Forced together? Former political enemies around one Erbil table.
Last Saturday, a group of Iraqi politicians got together for a meeting that some might describe as historic. Under the auspices of forming a new government, the meeting brought together a delegation from the State of Law alliance that is headed by former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, a delegation from the Fatah, or Conquest alliance, which represents the interests of the Shiite Muslim militias that fought the extremists, and a delegation from the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP.
The meeting was significant because until just a few weeks ago, two of the delegations involved had been hard at work making an enemy of the third. Ever since the ill-fated referendum on independence in Iraqi Kurdistan, the State of Law alliance and the Conquest coalition have been waging a war of words against the KDP and its leader, Massoud Barzani, who they see as one of the main proponents of the independence referendum.
Whether any of the arrangements are formal or not, this still counts as something of a breakthrough.
The complaints being volleyed back and forth have not been light, with the KDP saying that Kirkuk is “occupied” by the Shiites and the Shiites accusing Barzani of everything from treason to spying.
It is true that the ongoing manoeuvring around who gets to form the next Iraqi government brought about this meeting. But it did not result in the document that was then circulated widely on Iraqi social media. This said that the three parties had come to an agreement to form the next government, by giving Massoud Barzani the job of president of Iraq, while in return the KDP and Barzani would support al-Maliki’s nomination for prime minister.
All the parties to the meeting denied the veracity of the document. That rumour is not true, Iraqi Kurdish MP, Najiba Najib, a member of the KDP, told NIQASH. However what is true is that the meeting resulted in a better relationship between the three groups, she added.
This was not the only meeting of former enemies that surprised local observers.
Last Sunday, a number of rival Sunni Muslim-majority parties also got together for a talk. Parties led by Jamal al- Karbouli, Salim al-Jibouri and Osama al-Nujaifi came together to discuss how they would start negotiating the formation of a new government with Shiite Muslim and Kurdish parties.
Even just a few days previously the various parties involved were criticizing one another in the media, exchanging accusations about electoral fraud and corruption. But the fact that their individual attempts at negotiating with the other Iraqi blocks have failed has forced them to come together.
Sunni Muslim politicians meet but the union remains informal.
“There’s currently no official alliance between Sunni parties,” one of the senior Sunni politicians, Mohammed al-Halbusi, told NIQASH. That kind of talk is premature, he said, because investigations into potential electoral fraud mean that the final results of the election are not yet in. “The meeting of Sunni forces was held to debate a number of issues. Meeting up with other Iraqi blocks was also discussed as part of that,” he added.
“The main issue of concern was who should occupy the post of speaker of the Parliament,” another Sunni official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told NIQASH; this post is traditionally occupied by the most senior Sunni Muslim politician in Iraq. “We discussed who might be the most suitable candidate and meetings to discuss this will continue, so that we can present a united front when we meet with Shiite Muslim or Kurdish parties,” he concluded.
For now, these are mostly just meetings about the next meetings.
Whether any of the arrangements are formal or not, this still counts as something of a breakthrough for Iraq’s Sunni Muslim politicians. After months of discord and squabbling, they appear to be more interested in some kind of united front.
Earlier on, the election’s ostensible “winner”, Muqtada al-Sadr also appeared to be reaching out to his former enemy, when he announced an alliance with the Conquest group, which is headed by former transport-minister-turned-militia-commander, Hadi al-Ameri. That came after literally years of mutual hostility and major divisions in political positioning.
Some locals suspected that Iranians had meddled, to put pressure on al-Sadr to team up with al-Ameri and the Conquest alliance - the latter is closely associated with Iranian interests. It does not sound as though al-Sadr is so happy with those negotiations though. A few days ago, he wrote on Twitter that Iraqi political parties should keep their distance from foreigners, when it came to these negotiations. “This is Iraqi business and it isn’t anybody else’s,” he argued in a tweet.
Previously al-Sadr had said that Iraq should not be run from beyond the country’s own borders. “Iraq will be governed by Iraqi hand, and by honest alliances, away from sectarian quotas,” he also said.
As it is, these meetings between former enemies are really only laying the groundwork for the next round of negotiations. It is only after the results of the May elections have been ratified by the country’s legal authorities, that the formation of the next Iraqi government can begin for real. For now, these are mostly just meetings about the next meetings.
A press conference with Muqtada al-Sadr (L) and Hadi al-Ameri.