Where is government process going in Iraq?

Political polarization negatively affect process of forming government.

Where is government process going in Iraq?

Iraq, which has completed the centennial of its statehood at the end of 2021 and which is in this sense a century-old state, is experiencing the difficulties of a newly established state, despite its 100-year history.

It is because Iraq has not been able to establish the administrative and political order that emerged after the US invasion in 2003. As a matter of fact, when the elections and government formation processes after 2003 are examined, the length of the government formation period draws attention.

Likewise, Iraq is entering 2022 with pain. After Iraq's first early parliamentary elections held on Oct. 10, 2021, Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission could only announce results 50 days later.

Since the Al-Fatah coalition led by pro-Iranian Shiite militia groups objected to the results, the results could only be approved by Iraq's Federal Supreme Court on Dec. 26. After the results were approved by the court, the official government-forming calendar began to run.

However, although a constitutional timetable for the formation of a government was determined, the political conflict, uncertainty and negotiations in Iraq extended the government formation processes up to nine months from time to time.

In this sense, the post-election balance is likely to differentiate possible government formation scenarios.

How does the constitutional calendar regarding government work?

According to Article 54 of the Iraqi Constitution, the president is responsible for convening the new parliament within 15 days after election results are approved.

Thus, Iraqi President Barham Salih called for the convening of the new parliament and determined the date of Jan. 9, 2022.

According to the constitutional calendar, a new president must be elected within 30 days as of the first session of the new parliament. Within 15 days after the new president is elected, the "biggest mass" in parliament has to propose to the prime minister candidate to form the government.

The prime minister candidate, who is assigned to form the government, is obliged to form the Cabinet within 30 days after the proposal. If the prime minister candidate fails to form a government or receives a vote of confidence from parliament, the president must propose to a new candidate to form the government within 15 days.

An absolute majority in parliament is required to form a government. An absolute majority is achieved with the approval of one more than half of the members attending the parliamentary session and the ministers are voted on one by one.

Only 15 of the 22 ministers presented by the last Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in the first session on the government he formed on May 6, 2020, were able to receive votes of confidence, and seven ministers were elected in different periods in the following period. At this point, the prime minister who will form the new government must guarantee 165 deputies if all members of parliament, which has 329 deputies, attend the session.

However, political polarization in Iraq is effective at every stage of the government formation process.

Ethnic and sectarian sharing

The basic political dynamic of Iraq after 2003 is identity-based sharing. Since 2003, while the Shia took the prime ministership, the president has been elected from the Kurds and the speaker of parliament from the Sunnis.

Two people, who were not from their group, were appointed as assistants. For example, since the president was Kurdish, one of his assistants was a Sunni Arab and the other a Shiah Arab.

Although this is not a constitutional rule, it has turned into a political custom. In addition, all the governments established since 2003 have been cabinets in which all groups that were entitled to enter parliament were included.

They were called the "government of national unity." Despite this, administration unity across the country could not be achieved. Moreover, when there was no opposition to control the government, parties that were not satisfied with their positions started opposition within the government, which increased polarization and identity-based politics in the administration.

All groups acted on group interests instead of serving the state identity. Thus, instead of state institutionalization and holistic management, a ruined state structure, an unqualified and inoperable management process emerged.

In this process, it is seen that intra-group competition has increased recently. Especially parliamentary elections held Oct. 10, 2021, were the most important indicator.

The conflict between the Shia, the founding power of the government, is extremely critical before and after the election.

As a matter of fact, due to the conflict between Muqtada al-Sadr, who has the most seats in parliament with 73 deputies, and the State of Law Coalition led by Nouri al-Maliki, which has 33 seats, and the Fatah Coalition, led by Hadi al-Amiri, which has 17 seats, politics is quite intense.

Al-Sadr’s statements about establishing a "national majority government" instead of a "government of national unity" and his unchanging stance despite the post-election meeting among all Shia groups, as well as al-Amiri’s application to Iraq's Federal Supreme Court for the annulment of elections, increased tensions.

Government scenarios

The most important issue in this tension is whether Shia groups can agree. Al-Sadr has several options. As of the current situation, Sadr's formation of a majority government by taking along the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Chairman Masoud Barzani, which has 31 seats before and after the election, and the Takaddum Coalition led by Muhammed Halbusi (Sunni), the second political group with 37 deputies, is mathematically possible.

It is an important step that the Al-Azm alliance led by Khamis Al-Khanjar, which is another Sunni Arab majority formation and has 34 seats with the participation of independent deputies as well as small Sunni groups, decided to act with the Takaddum Coalition in government negotiations.

The equation that will be formed by the coming together of these groups contains more than enough numbers for al-Sadr to form a government.

However, it is seen that KDP and Sunni groups are uneasy due to the conflict between the Shia and have not broken off dialogue with the State of Law Coalition and Al-Fatah Coalition, which stand against al-Sadr.

Here, the main compelling point for Sadr is that he could not produce a consistent policy, as witnessed many times in the previous processes. For this reason, it does not seem possible to expect the Kurds and Sunnis to take a clear step before the balance between the Shia is settled.

At this point, it should not go unnoticed that al-Sadr also adopts the idea of "national majority opposition" among his options.

From this point of view, if Sadr turns to the opposition movement, it is possible that the advantageous groups of the election, KDP and Sunnis, will agree with the opponents of al-Sadr. As a matter of fact, considering the number of seats the KDP and Sunnis have, it can be said that they will not want to stay in the opposition and may act in the direction of being a partner in the administrative process.

There is also possible separation among Kurds

However, there are some problematic areas in terms of Kurds and Sunnis. There is uncertainty regarding especially the presidency given to the Kurds and the parliamentary chairmanship given to the Sunnis.

Particularly, the conflict about the presidency after the 2018 elections between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan led by the Talabani family, and the KDP led by Masoud Barzani, is still in the memory.

Although it is seen that the KDP is taking steps to integrate all Kurdish parties and adopting an attitude toward being the leading actor of the Kurds, it is said that it wants to use its superiority over other groups.

At this point, it is possible to foresee that there may be a separation among the Kurds. From this point of view, it would not be wrong to say that the dark clouds in Iraq will not disperse quickly.

Hüseyin Demir