Kingmakers again!

October 7, 2010

The Kurds have once again found themselves the kingmakers of Iraq, but this time, the stakes are much higher. Iraq’s political paralysis has earned it the world record for the longest period of time in which a country has gone without forming a government after holding an election. Given that all of the other parties have taken sides, it is clear that it is up to the Kurds to decide who will lead the country.
The good news is that this time, the political picture and the leadership options are clearer. After months of indecision, incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki finally won his battle to secure the National Alliance’s nomination for the premiership. Two months ago, I wrote about players and spectators and encouraged the Kurds and other smaller blocs to make up their mind about the next prime minister. The Sadrists and the others seem to have made their decision by nominating Maliki; luckily for the Kurds, it did not change the equation much.
To be sure, Iraqi politics remains dysfunctional and paralyzed. The country is unable to move in any definitive direction because of its politics. The Kurds should not be influenced by the political quagmire, however. Their choices are simple today: Allawi or Maliki.
The ongoing conflict over the prime minister’s post was a clear symptom of the paralyzed politics of Baghdad. It became clear that the conflict is one between lists, and not about policies. Sadly, the conflict is centered on the interests of the blocs rather than to the public interest.
Breaking the world record and not feeling the sense of urgency to form the government or make concessions is a clear example.
The Kurds are different from other blocs because they are not embroiled in Baghdad’s difficult and divisive politics.
External pressures could be placed on the Kurds to not support a seemingly sectarian government led by powerful Shia parties. But the reality is the other options are not much better.
In the early stages of negotiations, a national unity government could have been an answer. But today it is not. The bad relationship created over the past six months has in my opinion destroyed any potential for trust between the two main lists to create a national unity government. Maliki remained a strong candidate so did Allawi.
As one of the more neutral groups in Baghdad’s vicious political fight, the Kurds have an opportunity today to make a real difference in the political process and for themselves.
Although they are a list and an alliance, their politics are more mature and clearer in terms of hierarchy, goals, interests and objectives. The main reason for this is that they are from one region. Their aims and demands were not created yesterday; they were developed after decades of struggle.
Many observers believe that the ball is in the Kurds’ court, but this should not be seen as a burden. In fact, it could be an opportunity.
The Kurds cannot afford to play the political game without having a clear idea as to their demands. The 19-point list should be the basis for the Kurds to negotiate a deal with either Allawi or Maliki.
Other characteristics, like the leadership, vision, strength of the candidates, should also be considered.
In dealing with the blocs, the Kurds should consider the composition, unity and sustainability of each bloc and their historic relationship with — or animosity toward — the Kurds and their demands.
During the months-long political game, the Kurds have thus far been spectators. As we approach the final stretch, it is now their time to play, and to score the winning goal.

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