Tuesday, August 7, 2007

It's always a bad day to be Nouri

Five more cabinet ministers have announced that they will boycott meetings of the Iraqi government, headed by the teetering Prime Minister Nouri Kemal al Maliki. If the members, from the secular Iraqiya faction (loyal to former PM Ayad Allawi) hold firm, al-Maliki will be unable to convene a quorum of ministers to approve a lunch menu, let alone crucial legislation, before General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker present their mid-September assessment of the situation in Iraq to the congress.

Phil Reeker, a spokesman for the United States Embassy in Iraq had no immediate comment, beyond "Things change here by the hour.” Back in Washington, the best the State Department could muster was a feeble, tepid endorsement. "There's a very healthy political debate that's going on in Iraq, and that's good," McCormack said. "It's going to be for them (the Iraqis) to make the judgments about whether or not that government is performing."

The political paralysis in Iraq means that with just one short month remaining before Petraeus and Crocker give their report, they are unlikely to be able to present the sow’s ear in Iraq to Congress as a silk purse.

"The situation is very fragile," said Hajim al Hassani, an Iraqiya member of parliament.

The Iraqiya ministers' decision to skip government meetings brings to 17 the number of ministers who've left the government or suspended their participation in it.

Hassani called the boycott the "first step toward withdrawal."

"They are not happy with the performance of the government," Hassani said. "The main point is trying to pressure and try to force the government to do some reforms and present some services to the people. Of course, the parliament is not meeting and the prime minister can't do anything unless the parliament comes back."

Less than a week ago, the Sunni al-Tawafuq bloc quit the government, protesting that al-Maliki had ignored a list of demands they had presented to him. Paramount among their complaints was a lack of effort on the part of al-Maliki to curb the infiltration of the Iraqi security forces by Shi’ite militias.

In April, six cabinet members loyal to fundamentalist Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al Sadr bolted the government because al-Maliki has failed to demand a timetable for withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

The “Surge™” of troops, ordered by Bush in January, was supposed to provide a security crackdown that would reduce violence and give the politicians a bit of “breathing room” so they could make political progress.

Instead, the violence has simply relocated to where the troops aren’t; while politically, not only have none of the political benchmarks been met, no overtures have even been made. Meanwhile, Shi’ite militias are still ethnically cleansing Sunnis from neighborhoods in Baghdad and moving Shi’ite families in to their vacated homes.

With the Iraqi Parliament on vacation until September, American officials have resigned themselves to the fact that no political progress has been made, and will not be made, because even when parliament returns, the Iraqi Constitution decrees legislation can not be taken up without cabinet approval, sanctioned with a quorum present. With 17 Cabinet Ministers boycotting the proceedings, there is no quorum to be had, and therefore, the requisite political progress is simply not possible.

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