Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 7

Iraqiyya Returns to Parliament 

The Iraqiyya bloc ended their boycott of parliament on January 29. The day before, Iraqiyya held a meeting in which party leaders discussed their options. According to Iraqiyya spokeswoman Maysoon al-Damluji, the bloc decided to end their boycott as a “goodwill gesture” in order to “create a healthy atmosphere to help the national conference” and to “defuse the political crisis.” On January 31, Iraqiyya legislators returned to the parliament’s 16th session with 219 MPs of the 325-member body present. But according to a senior Iraqiyya MP, the bloc had decided in their January 28 meeting to return their legislators to parliament for the purpose of not being left out in shaping the 2012 national budget. The parliament’s passage of the budget is required by the Iraqi Constitution and Iraqiyya’s boycott was not preventing a quorum from being reached, leaving the bloc without a say in the budgeting process. However, Iraqiyya has decided to continue their boycott of the Council of Ministers and could revisit suspending their participation in parliament should Maliki not respond to their demands in resolving the political crisis. State of Law MP Ali al-Shalah welcomed Iraqiyya’s return to parliament, but regarded the move as driven by “fear of losing more figures from among its members.” Indeed, several Iraqiyya MPs have left the bloc since the boycott of parliament began on December 17, including six MPs who have formed their own party called Al-Wataniyun (The Nationalists). Despite the stated boycott of the Council of Ministers, the ministers of Electricity, Industry, and Provincial Affairs continue to attend Maliki’s cabinet meetings, suggesting continuing disunity within Iraqiyya.

Three Options to Resolve the Mutlaq Case

Maliki’s State of Law coalition has reportedly laid out three options on January 31 for the Iraqiyya bloc to consider regarding Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq’s position in the government: (1) Mutlaq must resign his post; (2) Iraqiyya must fire Mutlaq by replacing him with another politician from their bloc; or (3) Mutlaq must apologize to Maliki. The next day, the Iraqi press reported that State of Law leaders backed a move to replace Mutlaq with senior Iraqiyya figures Jamal al-Karbouli or Mutlaq’s brother Hamid al-Mutlaq. During his recent travels to the Gulf last week, Mutlaq continued his criticism of Maliki, saying that the developments in Iraq were “more dangerous than what is happening in Syria, and the dictatorship in Iraq is worse than the dictatorship in Syria.”

Some Positive Signs for National Conference

As Iraqiyya was contemplating its next move, Vice President Joe Biden called Iraqiyya leaders Ayad Allawi on January 27 and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi on January 28 to emphasize the importance of resolving the disputes peacefully and through the political process. He also promoted President Jalal Talabani’s initiative to convene the National Conference and bring all respective parties to the negotiating table. Iraqiyya’s return to parliament has received positive feedback from Iraqi and Kurdish officials, suggesting more intensified efforts in resolving the political disputes. Kurdish President Massoud Barzani praised Iraqiyya’s return to parliament as elevating “the hope that its return would open a new page in relations among the political forces” and believed the move to be “a positive sign” for holding the National Conference in resolving the current political crisis. Vice President Khudhair al-Khuza’i described Iraqiyya’s return to parliament as “the big leap forward” that will help lead to a successful conference. Talabani has since returned to Iraq after receiving medical treatment in Germany, and immediately began to work on efforts to establish the National Conference. On January 30, he received U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey in his Baghdad office and reaffirmed that both sides will continue their joint efforts in pacifying the crisis and preparing the conditions to hold the National Conference. Jeffrey also visited Nujaifi at his Baghdad office on February 2 and discussed efforts to convene the conference given that Iraqiyya had reactivated its participation in parliament. Although the National Conference is currently expected to still take place in February, the location, time, and agenda remains unsettled.

