Friday, January 18, 2008
Politicians In Bullet Proof Glass Houses
A powerful Shiite politician accused the Iraqi government and legislators of allowing "personal whims" to delay national unity, addressing thousands of worshippers who rallied Friday to commemorate the death of one of the most revered saints.
The criticism in Baghdad by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of parliament's largest Shiite political bloc, was among the strongest to date ...
Al-Hakim often has suggested he is displeased with the performance of the nearly 19-month-old al-Maliki government, of which the politician's Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, or SIIC, is a major partner. But his speech on Friday was among the strongest criticism to date, suggesting a growing impatience.
Speaking behind bulletproof glass, he called on the government and parliament to "make the issues of everyday life of the people a top priority and not to be completely preoccupied with the political struggle at the expense of the daily concerns of the citizens."
He urged them to pass stalled legislation on provincial elections and the distribution of Iraq's oil wealth, which are seen as vital to bringing Sunnis into the political process and stemming support for the insurgency.
"We are keen to form a national unity government despite the fact that election results allowed us to form a government that does not carry the characteristics of a national unity," al-Hakim said. "What is regrettable is that the national reconciliation process has been subjected to personal whims."
He also criticized government institutions of accepting "corruption and bribes" and called for mechanisms that would "prevent the blackmail of the people."
Politicians speaking behind bullet proof glass houses shouldn't throw stones - or something. There are at least two obvious methods to Hakim's mendacity.
First, Hakim is looking to create the impression of distance between his ISCI party and the enormously unpopular Iraqi government, despite the obvious involvement. In this, he is attempting to benefit from a tactic that Moqtada al-Sadr has long employed to great benefit. But then, Sadr's anti-government posturing tends to be a bit more authentic than ISCI's - even if not entirely accurate given that Sadr's current has long controlled certain government ministries and has enormous influence in legislative bodies.
In addition, Hakim continues to speak of the plight of "ordinary Iraqis" who have been neglected by the current government. Given that Sadr's organization derives much support from its delivery of social services to those Iraqis, Hakim's sudden interest is more than a coincidence. So, with elections in the South looming on the horizon, Hakim is doing his best to loosen the government millstone from around ISCI's neck while attempting to cut in to Sadr's populist support.
There is another possibility. Rumors have been swirling lately (again!) of a potential reshuffling of the Iraqi government that would involve (if David Ignatius' sources are to be believed) a sacking of Maliki with Adel Abdul Mahdi replacing him. Adel Abdul Mahdi is (surprise!) a high ranking member of Hakim's ISCI party. So Hakim's criticisms could be read in this light as well - a bankshot if you will. Even if the putsch peters out, at least Hakim could achieve some re-branding vis-a-vis Sadr in the battle for Shiite hearts and minds.
I'd throw the talk of "national unity" government in this pile as well, since Ignatius' formulation of the latest anti-Maliki alliance includes the participation of Sunni parties. That is one of the ways that Hakim would sell this palace coup to the Bush administration (or better yet, which the Bush administration would use to sell it to the American people). There has also been increasing chatter of Hakim reaching out to Anbar Salvation groups in an attempt to incorporate them into his nascent alliance.Something to keep an eye out for, even if these rumors don't have a very good track record in terms of arriving at fruition.
[UPDATE: The always informative Reidar Visser on Hakim's dubious rhetoric:
It is deeply ironic that [ISCI's] leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim should use the occasion to claim that the process of national reconciliation in Iraq has been “delayed” by the pet projects of individual politicians: ISCI’s own ideas about a single Shiite federal entity is arguably the clearest possible example of such projects, and Iraqi national reconciliation could have made great strides if this divisive scheme had simply been taken off the table.