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Challenges of National Coalition Government and Political Crisis in Iraq

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ali Akbar Asadi, PhD Candidate
Department of International Relations, University of Allameh Tabatabaei

Iraq is experiencing a new period of its history following the fall of Saddam Hussein and after establishment of a pluralistic, democratic political system in the country. While the country was in the clutches of authoritarian and totalitarian political rules until 2003, especially under the Baath Party when Iraq was ruled by a Sunni Baathist minority, the new era of the country’s history is marked with participation of all political groups from various Shia, Sunni, and Kurd communities as well as minority communities. Iraq’s parliamentary elections were held in 2010 and the majority of parliamentary seats were won by al-Iraqiya bloc, the government of law, the national coalition, and the coalition of Kurd parties. It led to the establishment of a national coalition government headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. That government, however, was faced with a major political crisis following withdrawal of the American troops from the country. Political as well as security differences among various Shia and Sunni political groups and leaders were the main cause of that crisis. Political crisis has been regularly present in Iraq during past years the latest of which was the crisis about forming the government following the country’s parliamentary election which lasted for months. Therefore, political crises in Iraq also arise from structural causes. In view of the importance of temporary causes along with structural ones in causing the political crisis in Iraq, the following challenges and factors can be enumerated as the main reasons behind the country’s ongoing crisis.

The first factor which has faced Iraq’s national coalition government with the existing crisis is its broad-based nature. The coalition government consists of various political groups and coalitions which fall apart by deep ethnic, sectarian and political rifts. Although this may serve as a positive factor for the success of the government and reduction of domestic and foreign opposition, since various political groups follow their ethnic and sectarian prejudices and different goals, this has led to escalation of power rivalry and conflicts inside the coalition government. As a result, the negative functions of such a broad-based composition of government have outnumbered its positive ones. Lack of agreement on appointing political figures to political and security posts as well as important ministries, frequent threats to withdraw from the coalition, debates about the necessity of dissolving the parliament and holding early elections are all indicative of the fragile nature of the coalition government. They are also telltale signs of internal rivalries and challenges which create important obstacles that in turn reduce efficiency of the government and limit its positive functions.

The second factor is related to structural flaws of Iraq’s new political system which is not compatible with the country’s political experiences and traditions. In combination with ethnic and sectarian gaps, it further intensifies inefficiency of the government in solving issues and tackling challenges. The political system of Iraq can be considered a consensual parliamentary system in that the government is dependent on the composition of the parliament, on the one hand, while being susceptible to agreement of various political groups, on the other hand. As a result of such political structure in Iraq, consensus of all political groups is required for the resolution of any domestic challenge and problem. This has rendered state officials, including the prime minister as the head of the government, practically unable to solve many problems and has led to a crisis of efficiency. This is why any political challenge and difference rapidly turns into a fertile ground for fostering full-blown political crises. More importantly, to resolve those crises, they still need to reach an agreement through a lengthy period which may, at times, be very costly.

The third factor which sets the course of the current political crisis that is currently facing Iraq’s national coalition party is continuation of negative and confrontational approaches toward totality of the country’s democratic political system. While the Iraqi government has been establishing security and improving economic conditions subsequent to withdrawal of the American forces and a new political system is being institutionalized, some domestic opposition and militia groups as well as certain regional players, especially in the Arab world, have not been able to understand Iraq’s new realities. Therefore, they have spared no effort to cause failure of the Iraqi government and the country’s democratic political process by creating political crises and even committing acts of terrorism. Such groups and players use any opportunity to create crisis for Iraq and prove that the new political system is inefficient. This issue has perpetuated problems facing the nascent national coalition government of Iraq.

On the whole, and in view of the impact of the aforesaid factors in causing political crises in Iraq, overcoming those crises and resolving the country’s possible political and security challenges will need multilayered efforts in the course of various periods of time. The best solutions inside the country include understanding and dialogue as well as more tolerance on the part of Iraq’s political leaders who are committed to promoting the country’s democratic political system and protecting its national interests. They should also find ways to counter political and militia groups which seek insecurity in the country, on the one hand, while trying to overcome structural challenges of the country’s consensual parliamentary system, on the other hand. At regional and international levels, governments which want to see a stable and secure Iraq can think of mechanisms to decrease the country’s internal woes by reducing negative influences of foreign players. At the same time, conflicting interests and goals of various political players in Iraq can be managed in a more positive way.

More By Ali Akbar Asadi:

*Saudi Arabia and Federalism in Iraq: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Saudi_Arabia_and_Federalism_in_Iraq.htm

*Bahrain Crisis and Its Impact on Iran’s Relations to (P)GCC: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Bahrain_Crisis_and_Its_Impact_on_Iran’s_Relations_to_P_GCC.htm

*Challenges of US Military Presence in Iraq: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Challenges_of_US_Military_Presence_in_Iraq.htm

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