Still No Progress in Hashemi Case

Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi argued for his case to be held in an international court after his request to move his court trial from Baghdad to Kirkuk was denied by a federal appeals court in January. On February 3, an unnamed Iraqi “legal expert” told the media that Hashemi had no legal basis to move his trial to an international court as the charges made against him are already “within the jurisdiction of Iraqi authorities.” Maliki has made clear that Hashemi’s case will be resolved by the Iraqi judiciary, and will not be part of any political agreement or agenda, including the National Conference. Hashemi is arguing that Maliki has “violated” the Constitution, especially in light of Amnesty International’s statement of concern for the Iraqi government’s treatment of some of Hashemi’s employees. He called for President Talabani to immediately intervene to “put an end to the Prime Minister’s acts and violations of the Constitution and the laws.”

Turks Launch Conference to Mend Sectarianism 

Turkey will host a conference in late February “to promote dialogue amid growing political and sectarian tensions” in Iraq. The conference, which was initiated by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will take place in Istanbul and be attended by Iraqi Shi’a and Sunni religious figures. Najaf-based Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the preeminent religious figure in Shi’a Islam, has reportedly agreed to send a representative to Turkey to head the Shi’a delegation. Sunni religious figures in Iraq will compose of the second delegation. In addition, Mehmet Görmez, the Director General of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, will participate in the conference to “build dialogue between Iraqi Shi’a and Sunni groups.” The Turkish Foreign Ministry has already started preparations for the conference. The announcement comes days after ISCI leader and Shi’a religious figure Ammar al-Hakim made a visit to Ankara, meeting with Turkey’s most senior officials, including Erdoan, President Abdullah Gül, and Foreign Minister Davutoglu.

Diyala’s Provincial Council to Convene

Diyala’s provincial council is reportedly planning to reconvene sessions in its provincial capital Baquba next week after relocating sessions to the city of Khanaqin almost two months ago. Reportedly, Diyala Operations Command and Prime Minister Maliki have promised to protect representatives of Iraqiyya should they return and hold their sessions in Baquba. After declaring their intention to gain status as a federal region by exercising Article 119 of the Constitution on December 12, a number of destabilizing events have unfolded in Diyala. On December 18 Diyala’s provincial council building was surrounded and stormed by angry Shi’a locals protesting the decision, forcing 18 Iraqiyya representatives to flee the province to the Kurdish region. Reportedly, during this time Shi’a militias were blocking roads and intimidating Sunni locals as Baghdad forces were sent to assert authority over provincial security forces while arresting dozens of Sunni politicians. In addition, Diyala’s governor had fled in late December, an arrest warrant for the deputy governor was issued on January 20 by the central government, and the province was placed under martial law.

Awakening Continue to Suffer Losses

Assassinations against members of the Awakening Movement have increased in the past month. Two died on January 31 in simultaneous blasts that erupted outside their homes in Fallujah. Many more members have been the target of assassination attempts, with four Awakening members killed in one day last week. One of the victims was Mullah Nadim al-Jubouri, a former senior leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq who defected from the organization, aided U.S. troops, and was a leading force behind the Awakening Movement. Following his assassination, the Ministry of Interior announced that the assassination of Awakening elements is intended to “create a crisis between them and the Iraqi government.” Distrustful of the Maliki-led government, some Awakening members have argued that Baghdad is allowing the attacks to occur as it lags to find employment for the Sunni fighters. Further fueling tensions and concerns, Minister for National Reconciliation Amer al-Khuzai told the Iraqi press on January 27 that security forces no longer want to hire Awakening fighters. Despite these comments, some commanders of the Iraqi armed forces denounced the attacks against Awakening members and announced the intention on January 30 of reviving efforts to better incorporate them into the Iraqi Security Forces.

For a comprehensive look at the first two months since U.S. troops left Iraq, read Ramzy Mardini's backgrounder, " Iraq's Recurring Political Crisis."  To read a transcript from the Feb. 29 event "Policing Iraq," click here, and to read a transcript from the Feb. 16 event "Iraq After the U.S. Withdrawal," click here. To read past and future weekly updates, click here.