Opposition? What Opposition? The Incredible Shrinking Iraqiya Party
This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
Since it lost the race to power in 2010, major opposition bloc Iraqiya has been shrinking, with defections and internal dissent. Now two leading members want to team with Iraqiya’s enemy, State of Law, for elections in 2013.
Once it was the biggest alliance in the Iraqi Parliament – larger even than the political alliance that currently runs the country. But over the past two years the Iraqiya list has shrunk; and it seems to be becoming smaller and smaller by the day.
After the 2010 elections, the Iraqiya list, which is made up of several different political parties, had won just under a quarter of the votes cast and 91 seats in the Iraqi parliament.
But these days it seems unlikely that the Iraqiya list, riven by infighting and crippled by break away parties, will ever do as well as they did back then. Even Iraqiya’s official website seems paralysed – it hasn’t been updated since the beginning of the year and pundits suggest this is because the four major leaders within Iraqiya all have different opinions and cannot publish a unified agenda.
Iraqiya says it is a secular political party but it is true that it is mostly made up of Sunni Muslims – even though its leader, Ayed Allawi is a secular Shiite Muslim. The bloc is made of four main groups, which first joined forces to compete in the 2010 elections: these are the Wifaq party (or the Iraqi National Accord) led by Ayed Allawi, the Renewal party (or Tajdeed) founded by now-fugitive politician Tariq al-Hashimi, the Iraqiyoun party headed by Osama al-Nujaifi, who’s also the speaker of Parliament and the National Movement for Development and Reform, most often known as the al-Hal, or Solution, party.
Altogether these parties won a majority of seats after the 2010 elections but they were not able to form a majority coalition before al-Maliki, head of Iraqiya’s major opposition, the State of Law bloc.
Al-Maliki managed to persuade 159 MPs into his Shiite-Muslim-majority bloc and became Prime Minister. The Iraqiya list – whose head, Allawi, had been Prime Minister previously – disagreed with that move and it took months of negotiations before a new government was finally able to be sworn in, in November 2010.
The negotiations concluded with various power sharing agreements but none of that stopped the wrangling – in part, because some aspects of the power sharing agreements were not implemented. And those ongoing conflicts between the State of Law bloc and Iraqiya have had negative consequences for the latter. In particularly, it has seen the Iraqiya bloc split and members depart. Those departures continue to this day.
The Iraqiya bloc has a lot of problem,” one MP who left, Jama al-Batikh, told NIQASH. “It’s dominated by a handful of leaders while thousands of party members are left on the sidelines, their opinions ignored. The Iraqiya list really has no clear ideology or policies,” complained al-Batikh, who now heads a breakaway group called White Iraqiya. “It opposes the government – yet at the same time, it participates. It makes no sense.”
Al-Batikh was one of the first group of MPs to quit the Iraqiya bloc in March 2011. Eight MPs said they were not happy with the way in which certain Iraqiya members monopolised power at the top and they named their new group White Iraqiya – it’s now mostly known as the White party and is headed by MP Hassan al-Alawi.
Then in April, there were more defections with another five MPs leaving Iraqiya to form a new party they called Free Iraqiya.
And meanwhile groups like the one led by al-Hashemi – the country’s Vice-President who was sentenced to death after being accused of terrorism and who remains in hiding outside of Iraq – have been split by opinions on what to do about their former leader. Some have supported al-Hashemi and others have not.
In fact some observers speculate that the Iraqiya bloc’s internal crisis has been caused by the idealistic way in which Allawi has managed the party ever since the crisis around the formation of the government in 2010. In comparison, observers say that al-Maliki has behaved in a more non-partisan and practical way.
All of these issues have seen Allawi’s leadership undermined. And at the same time, Iraqiya’s major opposition party – the State of Law bloc led by al-Maliki – has welcomed the defectors. The defectors have tended to vote with whomever they support on any particular issue – this has included voting against Iraqiya-supported efforts to remove al-Maliki from power.
“These days Allawi certainly doesn’t represent all of Iraqiya,” a leading member of the State of Law bloc, Mohammed Sayhoud, suggested to NIQASH. “In fact, he is the cause of most of the defections and splits.”
It is true that within the party, there are also still divisions –particularly among some of the leading members. This includes Osama al-Nujaifi and one of Iraq’s three deputy prime ministers, Saleh al-Mutlaq, who heads another of the parties that make up the Iraqiya bloc. “They may not always agree with decisions made by Allawi but they have opted to remain with the bloc,” Sayhoud noted.
In fact, some observers say that al-Nujaifi has become the “real” leader of the Iraqiya bloc behind the scenes. At first al-Nujaifi had supported the attempts to oust al-Maliki from power – the Iraqiya bloc was staunchly behind those attempts as were other blocs, including ones from inside the State of Law bloc (which indicates the Iraqiya bloc is not alone in battling internal divisions).
Al-Mutlaq was also behind the challengers, accusing al-Maliki of having dictatorial qualities and even leaving his job as Deputy Prime Minister.
However more recently both al-Nujaifi and al-Mutlaq appear to have reconciled with al-Maliki with al-Nujaifi seen to hold three meetings with al-Maliki in as many weeks and al-Mutlaq returning to his deputy duties. Al-Maliki withdrew his request to Parliament to have al-Mutlaq fired.
As all this has gone on, neither al-Nujaifi nor al-Mutlaq have chosen to leave the Iraqiya bloc. Although it would be clear to both of them that Iraqiya bloc leader Allawi wouldn’t be all that pleased with their increasingly close ties to al-Maliki. Some would say that Allawi considers al-Maliki his worst enemy and that he even blames al-Maliki for making rifts within Iraqiya worse.
And while Allawi has never expressed too much concern about the White Iraqiya and Free Iraqiya parties splitting off, the fact that two of his bloc’s most senior members appear to be negotiating with the opposition must cause him some worries – especially because this is happening in the run up to Iraq’s next provincial elections, slated to happen early next year.
For example, only a few days ago one leading MP from the State of Law bloc, Sami al-Askari, mentioned that his coalition was discussing the prospect of forming an alliance with al-Mutlaq and al-Nujaifi in preparation for the elections planned for April 2103.
Despite all this though, many other members of Iraqiya are standing strong. “The attempts by some blocs to cause rifts in the Iraqiya List will not succeed,” Itab al-Douri, a member of the Iraqiya bloc who was once considered a potential Minister of Defence, told NIQASH. Loyal Iraqiya members like al-Douri insist that the bloc will contest the provincial elections together, vigorously and with enthusiasm.