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Misplaced Optimism:
Could Plans For New Senior Council End Iraq’s Political Chaos?

Mustafa Habib
Closed door meetings in Baghdad suggest an old idea, meant to solve Iraq’s political chaos, is being revived. It’s early but some hope it might help a Parliament that’s only done about one-third of its work.
8.09.2016  |  Baghdad
Floundering? (L to R) Iraq's Chief Justice Medhat al-Mahmoud, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, President Fuad Masum, Speaker Salim al-Jibouri. (photo: موقع البرلمان العراقي)
Floundering? (L to R) Iraq's Chief Justice Medhat al-Mahmoud, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, President Fuad Masum, Speaker Salim al-Jibouri. (photo: موقع البرلمان العراقي)

Away from the bustle of Parliament in Baghdad, Iraq’s President, the Iraqi Kurdish politician, Fuad Masum, is leading closed-door negotiations to finally form the country’s National High Council for Strategic Policies.  

“A few days ago, President Masum concluded important, secret negotiations with almost all of the leaders of top political parties,” a source close to Masum told NIQASH. “With the exception of some of the smaller parties, everybody welcomed the idea.”

The newly proposed council would be headed by Masum himself and members would include the country’s Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Salim al-Jibouri, Iraqi Kurdistan’s Massoud Barzani, former Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, leading Sunni Muslim politician Osama al-Nujaifi, leader of the Sadrist bloc, Muqtada al-Sadr and another former Prime Minister Ayad al-Allawi, the source reported.  

The idea of a National High Council for Strategic Policies was first mooted during negotiations that took place after the Iraqi parliamentary elections in March 2010. Results were close and both leading parties insisted on their right to head the government, with the ensuing wrangling interrupting the business of state for months. Finally, in November 2010 a settlement was reached. One of the conditions was that a new position be created that was equal in importance to the top jobs in the country already - this was heading this new council.

Despite laws being drafted for the formation of the council, nobody ever really seemed to take it seriously and it was never created. However now, it seems that politicians from all parts of the spectrum, and of all sects and ethnicities, believe a National High Council for Strategic Policies is more important than ever.

In fact, the only major objections have come from al-Sadr, who is often critical of Iraq’s political scene. He said the Council wouldn’t matter because, as he put it, "corrupt politicians only produce more corruption”.

The draft law for establishing the council describes its job, among other things, as “active participation in resolving conflicts that hinder the political process in Iraq”. Basically it is supposed to help end political gridlock and prevent any one party or power from making unilateral decisions.

One thing is for certain: Intervention by a body like a National High Council is certainly needed, assuming it was to work effectively. Iraq’s Parliament has looked more chaotic than ever since April. MPs have walked out, traded insults and accusations, engaged in fist fights, tried to remove senior politicians from their posts and protestors, representing certain parties, have invaded the parliamentary buildings.

Additionally, the three large blocs in the Iraqi parliament that used to take a more or less united stand on issues are also in turmoil. The Shiite Muslim and Sunni Muslim blocs are split and the Iraqi Kurdish bloc, which has always put its own ethnicity’s interests first, is also under pressure due to conflicts between the two major Kurdish political parties up north.

All of these various issues have created a dangerous situation in Iraq. The country is no longer able to be ruled by consensus and the political situation looks shakier than ever. No major decisions have been made in Parliament over the past few months. In the past it was clear which corner each bloc was going to fight from, and what for. But now politics in Iraq appears to have been rendered more meaningless than ever.

Last month the Iraqi Parliament published the results of the first half of its four-year term. The data shows that 275 laws were discussed but only 87 were approved. There are 188 draft laws that just need to be voted upon to put them into action; but nobody wants to do that.

“This National High Council is needed to activate the stalled legislation,” Mohammad al-Lakash, an MP for the mostly Shiite Muslim Muwatin, or Citizen, bloc, told NIQASH; his bloc supports the idea of the council.  “The victories of Iraq’s security forces need to be supported by the politicians. And the politicians’ conflicts need to be resolved. This Council can help work on that.”

Having said all that, negotiations on the National High Council for Strategic Policies have only just begun. It is still hard to know exactly where each of the political blocs really stands on the issue.

“We will only know this once the Council is officially created,” suggests Ziad Ahmad, a local political analyst. “One would expect that some parties are going to say the new Council is unconstitutional and that others will criticize it as just another way of maintaining Iraq’s sectarian system.”

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