- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2010

As American combat forces depart and security remains fragile, Iraq’s experiment with democ- racy hangs in the balance. The political and security situation in Baghdad points to a very unstable future.

By any measure, the Iraqi government-formation process has been a disaster and a solution is nowhere in sight, despite President Obama’s optimistic speech last month. The concept of a coalition government in a diverse state such as Iraq is a double-edged sword. Although most politicians promote - or give lip service to - the assurance that no ethnic or religious group is marginalized, the need for consensus makes negotiation extremely difficult. Four large parliamentary blocs currently dominate the discourse in Baghdad, and most observers and Iraqis have believed that a fully inclusive coalition would be optimal.

The Iraqi National Alliance recently named Adel Abdul-Mahdi as their candidate for prime minister, joining State of Law coalition candidate and current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Al-Iraqiya’s nominee and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi as the candidates of the three largest blocs. The Kurdistan Alliance is the only large bloc not to put forward a candidate, instead attempting to facilitate multiparty engagement among the blocs to resolve the impasse and tackle substantive issues.

However, if the situation remains at a standstill, other measures may be necessary. How long can a state hold out without a government, awaiting consensus? The lack of progress may force Iraq to take some difficult decisions to overcome this crisis and preserve the possibility of a democratic and pluralistic nation.

If all four blocs do not agree, should we consider a government formed by only three blocs? Should Iraq convene a caretaker government and hold a new election in a year’s time? Should the Kurdistan Alliance itself consider identifying a compromise candidate?

If the three blocs will not budge and cannot move forward, does the bloc system any longer serve its purpose of representing the Iraqi people in a federal government? The principal blocs all contain a number of moderate parties. If the blocs are not capable of forming a government very soon, is it preferable to bring together the factions of each bloc genuinely interested in forming a government?

While the beleaguered government formation process has been widely reported, the substance of the negotiations receives less attention, and for good reason - there has been little substance. Meaningful issues have been completely ignored while blocs jockey exclusively over the position of prime minister. Only recently with the proposal of a Political Council for National Security (PCNS) have we begun to see some debate over substantive issues, such as the power and limits of the prime minister and the possible evolution of a system of checks and balances on security issues and decision-making processes through the Council of Ministers and the PCNS. These are but seeds at the moment; the next government will have to ensure that they really take root. Resolution of core issues such as oil, revenue sharing, the disputed territories, and the composition of the military will chart the future of the country. These debates have not yet begun.

Mr. Obama explained to America that it is “time to turn the page” regarding Iraq, beginning a long-term partnership based on diplomacy. As a Kurd and an Iraqi, I can vouch for the continued importance of the United States in Iraq. Neighboring states wish to influence or even dictate the fate of the country. An Iraq at peace with itself and its neighbors is of great strategic importance in the region; an unstable and violent Iraq opens the door to many dangerous regional implications, not to mention further suffering and deprivation for Iraqis.

The Kurdistan region of Iraq is in many senses a beacon of hope and a model for the rest of the country. The massive improvements to infrastructure, the 20 hours of electricity per day - compared to approximately three hours daily throughout Iraq, and the overall economic development and reconstruction of the region can be replicated in all Iraqi provinces. But none of these achievements are possible without security.

As Iraq assumes responsibility for its security, the United States should stand behind the Iraqi people. Right now, that means political engagement and assistance with security above all else.

In order to move forward, Iraq needs more than negotiations over power. All politicians must re-evaluate their priorities. This article includes some possible scenarios should the blocs be unable or unwilling to reach a solution. The U.S. combat mission may be over, but the fate of Iraq is far from sealed. If there is no solution by October, all blocs should convene until a government is formed, even if it takes days and nights without ceasing.

Falah Mustafa Bakir is the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq’s Department of Foreign Relations.