Baghdad’s Phantom Power-Sharing Plan

Has Iraq Solved Its Long Political Impasse?

In mid-November, after eight months of political deadlock, Nouri al-Maliki was finally designated for a second term as prime minister of Iraq. In the West, talk swirled about a supposed power-sharing deal that lay behind the apparent breakthrough. The most optimistic accounts have portrayed the new, yet-to-be-formed Iraqi cabinet as a “government of national unity” with real power given to the four biggest winners in the March parliamentary elections: the secular but increasingly Sunni-leaning Iraqiya; the two biggest (and recently merged) Shiite Islamist coalitions, State of Law, headed by Maliki, and the Sadrist-dominated Iraqi National Alliance; and a coalition of Kurdish parties.

But so far, the power-sharing deal has been disconcertingly lacking in substance. Right now, it appears that the notion of power-sharing in Iraq is nothing more than a spin-doctor operation by the Obama administration -- to which Iraq’s dominant Shiite Islamist parties are happy to pay lip service. Looking at the distribution of influential positions in the new government, only one player has been given true power: Nouri al-Maliki.

Iraqiya, besides having gained the speakership of the parliament -- an important position but one that remains checked by deputy speakers with relatively strong powers -- has only been promised a castle in the air: the presidency of a projected National Council for Strategic Policies. The council, which ostensibly would give Iraqiya influence in all major decisions regarding defense, internal security, and economic and energy-related issues, is thus far being treated by Maliki and his allies as a deliberative think tank whose main function would be to offer advice.

As for the Kurds, they have apparently received promises from Maliki on key demands regarding disputed territories and possibly the oil sector; in terms of specific cabinet positions, however, they, too, have few guarantees. The presidency, which the Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani had demanded for personal reasons, is now an essentially powerless position. This new office lacks the strong veto power of the transitional three-man presidency council, which expired when Talabani was elected as an ordinary president without any deputies on November 11, bringing the five-year transition stipulated in the Iraqi constitution to an end.

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