The demolition of S. Hussein’s regime by the Western coalition in March, 2003 became the starting point on an unending crisis in Iraq. Initially, the authority across the country – legislative, judicial, and executive in a bundle – was exercised by the U.S. occupational administration headed by Washington’s P. Bremer. In 2004, the administration installed Ayad Allawi, formerly appointed by Bremer to the post of the national security committee chief, as the premier of the “liberated” Iraq. The key mission of the national security committee, it must be noted, used to be to help the U.S. suppress the Iraqi resistance – the body was notorious for lawless persecution of Iraq’s Sunni Muslims who had records of serving in Hussein’s party, army, or security apparatus, along with anyone who in any way opposed the Western invasion.
Allawi’s cabinet stayed afloat for only one year, but the result was impressive: over 140,000 military officers, medical doctors, scholars, and other types of specialists solely guilty of past membership in the banned BAAS party or of the Sunni origin faced repressions, plus tens of thousands of others became displaced. Curiously, at the same time five ministers from the freshly assembled government fled and were put on the wanted list forhaving stolen a total of $1.3b despite the permanent U.S. oversight. One of those was Iraq’s first post-Hussein defense minister Hazim al-Shaalan who, back in 2004, aired a futuristic plan to have fighting transplanted from Iraq to Damascus. Al-Shaalan, however, somehow failed the expectations of his overseas curators and currently resides in Jordan.
Nouri al-Maliki became the Iraqi prime minister in 2006. In a creeping political offensive, he grabbed control over virtually all of Iraq’s armed formations: at the moment, he is the Iraqi supreme commander and minister of the interior, while also directly managing a conglomerate of security and intelligence services. Critics charge that al-Maliki’s practice of personally handing out high assignments in the Iraqi armed forces, with no council taken from the parliament, is a breach of the constitution. In a case that drew ample coverage, the post of the defense minister was given to Saadoun al-Dulaimi, a Sunni Muslim, who was supposed to demonstrate the softening of the Iraqi policies, but it transpired later that al-Dulaimi defected from the Iraqi army in 1984, amidst the war with Iran, and fled to the West. He repatriated immediately upon the toppling of S. Hussein and, thanks to a U.S. recommendation, landed in the position of the army chief in 2005 when al-Shaalan was out.
Al-Maliki lost the 2010 elections but retained his post with the backing from his powerful patrons. The outcome triggered an authority crisis in Iraq as gaps between the Iraqi political factions widened and the executive authority largely lost the grip on what was happening. Iraqi president Jalal Talabani constantly makes attempts to contribute arbitration to the conflict, but his own powers are nominal and his voice is barely heard against Iraq’s political cacophony.
The December, 2011 U.S. withdrawal became a prologue to a new round of wrestling for power in Iraq. When the last U.S. convoy crossed into Kuwait on December 19, literally on the day al-Maliki ordered the arrest of vice president Tariq al-Hashimi, the highest-positioned of the Iraqi Sunni Muslims who openly accused the premier of dictatorial ambitions. Al-Hashimi went into hiding in Iraqi Kurdistan and, at the moment, stays in Turkey. Baghdad issued an international arrest warrant for the fugitive and put him on trial in absentio over terrorism and murder charges.
Having removed al-Hashimi from the political scene, al-Maliki switched to the next Sunni target – vice premier Saleh al-Mutlaq, the grievances list against him being built around “administrative violations”. The conflict between the State of Law bloc run by al-Maliki and Al-Iraqiya supporting his predecessor Allawi – both politicians being Shia Muslims – escalated as Al-Iraqiya, to which Sunni leaders pledge allegiance as to a lesser evil, slammed al-Maliki over the dictatorial course, disregard for the views of the country’s political spectrum, power abuses, and violations. The opposition announced suspending its involvement with the parliament and the government and called for a 'no confidence' vote, and now quite a few important pieces of legislation, including those pertinent to the Iraqi oil sector, are stuck half-way through the parliament.
