Jalal Talabani’s letter and political balances in Iraq

July 13, 2012, Friday/ 11:09:00

Recently, the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani expressed his opinions about the crisis on vote of confidence in Iraq. Despite the fact that certain parts of the letter were published in some media organs, the whole letter was not published.

The complete letter was published not long ago. The letter is a very important document in terms of shedding light on the alliances recently developed in Iraq and also on political developments. Therefore, as well as including a long summary of the aforesaid letter, the statements in letter will be evaluated within the framework of developments in Iraq.

Although the letter is such as to be a collective response to the critics against Talabani, it creates an impression from the expressions in the letter that it was rather written addressing to certain leaders within Iraqiya and to KDP leaders. In the aforesaid letter, Jalal Talabani focuses on 4 major issues.   

The first issue that Talabani mentioned in his letter is the withdrawal of vote of confidence from the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Stating that the issue of withdrawing vote of confidence from the Prime Minister was brought up to the agenda during the consultation meeting; that he stayed neutral during the aforesaid meeting; and that he did not sign the declaration at the end of the meeting, Talabani underlined the necessity of being neutral as he is the President. Nevertheless, he put forward that he considered the issue of vote of confidence as a pressure and intimidation card, and that he would demand withdrawal of vote of confidence in the Iraqi parliament if Maliki and National Alliance had refused adhering to the previous agreements and principles. In the letter, it is alleged that during the Arbil meeting the parties reached an agreement on putting forward new demands related on issues such as reform, partnership and monopolization of government but that the others (as far as understood from the expressions KDP and Iraqiya are meant) turned the reform demand into vote of confidence despite the fact that National Alliance and prime minister officially stated they were ready to put the previous agreements into effect. At this point, Talabani stated he stroke an attitude in favor of a serious dialogue rather than a vote of confidence but that he criticized the Iraqiya List due to the fact that they tried to keep only the vote of confidence on the agenda by boycotting the meetings of drafting committee determined by Roj Nuri Shawez.  

Although Talabani promised in his letter to put that into practice in case 164 signatures are collected in the Dukan Meeting, he responds to criticisms regarding that he did not put the signatures into practice by saying that his attitude has not changed from the beginning. Talabani indicates he already explicitly said to his addressees during the Dukan Meeting and to Massoud and Nachirvan Barzani before the meeting that he would not use his power to call for withdrawal of vote of confidence; but that he said he would and did forward the demands he received on this issue to other deputies.       

The second important point in Talabani's letter is about the quantity and quality of signatures collected in order to call vote of confidence to overthrow the Maliki government. Talabani, who stated the criticisms regarding that he did not put the vote of confidence demand into practice despite the fact that 164 signatures were collected are wrong and unjust, says about the aforesaid signatures that: the documents delivered to himself by Azad Barwari included the signatures of 160 MP's. When the Presidency created a committee to examine the authenticity of signatures, he received many messages and phone calls in order for their votes to be deleted from that document. He stated that the committee carried out the analyses in line with the demands of deputies, and as a result, 12 MP's withdrew and 2 of them demanded freezing their signatures and 1 MP demanded withdrawal of his signature for he is a doctor and thus he would be known by everyone. As a result, Talabani stated there were 145 true signatures in the document delivered to himself, and that the number of people who asked for calling vote of confidence remained at 156 after adding 11 PUK deputies to the list.   

As a matter of fact, the process and figures highlighted by Talabani are important in order to understand the balances in Iraqi politics. First of all, Talabani put forth that the Alliance of Kurdistan, Iraqiya and Sadr Movement misled the public opinion, and that even in the original document he received, the petition had not received the support of absolute majority in the parliament. As there are committee reports and Talabani could publish all these, it seems truer to believe what he says. The reason why 15 deputies, who withdrew, froze or wanted their signatures to be deleted, could be their hesitation from Maliki or the fact that this action was really made without their notice. As a matter of fact, when the petition was announced, certain deputies who saw their names in the list  declared they had not been informed of the signature. On the other hand, the fact that 145 deputies signed it seems quite meaningful for the Iraqi politics. First of all, the fact that PUK did not sign it from the beginning indicates that Talabani already expected and wanted the failure of the process. As the petition's losing its validity became definite, the signatures come to mean that Talabani tried to show the Alliance of Kurdistan was not split, and on the other hand the failure of the process to everyone. Nevertheless, the signatures of 11 deputies of PUK were displayed as secret signatures without the notice of Talabani in resources that are close to KDP. To sum up, it might be seen that 36 signatures in the petition belong to Kurds as PUK and Gorran among the Kurdish parties supported the process. In addition to this, it is known that 40 signatures belong to the Sadr Movement. It is seen that only 69 deputies from Iraqiya signed it. A considerable diminishment is observed in the Iraqiya List, which has 85 deputies in total.

The third important issue in Talabani's letter is given under the title of other issues. The first one is the criticisms regarding that PUK wanted the failure of initiative against Maliki. Talabani responded to this by saying that “if we had wanted the failure, the PUK deputies would not have signed the petition.” (Considering timing of signatures, Talabani's response does not seem quite convincing.) The second criticism is an answer to the accusations of Iraqiya leaders against himself for being partial. Talabani, who gives evidence to Adil Abdülmehdi and Tariq Hashimi, states that it is Maliki who accuses him of acting like the partisan of Islamic Party, and also that in the process of debaathization his using the influence in favor of Saleh Mutlaq, Adnan Janabi and Iskender Witwit played a major role in the election of those figures as deputies. The last important issue in this section is about his being provoked, humiliated and accused of carrying out the orders he receives from Iran by the opposition and the media organs close to opposition. Talabani, who put forth he can give convincing responses on this issue but he abstain from doing so for the time being, seems to be implicitly threatening those who criticize him. Considering the relations of the countries in the region with the Iraqi politicians, it is not that difficult for all the Iraqi politicians to find a trump they can use against each other.  

The fourth and last point in his letter is about the refusal on withdrawal of confidence vote. In this part of his letter, Talabani explicitly expresses his opinions on balances in Iraqi politics. Above all, Talabani states that prime ministry belongs to the Shiite Arab majority in Iraq, and that it is represented by the National Alliance. Therefore, he argues that the vote of confidence is not allowed to be withdrawn without their demand, and that it is necessary to convince National Alliance to change the candidate for prime minister if the change of prime minister is desired. Secondly in this part, he stated that the Sadr Movement represents only a quarter of Shiite deputies, and thus he would not consider their demands as the demand of Shiite majority. Thirdly, it was highlighted that the National Alliance, which represents the Shiite majority, already emphasized they are ready to implement the agreements known as Arbil documents. Lastly, Talabani stated that he ought to stay neutral as the Iraqi President, that he is responsible for ensuring national unity, and that he should resign from his office otherwise.   

The most important conclusion that might be drawn from his statements in this part is that Talabani will cooperate with Shiite Alliance, where Maliki predominates, contrary to KDP's acting in unison with Iraqiya and the Sadr Movement. This argument indicates that Talabani will act in unison with Maliki in near future. The underlying reason of Talabani's aforesaid attitude is most probably based on two reasons. The first reason is that Talabani believes the balance in Iraq might only be established through carrying on cooperation that was made after 2003 between Kurds and Shiite Arabs. And the second reason is that he has been striving to prevent the exclusion of PUK from the system by playing games of balance as he has done for the last 40 years against the reinforcement of KDP both in PUK and in Baghdad.

»» Assist. Prof. Dr. Serhat Erkmen, ORSAM Middle East Advisor, Ahi Evran Uni.