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Sabah Alnasseri discusses the incoming leadership in the Iraqi parliament and how it will be influenced by foreign nations

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ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.

The Iraqi government has chosen Salim al-Jabouri as the new parliamentary speaker since the parliament postponed its session last week. The fate of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki remains to be seen, as he thus far has not withdrawn his candidacy. This comes several days after the Kurdish government withdrew its president and several ministers from the Iraq government.

And as the Islamic State and the Iraqi army continues to battle of the city of Tikrit, a classified military assessment obtained by The New York Times reported that the U.S. believes the Iraqi army is not capable of reversing the gains made by ISIS over the past month, nor is it fully capable of protecting Baghdad on its own. The State Department has said that it remains to be seen what advisory mission the U.S. will deploy to Baghdad.

Joining us now to give an analysis on the current situation is Sabah Alnasseri. He’s a professor of political science and economy at York University in Toronto.

Thanks for joining us, Sabah.


WORONCZUK: So talk about the recent political agreement in terms of selection of new members to the parliament.

ALNASSERI: Right. I mean, Salim al-Jabouri, he’s from the Islamic Party, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was elected as speaker of the house after a long session and some problems during the session, where al-Chalabi wanted to be elected as his deputies. [sic] And at the end of the day, al-Abadi was elected the deputy of al-Jabouri. He [incompr.] from the State of Law of al-Maliki list. And a third person, the second deputy, is from the Gorran, which is the Change Movement in Kurdistan, Aram Sheikh. And this is something new, because Gorran, which means Change or Movement for Change in Kurdistan, was actually excluded in the last, you know, few years from the political process. But in the last election in Kurdistan, Gorran became second after the Democratic Party of Kurdistan [incompr.] Barzani, ahead of Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. And the election of the speaker of the House, Salim al-Jabouri–as I said, he is from the Islamic Party, the biggest so-called Sunni Islamic party, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. And this party was an underground party, just like Al-Da’wa Party in the 1960 and ’70 was oppressed by the–the Ba’athists was the regime of that time.

And the point here is that the national coalition, which is the coalition of the State of Law of al-Maliki with al-Hakim and Al-Ahrar of the Sadrists, the support for al-Jabouri was with the understanding that he wants this national coalition [to] nominate its minister, or prime minister, that al-Jabouri would also support its candidate for the prime minister post. So there is a kind of deal behind the back door between the Islamic Party and the national coalition.

WORONCZUK: So, then, do you think that the selection of these various members of Parliament signals a stabilization of the internal political crisis between the various political factions?

ALNASSERI: Not necessarily, because–for two reasons. The first one is, you can see–you were–I mean, rightly you mentioned at the beginning that the Kurdish parties withdrew their ministerial posts and so on from the current government. It’s after al-Maliki accused the regional government in Kurdistan of harboring Sunni terrorists, etc. So al-Barzani, you know, gave the instruction to all the Kurdish minister to withdraw from the government, but at the same time, Kurdish MPs should attend the session, so the current–current division here between the ministerial level and the parliament’s level.

And you can see the problems, first that the nomination for the presidency, it was (and still) within the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of al-Talabani. They have two candidates, and they could not settle for one of these candidate. One of them is Barham Salih, and the other one is /kəˌrimˈnɛdjəm/ [Najmiddin Karim?]. Both are politician with long and outstanding career. Both have a lot of social and political support. That’s why it’s very difficult to see. They want to decide by next Wednesday who will be the candidate for the Kurds as the president. That’s the first thing.

The second problem is you can see that there is no almost no input from the Barzani faction, which is the Kurdistan Democratic Party. So there is also here a fracture within the Kurdish forces regarding not only the post of a president, but the prime minister. So the fact that the speaker of the House was nominated, it doesn’t signalize, actually, an end to the deadlock of the political crisis. I think it opened up a new conflict within and outside the parliament for the so-called national alliance of the Shiite parties. And till today they argued they did not settle yet for the prime minister. So al-Maliki doesn’t have majority within the Shiite alliance. So it’s not clear even if by next Wednesday Barham Salih or /ˌkarəmˈnɛdjəm/ would be the president and will–in 30 days, he will instruct the biggest coalition within the parliament, which is the national coalition, to nominate the prime minister and build the government. It’s not clear that they will be able to do that, for they did not settle for one specific candidate yet.

WORONCZUK: And how do you think the upcoming referendum for independence in the Kurdish regions is going to affect what’s going on right now?

ALNASSERI: Right. Two things. The one is, you see, al-Maliki gave al-Barzani all the excuses and all the reason to go ahead with such step, because he refused to collaborate with the Kurds and the Sunnis and so on. The second thing, it’s a kind of double-edged sword. On the one hand, of course al-Barzani used this referendum for independence as a mean of pressure, especially on the Shiite coalition, to nominate a different person for the post of the prime minister than al-Maliki, because there’s no way al-Barzani can cooperate with al-Maliki. On the other hand, of course, there’s also pressure within Kurdistan among political forces to go the independence path, assuming that there will be no cooperation with the central government in Iraq. But I don’t think that this is a serious step towards independence. Much more is a mean of pressure on the parliament and the different coalition within the parliament to settle for a different candidate than al-Maliki. I think if the Shiite coalition settled for a different candidate, al-Barzani and other Kurdish forces would be willing to cooperate with the central government and sort out the conflict around the oil field, around the budget, etc. I don’t think at this stage it’s a serious issue.

WORONCZUK: Okay. And what developments should we be keeping our eye on during the next week?

ALNASSERI: Well, the first thing, as I said: by next Wednesday, the Iraqi parliament hope to nominate the president, either Barham Salih or /ˌkarəmˈnɛdjəm/ from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. He will have 30 days to instruct the biggest coalition within the parliament, which is the national coalition, as I said, of al-Maliki, al-Hakim, and the Sadrists without al-Sadr. And if they cannot[, as I say,?] settle for one specific candidate and not able to form a government, then he will ask the second coalition within the parliament to go ahead.

But I think that the Shiite parties probably will come up with a different candidate, though al-Maliki is in no way willing to step down. He will try to create a new conflict or escalate the current conflict to make it almost impossible for the parliament to decide over the nomination of the prime minister.

The third issues: the regional intervention in this political process from [incompr.] from one side you have Iran trying to intervene in the making of the next Iraqi government; Turkey supporting mostly Barzani, not necessarily Talabani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, supporting al-Barzani, pushing for a different development within Iraq; and third, of course, Saudi al-Arabiyah and other Gulf state, and behind them, of course, is the United States.

So everybody’s muddling through and trying to influence the formation of the new government. That makes it so difficult for the Iraqi parliamentarian to decide in an independent or autonomous way over such important posts, the president and the prime minister. So I think we will witness within the next few days a lot of intervention, influence, and so on, not only from within Iraq, but also outside Iraq, to push for a specific candidate within the Shiite national coalition.

WORONCZUK: Okay. Sabah Alnasseri, thank you so much for joining us.

ALNASSERI: Thanks for having me, Anton.

WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Sabah Alnasseri was born in Basra, Iraq, and earned his doctorate at the Johann-Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. He teaches Middle East politics and economy at the Political Science Department at York University in Toronto, Canada. His publications cover various topics in Marxist political economy, Marxist state theory in the tradition of Gramsci, Poulantzas and Althusser, theory of regulation, and Middle East politics and economy.