Iraq Deadlock Ends With Power-Sharing Deal

Most Iraq-watchers see victory for Iraq and the U.S., defeat for Iran

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Iraqi leaders have tentatively agreed to a U.S.-backed deal that would end the eight-month political deadlock by reinstalling Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to power. The deal would hand Ayad Allawi's rival political faction a handful of major concessions, including leadership of a new committee overseeing national security. The deadlock began with both Maliki and Allawi's parties receiving a near-equal number of seats in the March election, but neither group securing the majority needed to form a government. Maliki's eventual victory has looked likely since early October, when he received the crucial support of Moqtada al-Sadr's minority party. Parliament is scheduled to convene on Thursday -- only its second meeting since March -- to ratify the agreement. Here's what observers are saying about this new deal and what it means.

  • U.S. Pushed for Widely Inclusive Government  The New York Times' John Leland and Steven Lee Myers write, "The Obama administration has for months urged Iraq’s quarreling factions to create a government that included all major ethnic and sectarian groups, lest the country descend into the chaos that consumed it in the worst years after the invasion of 2003. Under the new pact, the county’s current president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader, would remain as president, solidifying the role of Iraq’s Kurds. The new government that will oversee the withdrawal of American troops will look much like the one that has governed in the past four tumultuous years." Maliki is seen as representing the country's Shia Arab majority. Allawi sought and received wide electoral support from the Sunni Arab minority.
  • Difficult But Important Step Forward  The Economist evaluates, "The arrangement will stick in many Iraqi gullets. Mr Maliki is unloved, especially by Sunnis and by many Kurds. ... However the package is dressed up, Mr Maliki has ended up on top and Mr Allawi below. Most Sunnis still feel vehemently, since their group won more seats than any other (91 out of 325 to Mr Maliki’s 89), that Mr Allawi should have become prime minister. But there will be widespread relief that Iraqiya has apparently agreed to take part in government at all. Its refusal would have left Sunnis feeling disfranchised and more sympathetic to the jihadists still afflicting the country, especially Baghdad."
  • Victory for U.S., Defeat for Iran  Bush-era Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad writes in the Wall Street Journal, "The election initially looked like a setback for the Iranian regime. Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's anti- Iranian, secular and mostly Sunni Arab-backed party, called Iraqiya, won the most seats. Current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law Coalition came in a close second. Mr. Maliki's party has a Shiite orientation, but Iran perceived it to be moving Iraq in a more independent direction—away from pro-Iranian sectarian politics." Now that the deal has come to fruition, thus cementing the influence and participation of Sunni Arabs and Kurds, who are historically antagonistic toward Iranian influence, Iran will see declining influence.
  • Iraq May Become a Top Obama Achievement  The pseudonymous IraqPundit observes, "Reportedly President Obama got on the phone the other day (finally) with Iraqi politicians and pushed this plan through. If it works, he can take the credit for solving some of Iraq's biggest problems. Iraq's move forward can be considered one of the Obama administration's great achievements. Wouldn't that be a peculiar development?"
  • Don't Get Too Optimistic  Iraq analyst Joost Hilterman is skeptical that Iraq's government will function well or that this agreement will alleviate sectarian tension. The New York Times writes: "Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group said that the compromise and the new council were necessary to ensure Sunni enfranchisement but that they would create an unwieldy coalition in power. 'You’re not going to have an effective government in Iraq anytime soon,' he said in a telephone interview from Washington." He is similarly skeptical in The Economist:
The new security council, to be run by Mr Allawi and his Iraqiya party may in theory clip Mr Maliki’s military wings. But no one knows how it will operate. “Council shmouncil,” says Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based outfit. “It doesn’t exist yet.”
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