The roots of Iraq’s present political conflict lie in the 2010 elections. But in reality, the problem started since the establishment of the country in the 1920s. Almost a century has passed, but these conflicts have not been resolved.
The problems between different Iraqi blocs are numerous and varied. However, the most dangerous of them is the conflict between the government in Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurdistan government. Some say that it is a conflict between Kurds and Arabs though Iraqi governments prior to 2003 saw it as a form of Kurdish mutiny.
Kurds consider the conflict as a struggle for gaining their legitimate rights in their land.
Iraqi governments, in both the monarchy and the republican eras, tried to resolve the conflict through force. The results were devastating as the clashes depleted Iraq’s human and financial wealth. The struggle also obstructed Iraq’s development plans and contributed to undermining its national security, leading to interference from neighbouring countries.
Iraq’s political atmosphere was never devoid of dangerous tensions, but after the downfall of the Baathist regime, it has entered a new phase that is threatening to destroy the foundations of democracy.
Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki is at the centre of these developments, and has been targeted by many. He has clashed with fugitive vice-president Tareq Al Hashemi, deputy prime minister Saleh Al Mutlaq, chairman of Al Iraqiya bloc Eyad Allawi, president of the Kurdish province Masoud Barzani and Sadrist leader Muqtada Al Sadr. Al Maliki is probably having problems with those in his own Al Dawa party.
It is difficult to see Al Maliki emerging unscathed from these conflicts as all these forces are closing in on him in a joint attempt to get him out of office.
Playing on the interests of the US and those of regional powers, which served him well in recent years, will not ensure Al Maliki’s political survival, as finding a substitute is not very difficult.
The opposition has lately become more influential and has begun to take the initiative.
It recently held a meeting that was also attended by Al Sadr. A memo was sent by those who met in Arbil to the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), giving them two weeks to reply and threatening a no-confidence motion if they failed to comply. The two weeks went by, and another meeting was held in Najaf. The INA was given another week to choose a new prime minister.
Members of parliament threatening to go ahead with the no-confidence motion against Al Maliki constitute a majority in the house. However, whether or not they actually go ahead with this decision is not guaranteed. Each lawmaker has a number of issues that decide his or her position, and some of those are personal and related to re-election. Other factors that may influence the decision may relate to the power vacuum Al Maliki’s dismissal may create.
The INA expressed its backing for Al Maliki as a reply to the Arbil ultimatum. It also pointed out that it does not mind instituting reforms if Al Maliki can continue as prime minister.
In the midst of all this, the prime minister decided to turn the tables and transform the struggle into a conflict with the Kurds.
Al Maliki, accompanied by ministers from the federal government arrived in Kirkuk on May 8 to hold a cabinet meeting. His visit was preceded by military forces, who had orders to drive away any militia.
The struggle has become extremely tense.
Al Maliki chose Kirkuk as a battleground so as to announce from an Iraqi city that includes every component of Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups that the demand of the Kurdish province to include Kirkuk is unacceptable to his government. And that the Constitution’s item 140 — relating to Kirkuk determining its future — is not applicable.
Thus, Al Maliki decided that the differences, and the mechanisms to solve them, will not be settled through the constitution. He was also very clear about freezing it until the end of his tenure. All this will serve Al Maliki’s opponents, who accuse him of being autocratic.
Al Maliki’s shortsightedness is dangerous as it contravenes the strategic alliance between the State of Law and the INA.
Al Maliki is pushing towards a military a showdown with the Kurds at a time when they are stronger than ever before — locally, regionally and internationally.
He is betting that his dangerous step will break the opposition alliance against him, as he thinks he will be seen as fighting a national battle. He is also betting on other smaller alliances with those who have already walked out on Al Iraqiya.
Al Maliki’s statements about freezing the constitution raise concerns about his seriousness regarding democracy in Iraq. Talking about freezing the constitution is akin to a coup against the political process in Iraq. It is like declaring a state of emergency, wherein the government does what it pleases.
Dr Mohammad Akef Jamal is an Iraqi writer based in Dubai.