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Al Maliki's inaction fails Iraq

Gulf News Editor at Large Francis Matthew writes: The opposition's reaction to prime minister's failure to reform his cabinet will define the tone for the next year

Al Maliki’s inaction fails Iraq
Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/Gulf News
Israel, for its part, is issuing direwarnings to European capitals aboutviolence on the ground in Palestine.Israel is also moving to consolidateits West Bank colonies, meaning moreannexations and increased occupation.Both leaders, Israeli Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu and Obama,insist that any UN declaration of statehoodwould be invalid.
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Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki was rattled by a series of deadly protests in Iraq this February when the Arab Spring was at its height. He felt the need to head off the thousands of people who were marching every day on the streets, seeking better public services. He dramatically gave his ministers 100 days to improve their performance or lose their jobs.

He promised that officials at any level would be sacked if their performance did not match standards, and he spelt out that "the performance of the government and the ministries will be evaluated separately in order to know the extent of success or failure in carrying out the duties given to them". He also made it clear that each minister would have to be responsible for stopping corruption in their ministries.

Despite the drama of his announcement, nothing happened. This week, at the end of his 100-day deadline, Al Maliki met his cabinet (no one had been sacked). He later claimed to the public that each ministry now has a four-year plan, and he seems to be insisting that he has achieved all his goals, and he claims "massive progress" in the 100 days.

It seems unlikely that all Iraq's ministries have just become models of efficiency, and that its famously corrupt officials have all stopped taking bribes. The opposition does not agree with Al Maliki's rosy view of what has happened, and its leaders have called for renewed protests to start this weekend.

It remains to be seen if they can get the people back onto the streets, and also if Al Maliki's large and very tough security forces will let them march again. The events this weekend will indicate how political life in Iraq might run for the next few months.

But for all his inaction, Al Maliki has continued to deliver relative political calm. Iraq is not moving to civil war, which seemed inevitable a few years ago. And while the opposition remains strongly critical of his performance, it has not moved to civil disobedience or outright strife. For such a young political entity like Iraq, this is impressive and all sides have played their part in avoiding violence.

But Iraq faces a lot of major issues. One may have been overblown: the imminent withdrawal of all US troops may in fact make little difference in reality since US troops have not played a substantial role on the ground for over two years, largely because Al Maliki's government was determined not to use them because of the political problems using them would create.

But there are many complicated constitutional and political problems involving the powers of the prime minister, parliament and other regions, which have just sat there and not been dealt with. In all honesty, Al Maliki has neither the political mandate nor the will to try to solve them.

The most complicated problem is the long-term status of Iraq's Kurdish territories. The two Kurdish parties did not disband their armed forces, the peshmerga, and they run a semi-autonomous government in the northern regions.

Status of Kirkuk

It is true that cooperation between the Iraqi army and the peshmerga has improved, but they continue to face each other across a long line stretching from the Syrian to the Iranian border, through some of Iraq's largest oil fields and the vexed city of Kirkuk.

It has not been decided if Kirkuk will become part of the Kurdish governorate to its north, or the more Sunni-dominated governorate to its south. But even without this problem, local and national politicians have not been able to agree how to govern the area. The provincial elections have been postponed indefinitely, and the complicated process defined by Article 140 of the constitution, which laid down a way to resolve this disputed territory, has stalled. As a result, all sorts of property disputes have yet to be settled; there has been no census; and no one is talking about a referendum to decide Kirkuk's status.

This failure to grasp the nettle may have allowed the Al Maliki government to limp along, but it is likely to face some serious external challenges which will not allow it to continue getting away with doing the minimum. Syria is about to go through a long period of civil chaos, which may well get a lot worse, and present Iraq with a completely unforeseen problem.

Al Maliki will have to work out how his government will respond to such a crisis, and to date he is unlikely to match the skill shown by Syria's other neighbour: Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey. It will be important for Iraq to avoid getting caught up in Syria's chaos, and to handle an influx of refugees as efficiently as possible,

Iraq has dealt with all sorts of problems from Iran, but as the next Iranian general elections come closer, Prime Minister Mahound Ahmadinejad may well want to show that he can influence events in Iraq, and he may get the pro-Iranian religious leaders or militias to show their strength.

Al Maliki will not be able to make much accommodation with the opposition who would love him to lose a vote of confidence. But he will need to improve his effectiveness if he is to guide Iraq through the next few years.