Discerning Victories: Who is Up/Down in the new Iraqi Government

Posted by Cutler on May 17, 2006

According to the Washington Post and other media outlets, Iraqi Prime Minister designate Nouri al-Maliki will present his government list to the Iraqi parliament on Saturday. The negotiations appear to be over.

Knight-Ridder has details of top candidates (all quoted text below is from the Knight-Ridder report). For those keeping score at home, here are some provisional guideposts for making sense of the upcoming announcment:

Interior Ministry

The outgoing Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, has been accused by Sunni politicians of exploiting the Interior ministry for sectarian Shiite ends and of allowing Shiite “death squads” to proliferate on his watch.

The top candidates for the Interior Ministry post, to be filled by a Shiite, are Ahmad Chalabi, the outgoing deputy prime minister who has ties to Iran, and Qassim Dawoud, an independent Shiite politician.

The language here is less than totally neutral. The description of Chalabi as a figure with “ties to Iran” is probably accurate, but also probably intended to be frightening (given all the talk about how the Shiites are preparing to hand Iraq to Iran). One could say something frightening about Qassim Dawoud–that he has been allied with ex-Baathists like Iyad Allawi and has only recently become formally aligned with the Shiite Alliance. In the run up to war, Chalabi was the lead “exile” figure associated with Right Zionists (aka neocons); Allawi was the lead “exile” figure associated with Right Arabists.

Score “Chalabi” at Interior as a victory for Right Zionists in the US. Score “Dawoud” as a victory for Allawi and Right Arabists in the US.

Defense Ministry

The top candidate for minister of defense is Hajim al Hassani, a Sunni Arab affiliated with the secular political slate led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, according to legislators involved in the negotiations.

Score “Hassani” at Defense as a victory for Allawi and Right Arabists in the US.

Finance Ministry

Bayan Jabr, the current interior minister and a member of the powerful Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is slated to become the finance minister. Jabr, a controversial figure, has been accused of failing to rein in Shiite militias and death squads that target Sunni Arabs from within his ministry.

This one is a shocker, of sorts. Jabr was the target of an enormous amount of very public US criticism during the Jaafari government of last year and during the US campaign to bar a second government in the period since the December 2005 election. So what does it mean?

One view would be that this a an ENORMOUS defeat for the US. According to this view, the US went to Iraq largely to introduce neo-liberal economic reforms, championed by a reform-oriented Finance Ministry. See Naomi Klein. If Jabr is not a friend of the US and the Finance Ministry is key to economic shock therapy and privatization, then this is a huge loss for the US.

Trouble is, all the talk about Jabr as a very bad man was never really about Jabr or death squads. Jabr, like former Finance Minister Abdel Mahdi, are from SCIRI–the most “cooperative” Shiite political party. I think Klein overstates the US interest in neo-liberal reform of the Iraqi economy; it is hardly the primary agenda item or motivation. Jabr, however, doesn’t represent a particularly strong challenge to this interest.

Oil Ministry

The oil ministry is expected to go to nuclear physicist Hussein Shahristani, an independent Shiite legislator.

Shahristani is very close with Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Score this as a victory for Right Zionists who love Sistani.

Don’t take my word for any of this. These are provisional hunches. The best way to score the politics of these government appointments is to listen carefully for Iraqi criticism and to identify the factional position of the critic. Such criticism speaks volumes about the stakes for the players on the ground and their allies in Washington. Know them by their enemies…

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