Déjà Vu All Over Again? Iraq’s Escalating Political Crisis
Baghdad/Erbil/Brussels | 30 Jul 2012
To overcome Iraq’s current political crisis and prevent the breakdown of the entire post-2003 order, Prime Minister Maliki and his opponents both will have to agree to painful compromises.
Déjà Vu All Over Again? Iraq’s Escalating Political Crisis, the latest International Crisis Group report, examines the stalemate two years into Maliki’s second term. He is accused of violating the constitution, amassing power and bringing security forces under his personal control. The latest chapter in Iraq’s political crisis has dangerously heightened tensions and created a political vacuum within which deadly attacks, such as the recent series that killed over a hundred and injured hundreds more, could spark renewed civil war. Political leaders need to return urgently to their original effort to fashion a workable and transparent power-sharing arrangement if Iraq’s drifting ship of state is to be righted.
Maliki has lost the trust of much of the political class. At the same time, the opposition is divided on fundamental issues and on whether to push Maliki to implement the 2010 Erbil power-sharing agreement or remove him altogether. The odds that his opponents can muster enough votes to unseat him are low. Even should they succeed, they are highly unlikely to find common ground to form a new government, leaving Maliki as caretaker premier until the next elections in 2014. In the meantime, the government will find it increasingly difficult to govern and all Iraqis will pay a price.
“There is no question that Maliki has added to his powers during his six-year tenure, but there also can be no question that a large part of his success comes from his rivals’ incapacity to thwart him via institutional means”, says Joost Hiltermann, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director. “Maliki should implement the 2010 power-sharing deal and pledge to step down at the end of his term for the sake of national unity; his rivals should call off efforts to unseat him and instead use their parliamentary strength to build strong state institutions and help ensure that the next elections are free and fair”.
Iraq’s predicament goes far deeper than the unimplemented Erbil understanding or even Maliki’s personality. It is a symptom of the inability to overcome the legacy of Saddam Hussein and his repressive practices: a culture of deep suspicion coupled with a winner-take-all and loser-lose-all form of politics. Because it never produced a fair, agreed-upon distribution of power, territory and resources, the political bargaining that followed the regime’s fall did little to remedy this situation.
This time, political leaders must do more than patch things up and live to fight another day without touching root causes. A quick fix today could mean a comprehensive breakdown tomorrow; elections are looming, and the stakes are higher than ever. Without agreement on rules of the game, Maliki might well cling to power, using various means to determine the electoral outcome in his favour.
“The current crisis is unsustainable but Maliki, his opponents and neighbouring countries in theory share an interest in reducing tensions”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director. “Peaceful change will have to occur through constitution-based political consensus – finally beginning to address what for too long has been ignored”.