The Political Scene: Iraqi Government Formation “Take Three”

Farhad Alaaldin

Mustafa alKadhemi (MK) is the latest (3rd) Prime Minister Designate (PMD) of Iraq, since the resignation of the Adel Abdul Mehdi (AAM), and it remains uncertain whether he is going to make it
The nomination ceremony, held at the al-Salam Palace on 9 April was unprecedented, attended by leaders or representatives of all the key political parties. This was clear show of solidarity and unity, but was it? It transpired that much of the initial warm welcome to MK was in a way celebration of stopping Adnan alZurfi from becoming a PM. The barrage of welcome messages from the political leaders to MK, before and after his designation, is a good indicator.
The warm reception for MK implied that government formation would be a matter of formality, however, the protracted nature of the negotiations so far suggests everything but a smooth sailing for the PMD. The political parties have put many obstacles in place that require hard work to overcome.
1- The Shia blocs:
• Sairoon currently controls the ministries of Oil, Electricity, MoFA, and Health. They are refusing to let go of these and demanding to appoint the ministers themselves.
• Fath controls six ministries , including MoI, Culture, Social Affairs, Communication, Agriculture, Migration. They too are refusing to let any go, and want the PM Chief of Staff position too.
• State of Law has (Higher Education), is demanding a second (MoI)
• alHikma has had no ministry, is demanding Ministry of Oil
• Nasr has no ministry, demanding one perhaps MoFA
• AlAtaa of Falih alFayadh is also asking to keep PMF and NSA
Unlike the Kurds and Sunni blocs, most Shia parties ask for new faces in each Ministry.
2- The Sunni blocs:
• The Sunni parties control six ministries, namely Planning, Defense, Trade, Industry, Education, and Sports.
• They are now seeking Migration and Construction in exchange for Sports and Trade, also to swap Education for Higher Education
• They are divided into two main rival blocs, one led by the Speaker Halbusi who is demanding all the ministries, the other is led by Khamis alKhanjar who claims to have created a new coalition and signed up 25 of the 68 Sunni MPs .
3- The Kurds:
• They control three ministries, namely Finance, Construction and Justice
• They don't want to change the ministries, and more importantly, the KDP wants to have his two existing ministers remain in government.
• The Kurds will be demanding a fourth ministry, based on proportional representation in the Parliament and contrast their 58 MPs and three ministries to the Sunnis’ 68 MPs and 6 ministries.
4- The minorities:
The Turkmen and Christians are also demanding a ministry each, however PMD might be seeking to allocate those within the shares of the main blocs by appointing a minister belonging to these minorities.
Drivers of Change
To understand reasons and drivers of change, one has to go back to 29th of Nov. 2019. The two key drivers of change were the protest movement and the Marjaya, both of whom asked for the government of AAM to resign. Today,
neither are heard publicly, nor do they apply the same level of pressure on the political parties. If so, who is driving the change at present?
Interestingly, the answer could only be found when the question is reversed: who might not want change?
The Sunni blocs, specifically the Speaker Halbusi, enjoys the control of 6 ministries and sitting pretty among his constituency, turning Fallujah to a center of gravity, attracting the who is who of Iraqi politics. Any change that could undermine these gains would not be very welcome. The Speaker would be instrumental for PMD’s success to form a government.
The same goes for the Kurdish blocs who are content with what they have: a Deputy Prime Minister/Finance Minister and a good (perhaps the best) deal that they have struck with the incumbent Prime Minister. Why change and start new at a time when local tensions between the KDP and PUK are on the rise again.
As for the Shia blocs, the main beneficiaries of change would be Hikma and Nasr. While Fath would be the main loser as they stand to lose ministries and the post of Chief of Staff, in addition to the reduction of influence over security positions which they now control. Meanwhile, Sairoon is also content with what they have and would make little difference to them either way.
In other words, the drivers of change have become a lot less influential while the beneficiaries of keeping status quo are much stronger, hence the negotiations between PMD and the political blocs are going to be tough and hard, despite the façade of unity shown during the nomination ceremony.
The Triple Whammy
The Political parties are experienced in testing new waters, tackling any crises by creating a new one. They will do their best to squeeze the PMD, throw him to the abyss and bring him back as PM after making him sign up to their unrealistic demands.
In addition to the political crises, the country is continuously bleeding, the people are getting poorer, suffering from COVID-19, rapid rise of unemployment, and deep financial crises caused by low oil prices coupled with a decision by current administration to cut oil production by 23%, which means even less revenue generation. Large sections of the society are going to feel the impact of all these by end of the month with the expected reduction of salaries.
On the other hand, the United States of America is laying the table for a tough and rowdy negotiations to secure a deal for Strategic Partnership while Iran is pushing hard for Iraq to reject any deal and let the Americans go empty handed. Caught between the two is an Iraqi government that is weak and a PMD who is still negotiating. The US has made it clear to the Iraqi leaders that the consequences of no deal is going to be catastrophic for Iraq, however, most of the Iraqi leaders think the US is bluffing.
Putting all the above together, it is clear Iraq is riding a torn apart ship sailing at full speed towards an iceberg while the rudder is out of order. Avoiding the collusion will require a miracle, but such a miracle is least likely to happen in the hands of the current Iraqi political leadership.