- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006

Four months after holding its historic national elections, Iraq still has failed to form a government. The parliamentary session that was supposed to be held yesterday has been postponed to a later date.

The problem appears to be Prime Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari, but in fact it runs deeper. “Not standing up the government fuels the sectarian violence,” said Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, senior adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Iraq. Mr. Jeffrey says the United States has not “put the torch to sectarian violence.” He is right — but not completely.

“Iraq was a very sectarian country,” Mr. Jeffrey said. “It was controlled by a minority of a minority, specifically the Tikrit clan, Saddam Hussein and his loyalists and it was run as a total dictatorship. With Kurds in Halapca, Shi’ites in the south, they were gassed and massacred in tens and thousands.” That is true. But Paul Bremer was wrong to enforce a sectarian and ethnic calculus onto the infrastructure of the Iraqi Governing Council.

Iraq does not have national political parties; it has sectarian parties with their own interests. Instead of focusing on the future of Iraq, they’re looking to prove that their interests can prevail. The impasse in Iraq today is the result of a country lacking a democratic mentality, not democracy brought on by a vote.

Two weeks ago, Miss Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw visited Baghdad to “underscore the importance of bringing to a close the negotiations on the formation of a government.” The visit killed the chances of a possible candidate: Adel Abdel Mahdi of the SCIRI, one of the members of the United Iraqi Alliance’s Shi’ite party. Miss Rice and Mr. Straw met with SCIRI leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and Mr. Mahdi for almost two hours, and allocated less than half an hour to Mr. al Jaafari.

At a State Department roundtable with foreign journalists, Mr. Jeffrey denied that the United States is pushing any particular candidate. But Mr. Mahdi clearly stood out to Miss Rice and Mr. Straw. The difficult truth for them to accept could be that the newly forming democratic Iraq does not want its presidents, prime ministers or other leaders being selected by foreigners — and especially not by its occupiers.

What is more, Shi’ites are angry. They did what they were asked, and they see all foreign influence — including that of Arab Muslim states — as negative. “There are Shi’ites in all these countries [of the region], significant percentages, and Shii’tes are mostly always loyal to Iran and not the countries they live in,” said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. That was an unfortunate statement, to put it mildly; it prompts people like Abu Musab al Zarqawi to escalate sectarian violence.

Meanwhile, the Kurds can still truthfully claim that no Americans have been killed in the north. But the fact is the no-fly zone imposed years ago kept the region Kurdish. Now they oppose Mr. al Jaafari because he is not willing to entertain their demand to make Kirkuk the capital of their ethnic-based state. Alas, Mr. al Jaafari suggested a Sunni president in place of Jalal Talabani — igniting disagreements over how to share power.

The Sunnis, who have been the losers in the post-Saddam era, agree to disagree to make the lives of the other two groups difficult. “We don’t see this as a civil war for many reasons,” Mr. Jeffrey said. “I would say the thing is right now all of the major groups are deeply committed to finding a peaceful political solution to Iraq’s problems.” Over the weekend, the Shi’ite coalition considered naming someone from Mr. al Jaafari’s Dawa party to break through the stalemate. It won’t change a thing.

The worst thing for Iraq is not to have Mr. al Jaafari as the prime minister; the worst thing is not to have a government. The parties failed to agree on a prime minister, but they did agree to form a national security council that wasn’t even mandated by the constitution. Also, what is mandated is the mechanism to remove people from power in a crisis of confidence; parliament can call for a confidence vote. Too much time has been lost because of the opposition to Mr. al Jaafari, and Iraq can not sustain another big attack on any holy shrine.

The first step toward forming the government is not determining the prime minister. The first thing is choosing the Presidential Council, composed of the president and two deputies. Then the president gives the bloc that won the most seats in parliament the authority to form a government. There is no separate vote for prime minister. The prime minister along with his 30 cabinet ministers goes to the parliament for vote. There is no special vote for Mr. al Jaafari as long as the United Iraqi Alliance keeps him. “There is no obvious alternative to Jaafari,” Mr. Jeffrey acknowledged. In fact, the deadlock isn’t because of Mr. al Jaafari, but because of the simple power game in the absence of a national political party. And this is not the time to mix those sectarian and ethnically divided parties.

If the impasse goes on, we should officially name the escalating sectarian violence a civil war, with the immediate potential to destabilize neighboring countries.

Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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