London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The political process in Iraq has lacked any real mobility for nearly a year now; the government operates on one side and the parliament on the other. Political coalitions and blocs hold discussions in which agreements are rare and disputes more frequent.
However, from time to time, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani with his wisdom, political expertise and enduring patience proposes a political initiative or reconciles between various parties or engages in dialogue with all Iraqi parties for a better Iraq. The famous adage that says that Iraqi politicians always agree to disagree is the most accurate reflection of the present Iraqi political arena.
Several Iraqi politicians who spoke with Asharq Al-Awsat agreed that the Iraqi political process has been immobile for a considerable period of time and that political mobility was necessary to save the entire political process from its steady deterioration.
Perhaps President Talabani’s proposed initiative, which Asharq Al-Awsat reported on following an interview with former speaker of the Iraqi interim parliament at the end of last year, Fouad Masum, is the first step forward towards salvation. Masum, from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the head of the Kurdish bloc in the Iraqi parliament is working with President Talabani to implement this initiative. Despite the fact that the details of the initiative have yet to be announced however, it is one that is based on realistic and efficient mechanisms that are far removed from political theorizing.
However; recently, approximately 12 political blocs and various Arab Sunni and Shia figures were in attendance at the Iraqi parliament and they signed a memorandum of understanding that was described as “aimed at resolving the state’s most controversial issue, which is Article 140 of the [Iraqi] constitution which is related to the normalization of the situation in Kirkuk [an important and mixed city of Kurds, Turkmen, Christians and Arabs],” demanding that a solution be reached through political consensus.
Also discussed was the subject of oil contracts that were signed by the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government, which is matter that has caused most international public opinion, and particularly Kurdish public opinion to believe that this initiative [aforementioned memorandum] is directed against the Iraqi Kurds, who in turn call for “restoring and annexing Kirkuk to the Kurdistan region and legitimizing the use of their natural resources, such as oil and gas since the Iraqi constitution recognizes the principle of oil as the property of the Iraqi people.”
However, no one, signatories and non-signatories alike [of the memorandum], has voiced concern that this latest development could become a new alliance or political bloc that will dismantle other alliances and political blocs and unite them under one alliance.
Adnan al Dulaimi, the head of the Iraqi Accord Front, which incorporates the Iraqi National Dialogue Council led by Khalaf al Ulayyan (the former, who is also one of the signatories) described it as “simply the signing of a document and it does not signify the formation of a parliamentary bloc or a new political alliance.”
Meanwhile, Masum stated that “this document cannot be described as a political coalition since the inherent differences between signatories exceed the points of agreement. There are some calling for the participation of the Baathists in the political process while others cannot stand to hear the word Baath.”
“There is no clarity in this document; if the intention was to form a political bloc that could help propel the political process forward then it would be understandable. However, we do not believe that what has been issued will assist the political process and resolve its problems, especially since all the blocs that have signed, led by the Iraqi blocs, are part of the political process through their participation in parliament,” he added.
In a recent telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Masum said, “the political blocs have expressed their rejection of some of the names that are affiliated to them in this document, such as the Islamic Virtue party (Al Fadhila party) and the Sadrist bloc.” Moreover, he questioned whether Osama al Najafi (Iraqi MP and member of the Iraqi National List headed by Dr. Iyad Allawi), “represents the whole Iraqi National List, or whether he signed as an independent, especially since there is an Iraqi group that claims that it is not represented in the document.”
In a telephone interview, Bassim Sharif, parliamentarian and member of the Fadhila party politburo from Baghdad said that his party “is not with those who have signed the document.”
“The Fadhila party entered into dialogue with all the political parties and blocs, whether part of the government or outside of it and we have decided to not participate unless it is politically mature,” describing the dialogue in general as a “positive thing.”
Not long ago, MP al Najafi made a controversial statement in which he said, “The complex situation in Kirkuk and the desire to preserve the interests of all its social components including Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen in accordance with the constitution and in a manner that reflects national political consensus to make this city an example of national unity, coexistence and social integration between the people of one nation is the fundamental goal that the political forces, which signed this document, strive towards.” The document moreover stressed that Kurdistan’s central federal government is to retain its authority over the management of the state’s natural resources and wealth.
