Osama Al Nujaifi, Iraqi Speaker of Parliament, announced during a press conference on April 4 the indefinite postponement of the national conference, which was supposed to be held the following day.
The delay was due to the widening rift between Iraqi political blocs. President Jalal Talabani had on March 25 called for the national conference. It was aimed at bridging sharp political differences in the country.
Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki is also having problems with Kurdish authorities, whose main parties form a crucial bloc in the national unity government, over oil revenues and the Kurds' sheltering of fugitive Vice-President Tareq Al Hashemi. He is wanted by Baghdad since December on charges of running a death squad. Al Maliki also demanded the exclusion of his deputy Saleh Al Mutlaq, a decision supported by US President Barack Obama.
A day after Al Nujaifi's statement, the US embassy in Baghdad hurriedly issued a statement expressing its deep concern about the deterioration of relations between different Iraqi political blocs. The embassy pointed out that "the US backs Iraq's unity as stipulated in many UN resolutions". It added that US policy regarding Iraq's unity remains unchanged.
This coincided with Obama's telephone conversation with Al Maliki wherein the US president expressed his government's commitment to Iraq's unity and democratic system.
The American position can be seen as a warning to Iraqi politicians who make direct or indirect statements about the country's division. The US stance also sent a strong message to all Iraqi blocs that dialogue was inevitable.
In reality, the US is closely monitoring the deteriorating situation in Iraq. The worrisome aspect is that this situation has come to affect the basic foundations of the political process.
The disagreements between the Al Iraqiya List and the State of Law Coalition has taken a back seat lately. The escalating differences between the central government and Arbil signal a breakdown of the biggest strategic alliance that was built outside Iraq prior to 2003, and one that worked on toppling Saddam Hussain's regime and has led the political process in the country ever since. The tension surrounding the Iraqi political process indicates it could be pushed towards the point of no return.
While accusations are exchanged through the media between different factions, calls for pacifying the situation — other than those made by Talabani — are non-existent.
The meeting that Talabani called never saw the light of day because of the preconditions set by different blocs. All the disagreements and complaints are related to the small political role allowed to be assumed by everyone and the ever increasing power of the prime minister and his party. Al Maliki has been accused of not honouring his agreements with other political blocs, not abiding by the constitution, seeking to undermine the Kurdish province and taking away its constitutional rights and authority.
The disagreements between Baghdad and Arbil regarding the province's oil contracts with foreign companies continue; moreover the rift between the central government and the province widened after the Kurds hosted Al Hashemi.
Lately, Kurds have been ordered by a militant group to leave Baghdad and other Arab cities in Iraq in a dangerous attempt to raise ethnic tensions in the country.
The US stance regarding the political blocs and the pressure it exerts on the Iraqi leadership to tread the path outlined by America has become harmful to the political process. The past two years were ripe with events that indicate one reality: total failure of the coordination policy and the national unity government.
This failure cannot be fixed by tinkering with its foundations; rather, it has to be faced with courage and with a high sense of national responsibility.
It is also the responsibility of the political leadership in the country to reject this failed approach to build a democratic state. It is only by doing this that the leaders will be able to prove their credibility to the people who voted for them.
It is a healthy democratic sign that all political blocs remain in parliament. However, it is not right for all these blocs to be represented in the government because it contradicts the democratic framework. The negative effects of this representation can be seen clearly in the government's performance. The results have to be borne by the people. Seven million live below the poverty line, according to statistics published by the Iraqi Ministry of Planning. This, in a country with an annual budget of over $100 billion (Dh367 billion).
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Iraqis failed to build a democratic state, although there was a parliament in the country that was elected through undemocratic methods. That applies to both the royal and Baathist era in Iraq.
However, Iraqis succeeded in creating a special kind of authority, wherein repressive departments became very busy when the state was unable to solve its various problems.
Today, following the failure of two years of political partnership, and in order to prevent a political catastrophe in the country, there is no way out but through early legislative elections. This will allow Iraqis to address the problems with the political process and to pull the country out of its current paralysis.
Dr Mohammad Akef Jamal is an Iraqi writer based in Dubai.