Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

'Block of 100' Reactivates Allawi’s Bid for Premiership

Here is a scenario: an important block of the United Iraqi Alliance—say one with 20 out of the UIA’s 128 parliamentary seats—defects and joins a motley coalition composed of Ayad Allawi’s group, the Consensus Front, and Saleh Al-Mutlaq’s gaggle for a total of 100 seats. The goal of this new coalition (who for our purposes shall call the ‘Block of 100’) would be to set up a new government with Ayad Allawi as Prime Minister. The Bush administration would greatly welcome this outcome.

According to some chatter that came my way, such a deal was secretly struck by Ayad Allawi and Nadim Al-Jabiri of the Fadhila Party under American auspices yesterday. Once this ‘Block of 100’ is formed, then Allawi can proceed to negotiate with the Kurds, who with their 53 seats would afford him a parliamentary majority and enable him to form a government.


Nadim Al-Jabiri, playing with fire


Nadim Al-Jabiri, 47, had been a professor at Baghdad University’s political science department for over 20 years, and his field of expertise can be summed up as “The World Zionist Conspiracy.” By some accounts, he was a high ranking Ba’athist, although I’ve never seen any documentation. The Fadhila Party was formed as the political vehicle for Ayatollah Sheikh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi’s standing among a Sadrist faction that did not want to follow Muqtada Al-Sadr—son of Grand Ayatollah Muhammad M. Sadiq Al-Sadr—but remained enamored of his father’s legacy that Yaqoubi represented.

Jabiri, a very ambitious and untalented man, found it politically expedient to join Fadhila and quickly rise up the ranks, especially after becoming his party’s representative to the Shia Political Council. In the January 2005 elections, Fadhila was part of the UIA, but it had voiced disaffection and wanted to pull out of this coalition prior to last December’s poll, and was barred from doing so by some legal constraints of the electoral law.

Jabiri’s defection could have be sanctioned directly by Ayatollah Yaqoubi, who is feeling a money crunch as Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s powerful son, Muhammad Ridha, effectively tries to monopolize most of the revenue that comes into Najaf. Within the UIA, the Fadhila Party would be dealt with as a junior partner, but with the ‘Block of 100’ it would turn itself into a kingmaker—naming a steep price for its cooperation.

In this new deal struck yesterday evening in Baghdad, it is supposed that Jabiri would drop his own bid for the prime minister’s post and settle for becoming deputy president of the republic, as well as getting a variety of important (and financially lucrative) cabinet portfolios for his party.

Should Fadhila defect, the UIA would be left with 110 seats at most and with no coalition partners per American pressure, and hence no chance to form a government on its own. This American arm twisting seems to be in response to recent Iranian belligerence; sending a message about who is still top dog in Iraq. Iran has been the long-time patron of many groups and personalities that are assembled in the UIA block.

Jabiri gave his assent to this deal in the presence of the highest officials representing Washington in Baghdad. But it is yet to be seen if he can deliver those 20 seats. I’d imagine that the UIA has the wherewithal to harshly bully the other members of Fadhila and dissuade them from following Jabiri into Allawi’s arms.

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