However, al Najafi continued, “oil, natural gas and other natural resources are the primary source of wealth for the Iraqi people but the management of these resources is exclusive to the federal government authority in cooperation with the regional authority, in accordance with the constitution. We are deeply concerned about any unilateral measures within this field [that may be taken] without consulting the central government.”
In terms of these measures, al Najafi mentioned “forging contracts with foreign bodies regardless of the justifications behind the action,” in a reference to the contracts that the Iraqi Kurdistan government had concluded without prior consultation with the central government.
The most prominent blocs who signed the document are the Sadrist bloc (30 seats), the Iraqi National List headed by Dr. Iyad Allawi and the Islamic Dawa party (15 seats), the Iraqi Accord Front, which incorporates the Iraqi National Dialogue Front led by Saleh al Mutlaq (11 seats) and the Iraqi National Dialogue Council, which is part of the Iraqi Accord Front (8 seats), in addition to the independent blocs in parliament.
Parliamentarian and member of the Iraqi National List, Iyad Jamal told Asharq Al-Awsat, “What has taken place is not a coalition or a new political bloc but rather an agreement with common points amongst the blocs and a declaration of common denominators between them. In return, there also exist differences between our bloc and others, however we have been keen to reach a joint understanding and that does not equate to the formation of a new political bloc.”
For their part, the Kurdish people view the tackling of the issue of oil contracts and the issue of Kirkuk as interference in the Kurdistan region’s affairs and believe the document to be a violation of the Iraqi constitution. There are even some who believe that it marks the beginning of an Arab alliance against the Kurds.
Al Dulaimi was the first to mention this when he said, “the Kurdish people will consider this document to be [directed] against them,” which prompted Maysoon al Damluji who is a member of Iraqi National List, to tell Asharq Al-Awsat in a telephone interview that the Iraqi National List considers itself to be “strongly allied with the Kurds.”
She also added that “the Kurdish people will resolve the situation,” and in reference to Kirkuk stated, “they must allow the issue its time.” This contrasts with Al Fadhila party’s Bassim Sharif who stated that, “the Kurds will have to relinquish some things.”
The pertinent question is: Will new political alliances be governed by common interests, and will these alliances shift from political to national conflict: Arabs against Kurds?
Sharif confirms, “The new alliances are based on partial interests whilst we are experiencing a large political problem. Perhaps these alliances will be based on gathering the largest number of votes for the forthcoming elections, if the aim is to amend the electoral laws or hold early elections.”
He also believes that if indeed the alliances shift from political conflict to a national one that it would “portend serious indicators for the political process,” and added that “we must make serious efforts to ensure that the matter does not reach this state and there must be dialogue with the Kurds who believe that they cannot give up some of the profits or achievements that they have accomplished. They will never move backwards but I am saying that the democratic situation can best guarantee them and their achievements.”
Furthermore, Sharif believes that, “the current situation does not allow for Al Fadhila party to forge any alliance,” and added that “the situation has reached the crossroads.”
He also stated that his movement had “withdrawn from the United Iraqi Alliance due to the dismantling that was taking place among the present alliances on a sectarian or national basis, with the exception of the Kurdistan Alliance (KA) which has its own special circumstances.”
Meanwhile, Masum doubts that there will ever be an Arab alliance against the Kurds, expecting that there would be further alliances formed on a national basis with the intention of advancing the political process forward.
Head of the office of Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, Dr. Fouad Hussein said that, “Any alliance against the Kurds is destined to fail since it would be against the Iraqi national project which the Kurdish people believe in and work towards.”
Kurdish political writer and Deputy Editor of ‘Kurdistan’ newspaper Adalat Abdallah said, “Any Iraqi political party reserves the right to establish alliances and blocs so long as it is in the Iraqi national interest.”
He told Asharq Al-Awsat from his office in Sulaymaniyah, “If the nature of these alliances is sectarian or nationalistic against another nationality then it means that it is working against the national Iraqi project. Any alliance against the Kurds is doomed to fail,” he concluded.