The NYTimes and political mathematics
This is what the New York Times had to say about the stability of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government today (Alissa J. Rubin, ‘Maliki Gains Time, but Faces a Daunting Task,’ September 25, 2007):
Seventeen ministries now are without a minister and those ministers who are left are in many cases doing double duty, making it difficult to improve the performance of the agencies and allow them to deliver desperately needed services like electricity and water.This may look like me splitting hairs, but I think it’s important to set the record straight: the NYT may have gotten the number 17 by adding up 6+6+5 (6 Sadrist ministers, 6 Consensus ministers, and 5 ‘Allawi’ ministers), but the reality is that 11 ministries are now “without a minister” since 4 of Allawi’s ministers are still at their jobs (…the only one who seems to have followed Allawi’s orders is his relation, Muhammad Tawfiq Allawi over at Telecommunications, who keeps telling people in private that he’ll be back on the job soon), and another minister from the Consensus bloc, Ali Baban, who’s in charge of the Ministry of Planning, has returned to his job and was consequently expelled by the Islamic Party for not toeing the party line. Ironically, the head of the Islamic Party, Tariq Hashemi, has not resigned from his post as Vice-President.
What’s also interesting is that all these parties—the Sadrists, Consensus and Allawi—have not pulled out any of their guys who serve as Deputy Ministers, let alone withdrawing their loyalists and appointees who occupy positions further down the bureaucratic chain.
The point of the NYT's ‘News Analysis’ piece can be summed in these paragraphs:
Some are making lists of members of Parliament who would support a “no-confidence” motion to see if it is possible to obtain the 138 votes necessary to remove him. Under Iraqi law, the prime minister and his government can be removed by a vote of no confidence that is supported by a simple majority in the 275-member Parliament.But if the NYT can’t accurately report on whether 11 or 17 ministries are vacant, then they sure won’t have the capacity to tally-up 138 ‘no confidence’ votes; it’s interesting that the reporter didn’t press Mr. Shahbandar on whether or not Allawi can deliver all 25 votes from his bloc alone towards the “movement” to yank out Maliki. At least four MPs on Allawi’s list have recently expressed their desire to secede from his bloc and form their own coalition with other ‘dissident’ MPs (Safia al-Suheil, Mahdi al-Hafiz, Hachim al-Hassani and Wa’il Abdel-Latif).
“There is serious movement around a vote,” said Ezzet al-Shabandar, a senior member of the secular Iraqiya Party, which is led by a former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi and opposes Mr. Maliki. But, Mr. Shabandar added, some of Mr. Maliki’s opponents are from religious parties and they would like the tacit assent of the religious leaders in Najaf, including the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to remove Mr. Maliki. It is still unclear whether Ayatollah Sistani will take sides.
The political situation in Baghdad is far more dynamic and fluid, and with many more moving parts, than the picture that is being relayed by this newspaper report: new alliances are being made, and new loyalties are being formed; someone in an established position of authority, such as Maliki, has plenty of space to maneuver and make promises here and here to win over the fence-sitters. It's coalition politics, and the operative word here is patronage.