Jack Serle

A clarification, an Iraqi putsch, marriage counselling

In Kurdistan on January 19, 2012 at 3:05 PM

A Clarification

It has come to attention that my previous post may have given the impression that walking the streets of Erbil means dodging fetid puddles of sewage. The sanitation infrastructure is lacking it is true but it is not the Somme.

The tidal wave that struck me on my walk home was not one of molten effluent. It was noisome to be sure and my coat has taken on an aromatic quality since. But I was not coated in a city’s worth of brown plopsies.

I did not wish to allow my invective to denigrate the work of Erbil’s sewage engineer. He does a sterling job, under the circumstances.


I said I would address the Baghdad bombing when the dust had settled. No sooner had the dust settled that another bomb went off. Then another. Such is the way of Iraq unfortunately. It is going through what one might call a turbulent time.

In terms of the Baghdad bombing, I think it has become clear that the Sunni terrorists who claimed responsibility had long planned the coordinated killings. With the political scene so upset they timed their bloodthirsty plot to stir things up further.


Swirling turmoil has gripped the country since the US army left. But this instability has been brewing for much longer. Iraq has been ruled by a coalition government since 2010. The Erbil Agreement brought the predominantly Sunni Iraqiya List, led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, into government with current PM Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition and a caucus of five Kurdish parties, the Kurdish Blocs Coalition.

This has not been a happy marriage and the day after the US left things went from bad to worse.

A Baghdad court issued an arrest warrant for the Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, an Iraqiya member. Maliki’s deputy Saleh al-Mutlaq likened his boss to a dictator. He said Maliki is worse than Saddam Hussein because at least Saddam built stuff, Maliki only destroys. That went down like a sack of cats tossed in the Tigris and Mutlaq was fired.

The deputy governor of Baghdad Province has gone too, another Sunni. Iraqiya ministers boycotting cabinet sessions in protest at what they see as Maliki’s unilateral governance have been barred. Their portfolios have been handed over to their erstwhile colleagues.

Provincial Iraqiya politicians in Diyala have fled their own arrest warrants. Wanted for terrorism offences, the Sunni councilors believe the indictments are retribution for the province trying to achieve region status.

Many believe Maliki is stirring up trouble to establish hegemonic, Shia rule over the country. He is certainly a centralist, striving for greater power in Baghdad and against a federal state. His tendency to unilaterally bar his opponents from parliament and cabinet is certainly worrying.


In light of the arrests and pressure applied by Maliki, a number of Iraqiya politicians have taken refuge in Kurdistan Region. Most prominent among them is the fugitive Vice President Hashemi. A source of growing tension between Erbil and Baghdad, Maliki has demanded the Kurds hand Hashemi over. The Kurds have so far refused.

Information from the German embassy in Baghdad says Maliki has raised the prospect of cutting the Kurds off financially. A deeply unhelpful move if ever there was one. The Kurds receive 17 per cent of the federal budget to spend in their semi-autonomous region. Cutting off their funding will only serve to exacerbate the mess that exists over the question of oil contracts.


To call the current situation in Iraq a crisis is inadequate. What most countries would call a crisis is just another day for Iraq. Somehow the country still keeps its head above water.

The woeful state of affairs is by no means Maliki’s fault alone. He does have much to answer for however. The Erbil Agreement has kept him in power longer than many see as fair. Bluntly, he lost the last election. He clung on by forming the patchwork coalition that is now unravelling.

Last spring the Arab uprisings against dictators and fat royal despots shook the world. As regimes fell the Iraqis made a fist of shaking their own elites from their high boughs. Angered by the incredible levels of corruption and mismanagement in public office, the Iraqis took to the streets.

At the height of the protests Maliki vowed not to seek a third term in office. As things cooled he reneged on that deal. I understand his press officer said Maliki had only promised such a thing to quell the uppity peasants. If the PM wants to seek a third term he can, the craven premier’s spokesman added.


It is hard to see a way out of the current predicament. Maliki is clearly not trustworthy. His opponents are certainly not pure in their motives. In a bid to salve the wounds in Iraq the President of the Republic Jalal Talabani has called for a great national conference. He wants all parties to come together and settle their differences.

Talabani is playing the marriage councillor to a deeply dysfunctional and uncomfortable union. As with many unhappy marriages, the protagonists are behaving like a pack of moody adolescents. The run up to the conference has been fraught with tit-for-tat preconditions.

The Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani has declared he will not attend the conference if it is held in Baghdad, preferring the home territory of Kurdistan. His spokesman had to row back somewhat on that, saying this was not a threat to boycott, if the confab is held in Baghdad the aging Kurd would send a representative.

Maliki’s party has said the conference must be held in Baghdad and if Barzani does not go then they will not go.

Allawi has declared he is not that bothered where the conference takes place. But he is keen not to be stood up, everyone has to say they’re going. He has said he is keen the meeting should take place in Sulaimaniyah, Talabani’s home town, so that there are not tanks parked outside the meeting room. Given Maliki controls the interior ministry, the use of force is not wholly unreasonable. Maliki himself is adamant the meeting should take place in Baghdad.

It is still unclear if this conference will even happen, let alone achieve anything. While sitting at a table would be an achievement the degree of mistrust could well ruin any hope of an agreement. Without some form of settlement the status quo will lead Iraq down a path to internecine conflict with potentially catastrophic consequences for a deeply unstable region.


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