Two months after the 30 January elections in Iraq, there is still no new government, despite repeated announcements by the Shia and Kurdish alliances which came out top in those elections that they are about to finalise an agreement.
The elected assembly has met briefly, on 16 March and 29 March, but made no decisions.
The Shia alliance has reportedly agreed to the Kurds’ demands to stick with the US-drafted interim constitution (“Transitional Administrative Law”), and both groups have agreed to Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan being president and Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the Dawa party prime minister.
Disputes continue over who gets the oil, finance, and defence ministries. According to the US academic Juan Cole, “the Kurds want [the oil ministry] as a way of getting hold of the city of Kirkuk [centre of the northern oilfields] which they covet”.
Associated Press reports that oil workers in Basra have demonstrated (on 24 March), to demand that the new oil minister be a southerner (i.e., Shia). “We will stop pumping the oil and go on strike for those working in the oilfield and the ports if our demands aren’t met”, said Mohammed Abdul Hafez, a union official who was one of the demonstration’s organisers. It is not clear from the AP report whether the union involved was the Southern Oil Company Union, whose leader Hassan Juma’a recently visited London, or another, minor, union.
The Kurds have a strong interest in getting all they can for the negotiations to form a government — when their votes are needed for a required two-thirds majority in the assembly — since, with the government once formed, the Shia alliance by itself will have enough votes to secure majority decisions from the assembly.
The Kurdish-Shia tension, however, is bad news for the project of conciliating Iraq’s previously-dominant Sunni Arab minority, which mostly boycotted the 30 January elections, has few representatives in the assembly, and provides the popular base for the “resistance” militias. Shia leaders, Kurdish leaders, and the USA all at least nominally subscribe to conciliating the Sunnis, but how much slack will Shia and Kurds have left after conciliating each other?
The Financial Times on 26 March quoted a Sunni politician, Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, as claiming that he had chaired a conference of “resistance” groups and that they want to negotiate a ceasefire. Time magazine has reported on talks between the US military and people from the Ba’thist wing of the “resistance”, and the Observer (27 March) on “back-channel initiatives aimed at persuading Sunni Muslim tribes in western Iraq to cease their resistance”.
For the present, however, “resistance” attacks continue at a high level — about 60 a day, most against Iraqi government targets, some against Shia as Shia.
Even optimistic reports from “Middle Eastern intelligence agencies” (Observer, 27 March) expect “some kind of continuing low-level insurgency” for at least another 10 years.
More encouraging was a power workers’ demonstration in Baghdad on 24 March against the “resistance”.
Some hundreds of workers, organised by the Electricity Workers’ Union, an affiliate of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, marched through Baghdad’s streets shouting “No to terrorism!”.
Although Iraq’s diverse trade union movement has long been hostile to the “resistance” militias — which are at least as hostile to workers’ rights, democracy, and women’s rights as they are to the USA — this is the first time trade unionists have come out openly on the streets on the issue.
Also in March, the Union of the Unemployed of Iraq claimed victory in their long-running campaign for unemployment benefit for jobless Iraqi workers. The Ministry of Labour said it would pay 130,000 dinars a month to the unemployed.
It is with the new Iraqi labour movement that hopes lie for a positive alternative to the brutality and rapacity of the US/UK occupation, and to the harshly reactionary Islamist, Ba’thist, and Sunni-supremacist “resistance”.