has started to engulf major Iraqi cities, the persistent lack of services, especially electricity, and the differences that appeared among the different lists and within each one, the situation has carved out an increasing role for the US as well as neighboring and regional powers.
Up to this moment there are no indications that the government crisis will be resolved soon. While Washington appears to prefer Iyad Allawi, the US is mostly just interested in seeing a government established no matter who forms it, since it can rest assured that all candidates will remain obedient. The US ensured that Maliki’s outgoing government signed all agreements that were of US interest, particularly on security and oil. Yet the US generals in Iraq are also looking for loopholes in order to extend the presence of the US military in the country, as they very well know that any pullout will leave Iran in total control of Iraq at a time when the US and Israel have yet to resolve their positions regarding growing Iranian regional influence.
For their part, the Iranians favor Maliki, whom they feel they could influence more, not least since his coalition includes a number of people who hold dual Iraqi-Iranian citizenship.
Saudi Arabia favors Allawi as he is less inclined to tolerate a huge Iranian influence and his coalition includes the main Sunni parties and personalities. It seems that Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt all agree with the Saudi stance and are making this very clear. In fact, Syria went a step further by trying to minimize differences between Allawi and Muqtada al-Sadr’s faction, the Sadr Movement.
The Sadrists, who alone have 40 seats in parliament and constitute the biggest single grouping there, have previously objected to both Maliki and Allawi. It was said last week that Tehran managed to make Sadr, who lives in Iran, soften his opposition to Maliki and that he signed an agreement with Maliki’s representatives under the auspices of Iranian officials. However, Syria has also succeeded in arranging a direct meeting between Sadr and Allawi in Damascus. What was more interesting was the visit of Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, to Damascus and his meetings, separately, with both Allawi and Sadr. In the meantime, it was also announced that Sadr was going to Saudi Arabia. Whether Sadr is trying to pressure Maliki for more concessions, or Syria is trying to assure Tehran that Allawi will not be hostile to its influence, nobody knows.
In all of this, it is extremely difficult for any analyst to predict who will form the next government. In any civilized society, the problem would have long been solved with a coalition government. In Iraq, leaders from all lists are adamantly opposed to the idea of power-sharing. Some cynical analysts intimate that the current situation was exactly what the US (and Israel) wanted or what Washington had in mind when it drafted the constitution. The current Iraqi divisions keep the country weak and at the mercy of the US and allow the latter to continue playing the part of the balancing power in order to perpetuate its presence.
The fact remains, however, that whoever manages to form the new government, Iraqis are surely going to suffer through four more years of weak and indecisive government. For this they have only themselves to blame. They were the ones who made the same mistake twice by electing ill-efficient, corrupt and sectarian representatives.