The dubious credentials of the government and the tensions brewing across the society led the opposition to unite, to connect to new partners, and to boost coordination in a bid to displace al-Maliki. On April 28, 2012, a patchy crew comprising former premier Allawi, current parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi, radical Shia cleric Muqtadā al-Ṣadr, Kurdish president Massoud Barzani and a number of lower-profile figures convened to demand, in the form of a de facto ultimatum, that the premiere abide by the constitution, appoint independent army and security chiefs by May 17, and take steps towards a nationwide consensus. Al-Maliki brushed off the message, prompting more angry outpourings from the opposition. Speaker al-Nujayfi suggested summoning al-Maliki to the parliament for an ”interrogation” as the first move towards the decisive vote. In the beginning, the reaction of the ruling coalition was uninventive as it leveled various charges against the speaker and made a weak attempt to have him replaced, but later al-Maliki adopted a stronger stance and urged snap elections in Iraq (the regular parliamentary poll in the country is due in 2014), hinting that the presidential council under his control should have the authority to disband the legislature.
The threat had no effect – the opposition took to vigorous campaigning to attract a wider constituency ahead of the elections, which should be easy considering the numbers of the discontent in Iraq. Still, so far al-Maliki’s opponents are short of the clout in the parliament for the 'no confidence' vote (the constitution requires that 164 parliamentarians out of the 325 total agree to the procedure). The blocs behind al-Maliki and Allawi are equal in weight with roughly 90 seats each, with the remaining scattered among petty political groups who are chronic undecideds).
Under the circumstances, the role of Muqtadā al-Ṣadr, a Shia figure at the helm of a movement with some 40 seats in the legislature, automatically rises. On July 4, he suggested toning down the discord and called the Iraqi government (which means al-Maliki) to admit to being responsible for mounting fatalities and for a collapse of all security measures in Iraq, and to agree to security agencies’ chiefs not directly subordinate to the premier. On July 8, Muqtadā al-Ṣadr said his movement would partake in the 'no confidence' vote provided that the opposition proves having 124 legislators on board. On the other hand, he rejected the idea of subjecting al-Maliki to parliamentary examination, but expressed a view that the premier’s term should be reduced from 3 to 2 years.
In three days, a spokesman for the party led by Barzani declared that Al-Iraqiya and the Kurds had up to 150 parliamentarians on their side and hoped that Muqtadā al-Ṣadr would make a serious effort to enable the parliament to question al-Maliki and to proceed with the 'no confidence' vote. Explainably, no legible response followed – Muqtadā al-Ṣadr, an Iranian graduate with an ambition to be the leader of the whole Shia community, maintains strong ties with Tehran which is on friendly terms with al-Maliki and persistently asks al-Ṣadr to prevent the plan aimed at the removal of the current premier from materializing.
The key obstacle in the way of the initiatives meant to depose al-Maliki is that the Iraqi nation in its present shape totally lacks consensus in defining the problems confronting it, least in charting the corresponding solutions, while external forces have unchecked sway over the situation (the latter aspect of the matter should be a subject of a separate study). Today's Iraq is a country best described by the Arab proverb about “three parties per two people”. The above holds true even with the multitude of barely noticeable parties dropped from the list. From a wider perspective, order in the East traditionally depends on a determined and hard-handed charismatic leader, a figure absent from the incoherent Iraqi political spectrum. As a result, any attempts to achieve a sort of concert appear doomed from the outset.
For example, the national reconciliation meeting slated for April 7 never took place because the potential participants fell out of phase already when drafting the event's agenda. On June, 23 around 150 tribal leaders and politicians from the Taamin, Neynava, and Saladin provinces organized a conference as suggested by Allawi to advance the anti–al-Maliki cause. The gathering only stated that the people it represented were aware of the threat posed by the current government. An Iraqi congress of tribal leaders, with around 1,200 of them attending, was to be held in Baghdad on July 7, but was canceled a day before the date with a reference to the technical problem that invitations had not been sent out timely to some of the potential participants.
In the meantime, rage against the al-Maliki regime is spilling. Even the premier's supporters complain that corruption in Iraq is pervasive and the living standards in the country where they used to be completely decent sank to the third-world level. Unemployment in some of the provinces approaches the 40% mark, the energy-rich country suffers recurrent fuel undersupply, electric power blackouts occur routinely, the prices are sky-rocketing, the healthcare and education systems are crumbling. The security landscape in Iraq is frightening: for many of its regions, terrorist attacks and murders of policemen, army officers, government officials, and clerics are almost becoming habitual. In June, 237 people were killed and 603 – wounded, making the month the bloodiest over the past couple of years. Strikingly, according to official reports the death toll on July 23 reached 107.
