Iraq Breaks Record for Longest Time with No Government

Published on
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The Washington Post

Iraq Breaks Record for Longest Time with No Government

by
Leila Fadel

Iraqis have now spent 208 days with no new government and, while the Dutch weathered their storm, Iraq's weak institutions may not hold up against mounting pressure and a steady level of violence. (Washington

BAGHDAD - Iraq
on Friday will surpass the previous record for the country that has
gone the longest between holding a parliamentary election and forming a
government, experts say.

The Netherlands had held that unfortunate honor after a series of failed
attempts left the country without an elected government for 207 days in
1977, according to Christopher J. Anderson, director of the Institute
for European Studies at Cornell University.

Iraqis have now spent 208 days with no new government and, while the
Dutch weathered their storm, Iraq's weak institutions may not hold up
against mounting pressure and a steady level of violence.

As politicians jockey for positions and broker deals in backroom
meetings, many Iraqis now say they wonder why they risked their lives to
vote on March 7. U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that the
lack of an elected government has limited Iraq's ability to make
national decisions and could eventually eat away at hard-earned security
gains. The most optimistic of Iraqi politicians expect the process to
take at least another month, if not much longer.

"There is no difference with the Iraqi case, except that the Netherlands
had strong, functioning institutions and a caretaker government that
continued to govern," said Joost Hiltermann, a Dutch national and an
expert on Iraq at the International Crisis Group. "Iraq has very weak
institutions and a caretaker government that can do very little. This
makes for a potentially highly unstable and precarious situation."

Government formation in Iraq is complicated by both the country's
multiparty system and violence in the streets. Lawmakers are elected and
in turn vote for the president, who gives the largest coalition in the
parliament the first opportunity to choose the prime minister and form
the government. That government needs a simple majority of the 325
lawmakers to back it.

Election day was followed by a slow trickle of results and weeks in
which politicians accused one another of fraud. The extremely close
tallies for the top two parties - former prime minister Ayad Allawi's
Iraqiya bloc, which won 91 seats, and Shiite incumbent Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law bloc, which won 89 - has lead to months
of tense start-and-stop negotiations as both men fight for Iraq's top
government job.

Maliki's bloc and another Shiite slate agreed to form the largest
coalition in parliament based on one interpretation of Iraq's
constitution. Maliki was the assumed front-runner as their pick for the
premiership, but disputes within the coalition seem to have splintered
Shiite politics and could deepen the deadlock.

Secular Shiite Allawi's Iraqiya bloc, largely backed by Sunni Arab
constituents, promised to boycott the government if Maliki is nominated
by the Shiite coalition. Allawi also still claims the right to form
Iraq's government based on another interpretation of the constitution.

A U.S.-proposed power-sharing plan between the two men, which would have
limited Maliki's power as prime minister and created a new federal
position for Allawi, is all but dead.

In the meantime, Iraq is unable to make major steps such as ratifying
legislation, constitutional amendments and international agreements.
Iraq's parliament members met once for less than 18 minutes in June but
have been collecting their paychecks - about $10,000 a month-- for more
than three months. Iraq's ministers are afraid to make difficult - and
in some cases, even simple - decisions when it is unclear who holds the
key to their political future, and much government hiring is on hold.

"We have no authority now," said Ali Baban, the minister of planning.
"The current government can't ratify legislation and can make no new
decisions."

Over the summer Baban, a member of Maliki's State of Law political bloc,
announced a five-year National Development Plan with a target of 9.4
percent annual economic growth and cutting down unemployment.

The plan includes more than 2,700 projects valued at about $186 billion.
But Baban said it's nearly impossible to implement without legislative
action, and business investment is largely stalled while people wait to
see what will happen.

"Everything is suspended," Baban said. "The conflict between the political blocs is impeding us from doing our job."

The foreign ministry is unable to implement international treaties or
agreements without a new government. Foreign countries are hesitant to
deal with a caretaker government whose decisions could be reversed by
the elected government.

"For us it's unacceptable. This delay has taken everybody too long and
the country needs a government," said Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

He said the United States must do more to break the deadlock. Zebari is a
member of the Kurdish alliance, a large political bloc of Kurds being
wooed by both Maliki and Allawi to bolster their support in the
parliament.

"I've been very outspoken about this," Zebari said. He's been in
meetings all week during the United Nations General Assembly. The United
States "can and needs to do more,'' he added. "We've been encouraging
them."

Other major issues with potential violent or economic implications are
also unresolved. Iraq has yet to pass an oil revenue sharing law and
cannot implement Article 140 of the constitution to resolve disputed
territories that Kurds and Arabs lay claim too, often referred to as the
trigger line because of its propensity for violence. The government
cannot hammer out the relationship between Baghdad and the capital of
the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan. Meaningful national
reconciliation is also on hold.

Iraqis said that, while U.S. officials have urged them to form an
inclusive government quickly, many of the parties are unwilling to
compromise as much as U.S. officials would like.

Khalid al-Asadi, a legislator from Maliki's State of Law bloc, used an
Arabic proverb to describe the U.S. proposals for power-sharing. "If you
try to satisfy everyone," he said, "you'll lose everyone."

Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report from Washington.

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