Iraq and Gulf Analysis

An Iraq Blog by a Victim of the Human Rights Crimes of the Norwegian Government

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 19 September 2012 14:44

Originally posted on Police Stalking, Police Criminality, and Human Rights:

I sometimes wonder why it took me so long to write in the first person about police stalking.

I wanted to exhaust every other possibility first. To make sure that there was no other conceivable road back to the life I once lived.  I had been happy as an historian based in Oslo in Norway, working on Iraq and its transition to democracy and the rule of law.

Back in early 2011, when the Oslo police began giving me unwanted attention due to my street photography, I reacted with shock and fear. At the time, my own jurisprudence regarding photography was unrefined and mainly based on induction and analogy: If a Japanese tourist could take mobile camera photos, then so could I. When a fleet of uniformed and unmarked police cars suddenly began chasing me around the streets of Oslo in February 2011 in a so-called police stalking operation (aka…

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Haydar al-Abbadi Is the New Iraq PM Candidate

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 11 August 2014 13:48

Today, what remains of the pan-Shiite National Alliance formally presented Haydar al-Abbadi of the Daawa party as their PM candidate. Abbadi will be charged by President Fuad Masum to replace the current PM, Nuri al-Maliki.

The political realities behind this move can be summarized as follows. For some weeks, pressure has been building inside Maliki’s State of Law coalition to have him changed. Finally today, factions led by Haydar al-Abbadi of the Daawa and Hussein al-Shahristani, the current deputy PM, broke with Maliki to nominate Abbadi for PM. Early reports suggests 38 Daawa MPs and 12 members of the Shahristani bloc abandoned Maliki, leaving him with the backing of only around 45 members of the original 95-member State of Law bloc. It is worth noting that the traditionally pro-Iranian Badr organization has not been enumerated among the 128 or so supporters of Abbadi.

Constitutionally and legally, today’s developments also clear the air. Until yesterday, Maliki could plausibly plead the case that the president should have charged him with forming the government before the official deadline expired. However, today’s action by the Shiite alliance showed that Maliki’s claim to represent the largest bloc no longer has any basis, because State of Law has disintegrated. The focus on the first session of parliament in the ruling of the federal supreme court from 2010 has now been superseded by events, and in any case was not based on the Iraqi constitution itself. It only reflected the opinion of the court. Accordingly, Maliki’s promise to bring the case before the Iraqi federal supreme court will be of academic interest only. Any attempt by him to challenge the nomination through other means than the court will be profoundly anti-democratic.

Haydar al-Abbadi is a former finance minister who is well liked by groups outside the Daawa and State of Law, who elected him as deputy speaker for the new parliament earlier. He will now have 30 days to present his cabinet for approval by the Iraqi parliament with an absolute majority.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Uncategorized | 23 Comments »

Maliki, the Presidency, and Parliament in the Iraq PM Nomination Battle

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 5 August 2014 17:06

The Iraqi parliament met briefly today. Since the parliament website remains offline, knowledge of the proceedings is a bit sketchy but it is being reported in media that 245 (out of 328) MPs debated the unfolding ISIS advance in the north as well as the election of new permanent parliamentary committees.

Perhaps more crucial than the actual session was what was being said by leading political figures before the meeting commenced, and how it was reported in Iraqi media. In particular, from reading Iraqi newswires  one could get the impression that momentum was building towards some sort of crucial step regarding the naming of the next PM nominee, or at least defining which political bloc constitutes the largest one in parliament, with a right to have their candidate for PM nominated.

The underlying political dynamic in this seems clear. On the one hand, those who reject a third term for Maliki are trying to induce some sort of parliament action. A particularly interesting aspect of the ongoing maneouvering is the prominent role of former PM Jaafari who during the course of 24 hours during the weekend met with an impressive array of leaders outside his Shiite alliance, including most prominently President Fuad Masum plus Sunni leaders like Saleh al-Mutlak and leaders of the secular Iraq coalition like Qutayba al-Jibburi. It seems clear that Jaafari is now openly challenging Maliki and is trying to use forces outside the Shiite alliance to tip the balance.

On the other hand, Maliki’s supporters are apparently hunkering down, pointing to the closing window of the constitutional timeline for nominating the PM, whose deadline expires some time next week regardless of how holidays and Fridays are counted.

In all of this, it has to be said that Maliki has the Iraqi constitution on his side. It simply isn’t the business of parliament to opine on the biggest bloc, and certainly not to engage in formally naming one (tasmiya) as was reportedly attempted by some blocs today. In fact, no one is going to name the biggest bloc per se. Parliament can name the biggest bloc, the most beautiful bloc or the fiercest bloc for that matter but it would all be singularly irrelevant to the PM nomination process. The only naming that comes into play is that relating to the person of the PM nominee of the biggest bloc, and it is the job of the Iraqi president – some would say, one of the few real jobs of that position – to do that. President Fuad Masum’s reported complaints about “political pressure” to decide on a PM nominee cannot produce much sympathy since that’s an inconvenience that comes with his prestigious job!