No doubt, blaming the disastrous conditions entirely on al-Maliki would be a gross overstatement, but it is also true that the premier had enough time and serious resources to bring about some positive dynamics, which are nowhere to be seen. It came as an indication of the government's inability to stem violence in the country – and highlighted the incompetence of the security services – that recently al-Maliki unveiled his decision to stop the persecution of Hussein's army officers corps and to invite back the former officers willing to resume military service, though the ranks offered would be lieutenant-colonel or below. The underpinning of the plan is that the people can contribute to the Iraqi army their much-needed expertise and skills.
The opposition presses a constantly expanding array of criticisms ranging from the trivial – an obscure lawyer supposedly discovered that the Iraqi anthem had been adopted and confirmed by Mr. Bremer, a U.S. citizen, in 2003 without due formalities – to heavy charges that al-Maliki ignored the acting laws and Article 118 of the constitution on the forming of regions in Iraq, which both require that the government launch referendums on power sharing upon the local authorities' request. Consequences of the disputes linked to the latter theme can have far-reaching consequences for the Iraqi central authority as the unity of the country can be called into question and examples abound of how explosive the problem can prove.
Iraqi Kurdistan increasingly turns a death ear to Baghdad and, politically and economically, behaves as an independent state on the world stage. In May, 2012 Erbil began to supply oil to Turkey with the Iraqi central government completely shut out of the scheme. Ankara paid no attention to the outcry from Baghdad and, moreover, announced that Turkey's foreign minister would visit Iraqi Kurdistan shortly to discuss bilateral cooperation opportunities. In the past 2-3 years, the Kurdish administration signed over 40 hefty contracts in an autonomous mode, and the trend seems steady as Erbil's partners already include Exxon, Chevron, and Total. The transnational grands remained immune to Baghdad's invectives and opted for Iraqi Kurdistan, a zone with a reasonable business climate, functioning infrastructures, and tolerable security conditions, instead of South Iraq.
The pattern appears to be contiguous. The administration of Basra, the province sitting on Iraq's top oil reserves, claims that the sharing of the revenue from the oil production in the south of Iraq – the way 75% of the Iraqi budget are split, in other words – is unfair. Indeed, Basra keeps only $1 per barrel, and the provincial administration already clashes with the petroleum ministry in court, for now setting its minimal share at $3 per barrel. If the government makes no concessions, practical steps towards the establishment of a confederation of South Iraq comprising Al Muthanna, Dhi Qar, Maysan, and Basra may jump to the agenda. A coordination meeting in the framework of the plan was held in Basra on May 31 and made it clear that Baghdad's cutting deals without consulting the locals was being frowned upon. As the January, 2013 provincial elections draw closer, ever stronger campaigning will be centered around the issue and Baghdad will have to respond, considering that hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake.
The question pops up frequently: where do the Iraqi oil revenues go? Corruption surely absorbs a lot, but it is still of interest what happens to the rest. Due to reasons that are not deeply hidden, the federal authorities prefer not to notice that in part the question reads: why, since 2004, have the US and British companies been allowed to exploit ready infrastructures and to pump out of Iraq as much oil as is technically possible given the existing pipelines and terminals? The answer may be known overseas – the cost of Operation Iraqi Freedom topped one trillion dollars and makes sense only if proper returns on the investment are derived.
Paradoxically, ejecting al-Maliki would exacerbate Iraq's political and security problems rather than defuse the simmering crisis. If the opposition eventually launches the 'no confidence' vote, the constitution dictates that the government must resign and a new one should be put together within 45 days. Under the arrangement, the country would have no government for quite some time, considering that forming one in today's Iraq is not going to be fast. A vacuum of authority lasting indefinitely is a big risk, plus al-Maliki, a remarkably cunning operator, managed to secure support from both Washington and Tehran. Against this background, the missing majority support in his own country – a familiar problem in many parts of the world – does not really count. Anyhow, the Iraqi drama is rolling on…