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Analysis: After more than 7 years, Iraqis still scrambling to forge a working government.
If this already sounds hopelessly complicated, there is yet another point of conflict between these two men. Given the country’s governance structures, there are few incentives for either al-Maliki or Allawi to share power. Nor is there enough power to be shared. There are almost no senior positions outside of the prime minister’s post. Yet neither al-Maliki nor Allawi can effectively rule without the other.
One solution to this impasse, which has been considered with increasing frequency by Iraqi politicians over the last month, is to establish a council that could facilitate power-sharing among the country's various factions. This new council would craft critical national policy on domestic issues like security and energy as well as on foreign policy. Creating additional roles in the government for powerful decision-makers would allow both al-Maliki and Allawi to retain the power and prestige they seek.
The chairman of the council, perhaps Allawi — given his solid relationships with both Arab and Western leaders — would have the power and authority to oversee critical foreign policy issues. Likewise, al-Maliki might remain prime minister and focus on domestic issues.
To be clear, this new council isn’t only intended to satisfy the ambition and egos of two politicians. Rather, it could be the best solution for Iraq at the moment. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, compromises have become more common in Iraqi politics.
The Americans have repeatedly pushed for a compromise between the competing factions in order to quickly implement a functioning Iraqi government. Likewise, this proposed council could ensure that the main ethnic and sectarian groups in the country are adequately represented in the current government.
It could also promote a governing style that is less driven by sectarian politics. In particular, this could ensure that the Shiite majority would not dominate the government at the expense of the Sunni or Kurdish minorities. It could also keep radical forces away from the centers of decision-making.
This solution is not ideal because such compromises do little to address the long-term stability and effectiveness of Iraq’s polarized political climate. However, it may save the country in the immediate future, rescuing it from its political paralysis. If it’s impossible to find a real solution the short term, it is essential to at least achieve a partial one in the short term.
This solution may not be the most popular one among the American or Iraqi publics, but the country’s impasse reveals the degree to which Iraq continues to need substantial American support. Iraq is still a fragile state, but in time, and with the development of stable institutions, Iraq can become a permanent ally to the United States.
Razzaq al-Saiedi is an independent researcher and journalist affiliated with the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He reported on conflict and politics in Iraq for the New York Times between 2003 and 2007.