Global Policy Forum

Understanding the ‘Political Impasse’ in Iraq


By Helena Cobban*

Just World News
April 5, 2006

It is now nearly 16 weeks since the elections in Iraq where citizens voted for members of an Assembly with a four-year term that would (1) govern the country, (2) conclude the many outstanding details of the country's Constitution, and (3) perhaps - but this is certainly an item that falls into any definition of sovereign self-governance - negotiate the terms on which the US/UK troops in the country would stay or leave it. For 16 weeks, the parliamentarians have been unable to come together and confirm the formation of a government; and in this situation of continuing political uncertainty and the absence of any form of politically accountable governance Iraq has slid ever further into ethnic and sectarian strife, with disastrous longterm consequences for the country and its people.

This is rightly described in most of the global media as a 'political impasse'. But I believe that very few commentators have presented a good, or even internally understandable, explanation of what has been causing it. My judgment is that responsibility for this ongoing impasse lies most clearly with Ambassador Zal Khalilzad and his colleagues in the US and British governments who have been using the power of their countries' military position inside Iraq to try to subvert the results of the December election by pursuing a determined campaign against the nomination of Ibrahim Jaafari as Prime Minister.

Jaafari, we can recall, was nominated on February 12 by the largest political bloc inside the Assembly, the United Iraqi Alliance. Almost immediately thereafter, US officials and their allies intensified their campaign against Jaafari and his strong political allies from the Sadrist trends within the UIA.

This campaign has intensified over the past couple of weeks. What has been its motivation? I would say that the evidence adduced by Rod Nordland in his two significant pieces in the current issue of Newsweek indicates clearly that the main motivation may be Jaafari's reported intention, once his government is installed, to demand a clear timetable for the withdrawal of the occupation troops from Iraq. (Key pieces of evidence there: the comment Khalilzad made to al-Hayat regarding Muqtada Sadr's demand that the US forces leave, and Sadr aide Fatah Sheikh's comment that Jaafari had indeed promised Sadr that he would demand a withdrawal timetable once confirmed as PM.)

But while, in my judgment, it has been the US and its allies that have been the parties most responsible for causing the political 'impasse' in Iraq through their anti-Jaafari machinations, US spinmeisters have been busy trying to convey the exact opposite impression -- that it is Jaafari who is responsible for it because of his stubborn refusal to step down... And of course, as shown by Pres. Bush's letter of last week, the Rice/Straw interventions of this week, and various other reported actions, they have also been very busy trying to persuade UIA members to turn openly against Jaafari.

Under these circumstances, and given the huge weight of US/UK coercive power inside Iraq, it has been notable to me that so far this campaign has succeeded in winning open disavowals of the Jaafari nomination from only 3 of the UIA's 128 parliamentarians. This meager result is all the more significant, given that 63 UIA members had actually voted against the Jaafari nomination when it was decided (by, literally, one vote) back in February. But for now, all UIA parliamentarians except those three have remained either actively or passively supportive of the nomination. Ayatollah Sistani's call for all his followers to remain united as a single political bloc evidently has considerable continuing power.

I have calculated on my blog -- -- that if it took the US-UK machinators 51 days to win 3 defectors from the UIA's previously agreed position, then at that rate it will take them only 1,056 additional days to win the total 65 UIA votes required to overturn the nomination... (Why, only a "mere" three years more of political impasse!)

I'd like to give Nordland some further congratulations for his piece, too, since it was one of the first major articles in the American MSM that did NOT make the mistake of describing SCIRI and its leader Abdul-Aziz Hakim as "the most powerful force" in Iraqi politics, or inside the UIA, or whatever. Far too many writers and commentators in the west - including even my esteemed friend and colleague Juan Cole - have been making this mistake repeatedly over recent months and weeks. But the evidence about the affiliations of the UIA members, as gathered so painstakingly by Reidar Visser and as reported by me since December, have all along clearly indicated that the two flavors of Sadrism are a much stronger force in the UIA than SCIRI. I do think that the tendency of so many media commentators and specialists to have uncritically "bought" the spin about

SCIRI's great strength provided by the media-savvy SCIRI itself and by the US/UK spinmeisters (whose favored candidate for PM has for long been SCIRI member Adel Abdul-Mahdi) has hampered the general public understanding of what has been going on politically in Iraq. Most western commentators have also, equally uncritically, seemed to buy into the US/UK spinmeisters' propaganda about Sadr being a divisive and sectarian presence in Iraqi politics. (Whereas SCIRI is far, far, more divisive, sectarian, and violent.)

Anyway, once again, congratulations to Rod Nordland. And now that I'm back from my reporting trip to Gaza and Israel, I've resumed doing some fairly regular commentary about political developments in Iraq on my Just World News blog. You can access it if you go to the various quarterly collections of Iraq posts, in the topical index that is low down on the right sidebar of the blog. E.g.,;

About the Author: Helena Cobban is the author of and a columnist for the Christian Science Monitor.

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