The Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi's initiative for national dialogue, which he launched on 8 March 2021, came as an attempt to benefit from the positive atmosphere left in the country by the visit of the Pope of the Vatican, and to pave the ground for the general elections scheduled for October 2021. However, the initiative raised a clear difference in the reactions of the various Iraqi actors.
This paper sheds light on the content of the initiative, its chances of success, and its impact on the general situation in the country, and the early elections in particular.
The content of the initiative
In a televised address on the occasion of the conclusion of the visit by the Pope of the Vatican to Iraq, Kadhimi stated that the National Dialogue Initiative concerns "the various antagonists, namely the political actors, the popular and youth activists, protesters and opponents of the government", and called on them to sit at the "table of responsible dialogue before the people and history". According to the initiative, the aim of the dialogue is “to give priority to the homeland’s interests, disavow the language of convulsive rhetoric and political defamation, prepare for the success of the early elections, and give the people the opportunity to hope and have confidence in the state and the democratic system”. Kadhimi also indicated that “the idea of a national dialogue could also contribute to solving all crises between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)”.
According to sources close to Kadhimi, the most important files that will be discussed at the dialogue table are the following:
The government has not yet determined the dates and number of the dialogue sessions and the method of participating therein. Apparently, it has put the idea forward for public discussion in the media and social media to monitor popular and official reactions so that the issues put forward for discussion would later be formally identified, given that it may disqualify the actors that attacked the initiative and questioned the government’s intentions.
The positions of the Iraqi actors
The desired objectives of the initiative
Based on his recent statements, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi seeks to lay general foundations for building the state, because he believes that there is a structural defect in the political system since 2003 which has led to the weakness of the state's apparatus and institutions and their failure to achieve economic, political and security development. Since Kadhimi believes that his government bears the aspirations of the October Movement, he seeks to achieve that change by possible means, including the comprehensive dialogue, even with the actors that were the reason behind the demonstrations and protests, given that they are large and influential political actors that will not easily disappear from the political scene even after the elections. Thus, he wants the dialogue to be an opportunity that may be the last one to review the mistakes of the past and agree on new formulas for political action in the light of the great changes taking place in the region.
Kadhimi, or indeed the other figures who decided to participate in the dialogue, does not set a high ceiling for the expected results of the initiative. However, participating in the national dialogue amounts to the implicit recognition of the country’s need for a new political contract, which the political actors may not be able to achieve through the rigid constitutional amendment mechanisms. Nevertheless, they are capable of agreeing on general foundations that would constitute the basis for another dialogue after the elections, including the agreement to take difficult decisions to improve the Iraqi economy, some of which appeared in the "white paper" that was put forward by Kadhimi in October 2020 to reform the economy, and the agreement to restrict the possession of weapons to the state, give up denominations such as “resistance” and “Jihad”, control the weapons of the Popular Mobilisation Committee (PMC, al-Hashd al-Shaabi), stop incitement campaigns and disavow the rhetoric of violence and hatred, declare true neutrality in the ongoing conflict between Washington and Tehran, reject any practices of this conflict inside Iraqi territories, and finally, officially recognise the October Movement as an influential political and social actor, and hold a dialogue with it and get it involved in the dialogues.
Potential obstacles to the initiative
The extremist Shiite actors will try to obstruct the National Dialogue Initiative or empty it of its content so that it is not counted as electoral propaganda in favour of Kadhimi, especially that it will be immediately prior to the early elections. On the other hand, Kadhimi will try to provide political support to his government, given that he does not have any parliamentary bloc. Therefore, he needs political support to implement his policies, especially in the areas of security, economy and foreign policy, which is the essence of the Initiative or the most important unspoken reason for it.
The actors supporting the government, led by the Sadr and Wisdom Movements and the Victory Coalition will most likely actively participate in the dialogue, in addition to some actors of the popular protests. These are the same actors that are likely to form an alliance among themselves after the elections to form the largest parliamentary bloc with the Marhala (Stage) Movement which will indirectly represent Kadhimi.
The dialogue may create a new division within the October Movement, between hard-liners who demand a boycott of everything official and governmental and refuse to sit with those whom they believe are the leaders of the "corruption and devastation" in the country, and those who see the need for active participation in order to achieve the required change and obtain assurances for the organisation of elections that are characterised by a great deal of fairness and transparency.
The Kurdish actors would not bless the outcomes of the national dialogue unless it achieves their objectives in resolving the outstanding problems with Baghdad, especially the restoration of control by the KRG over some parts of the Kirkuk Governorate, and ensuring stable financial shares of the budget. As usual, their approval of some of the terms of the agreements or statements that will emerge from the national dialogue will be the subject of bargaining and negotiation in order to obtain material and immediate gains for the Kurdish Region.
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