Al-Hayat reports that Iyad Allawi, a secular ex-Baathist Shiite who leads the Iraqi National List (25 seats in parliament), visited Kurdistan on Saturday. He is attempting to convince the Kurdistan Alliance to join his new coalition in parliament. Allawi has said that his list will leave the 'national unity government' headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Allawi's list is small and he is deeply disliked by most of the religious Shiites that dominate parliament. I can't imagine that he can actually form a government given the present distribution of seats. But al-Hayat reports that Allawi was accompanied on his trip to Kurdistan by none other than US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, which the daily read as a sign of US support for dumping al-Maliki and trying to install Allawi as Prime Minister. (Allawi served as interim prime minister in 2004, having been appointed by the US and UN for this purpose. He is an old CIA asset.)
Under this pressure, Nuri al-Maliki says he is going to restructure the Iraqi cabinet. Rumors are apparently flying in Baghdad that the PM will cut all six representatives of the Sadr Movement loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr from his cabinet, and a number of high government officials may face prosecution for links to death squads. I saw al-Maliki briefly interviewed on the cabinet change on Arab satellite t.v., and he seemed to me subdued, depressed, and under pressure. He was glancing down and did not seem very animated.
If al-Maliki looses the 32 Sadrist members of parliament, he would be a decidedly minority prime minister. It is not clear to me that the Fadila Party, popular in Basra and holding 15 seats in the federal parliament, ever rejoined the United Iraqi Alliance after al-Maliki took the petroleum portfolio away from them. The UIA had 130 seats in the 275 seat parliament, but needs 138 for a simple majority. UIA leaders have won votes by getting some Shiite members of Allawi's Iraqi National List to vote with them, and by joining with the Kurdistan Alliance (53 seats, but the Kurdish fundamentalists, who have 5 seats, usually vote with the KA).
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With only 82 members left in his United Iraqi Alliance (one member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq had to flee to Iran when it was revealed that he had helped in an attack on the US and French embassies in Kuwait in 1983), al-Maliki would be completely at the mercy of the Kurdistan Alliance. Even this truncated UIA-plus-KA coalition could only guarantee 135 votes, not quite a majority (though as I mentioned above, in fact the Kurdistan Islamic Union usually votes with the other Kurds, so that would make 140). If the Sadrists and Fadila are so alienated as to abstain, and Allawi really could detach the Kurds from the UIA, then it seems to me that the al-Maliki government would fall at some point.
Of course, on any particular issue, Fadila and the Sadrists might still vote with al-Maliki, even if they are annoyed with him.
The Kurds and the Sunni Arabs could theoretically put together 111 seats, and if they were joined by Allawi, that would be 136. With the five delegates from the Kurdistan Islamic Union, they'd have a bare majority of 141. However, the Sunni Arabs are mostly die hard opposed to both loose federalism and to the Kurdish annexation of Kirkuk province, and Sunni Arab guerrillas have chased 70,000 Kurds out of the northern city of Mosul. Moreover, the Kurds despise ex-Baathists, who are prominent among the Sunni Arabs and on Allawi's list. And, the Sunni Arabs mostly want the US out, whereas the Kurds very much want American troops to stay. I think such a Sunni Arab/ ex-Baathist/ Kurdistan coalition in parliament, while it is theoretically possible, is unlikely and if it came to pass would fall apart quickly. Moreover, if you excluded the majority Shiites from power in this way, it would provoke substantial protests and instability in the South.
Still, one could imagine major changes in the Iraqi government in coming months once it becomes clear that the surge has failed and the US has run out of purely military options. One danger of tinkering with the government after you mobilized all those voters is that there could be a violent reaction if the changes were viewed as simple imperialist imposition.
Sunni Arab guerrillas killed 3 US troops on Saturday with a roadside bomb in central Baghdad.
Guerrillas in West Baghdad kidnapped an adviser to the Ministry of Defense, Thamir Sultan al-Tikriti. (When high officials of the Ministry of Defense are kidnapped at will, the security situation is not good.)
In Yusufiya, a mixed city south of Baghdad, guerrillas killed 6 Sunni men of the Al-Mashhada clan execution-style. The motive appears to have been to punish them for attending a reconciliation meeting with Shiites last month.
Guerrillas bombed a police checkpoint at Ramadi, killing 12 and wounding 22.
Al-Hayat reports on the preparations for next weekend's conference in Baghdad that will include the foreign ministers of Iraq's six neighbors and the US, for the first time. It reports that Mohammad Ali Hosseini, the spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said that the US had employed intermediaries to propose the start of negotiations treating the security issue in Iraq. He told Iranian television, "The Americans recently contacted Iran via intermediaries to suggest a discussion of the problems of Iraq, especially security. We are studying these suggestions."
David Satterfield, a high official of the US State Department and adviser to Secretary of State Condi Rice, told al-Hayat that he did not think it unlikely that he would make direct contacts with the representatives of Iran and Syria during his participation in the Baghdad conference on Saturday. The newspaper quotes him as saying, "Washington will participate in the discussion with all the parties represented" and that "the success of the conference will pave the way for regional meetings on the highest levels on Iraq," which Secretary Rice would attend. Satterfield reportedly said of Saturday's meet, "All issues will be on the table," and that the conference "will produce joint committees and working groups to follow such issues as border control and other matters of shared concern." He would not say whether the US would serve on any joint committees or working groups with Iran and Syria. He rejected the notion that any such contacts with Iran and Syria would constitute a change in the policy of President George W. Bush.
The visit to Saudi Arabia Saturday of Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki was presumably in part intended to set up next weekend's meetings. Likely the US passed some messages to the Iranians through the Saudis, as well. Since a future war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which has sometimes seemed to loom as a real possibility, might well destabilize the oil Gulf, it is heartening that the two sides are at least talking directly to one another.
Juan Cole blogs at Informed Comment
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