Another parliament meeting is called for Thursday, the day before the formal deadline for naming the PM expires. Hopefully, parliament will not engage in more interventions in a matter which is simply beyond its constitutional jurisdiction. Naming the Iraqi PM nominee is not an act of parliament but a presidential prerogative. Any parliamentary action in the matter would be for purposes of public information about the presidential decision only.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues | 1 Comment »

PM Nomination Trouble in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 29 July 2014 23:22

Unlike the procedures for electing the president of the republic (for which a separate law with elaborate procedures exists) the nomination of the Iraqi prime minister is governed entirely by the Iraqi constitution. As a result, the selection of the prime minister candidate is arguably the most sensitive and unpredictable stage of the Iraqi government formation process.

With respect to the Iraqi constitution, it simply says in article 76 that within 15 days of his election, the new president must charge the candidate of the largest parliament bloc to form a new government within 30 days. The new cabinet will then be presented for parliament for approval by an absolute majority – for ministers individually, as well as the cabinet programme.

Beyond the constitution there is an opinion by the Iraqi federal supreme court – no. 25 of 2010 – that sets out to clarify some of the vagueness of article 76. This piece of constitutional jurisprudence has been cited (and criticized) far more than it has been actually analysed. What the opinion does is basically two things. First, it provides a specification about what is meant in article 76 of the Iraqi constitution on the duty of the president to charge the candidate of the largest parliamentary bloc to form the government. On this, the opinion suggests that it is irrelevant whether the bloc was formed before or after the election, which was an issue of contention in 2010. The opinion on this is quite logical and not as contrived as has been suggested since the constitution talks about parliamentary bloc (kutla niyabiyya) rather than electoral list (qaima). However, secondly, the opinion of the court goes on to introduce a point whose relationship with the constitution is more unclear. It establishes a cut-off date for bloc formation by saying that what counts is bloc size at the time of the first sitting of the new parliament. It is not clear why, after the general principle of post-election bloc formation has already been admitted, there should be any reason to consider the first meeting of parliament as particularly important from the constitutional point of view. After all, parliament can be expected to have several meetings before the PM is nominated even if the constitutional timelines are strictly adhered to, and it would for example be far more logical to establish a cut-off point following the election of the president, when a 15-day window for finding the PM nominee begins.

In any case, what all of this suggests is that the Iraqi constitution is far from crystal clear on the nomination of the PM, and that at least a degree of presidential discretion should be taken as a given – and certainly with respect to what point in time the “largest bloc” should be estimated. However, although Iraqi politicians have engaged in a ridiculous amount of correspondence to indicate their bloc size at the time of the first parliament meeting on 1 July, it really is a different problem that is now more acutely coming into the foreground. The problem is that Iraqi factions seem to cling to the erroneous view that the right to form the next government is governed by bloc size alone. That view is misleading. There are two elements in the constitutional instructions for the president: He needs to identify a bloc, and a candidate. Blocs are only relevant for purposes of government formation if they also have a candidate. Candidates with no blocs are irrelevant; as are blocs with no candidates. In other words, a bloc does not have a right to form a government by virtue of size alone. And that is why all the calls for the Shiite alliance to be charged with the premier nomination, as an assumed “right of the bloc”, in the current situation are beside the point, since the Shiite alliance doesn’t have an agreed PM candidate. A bloc with no PM candidate has no right to even enter the discussion of government formation, no matter its size.

The biggest bloc in the Iraqi parliament that also has a PM candidate is currently State of Law, whose candidate of course is Nuri al-Maliki. Members of this bloc, including Maliki himself, are now explicitly demanding the right to form a government, separate from the rest of the putative pan-Shiite alliance. Unless a bigger bloc comes up with a candidate before the constitutional timeline for PM nomination expires on 8 August (or a few days later if holidays are counted), President Fuad Masum has a constitutional duty to charge Maliki with forming his third government, regardless of whether he has a realistic chance of reaching an absolute majority when he presents it to parliament for approval or a second attempt by another candidate will be needed.

Whether this second scenario will come into play remains to be seen. Noteworthy in this respect is the almost sensational amount of presidential discretion that exists in the case the first PM nominee fails. The president ‘s job, in that case, is simply to find “a new candidate”. Yes, you read that correctly – article 76-3 of the Iraqi constitution. It doesn’t say which bloc the second candidate should come from, just that it should be a “new candidate”. Apart from the general age and education requirements of article 77, there is, in other words, nothing much to go by. In theory, then, the president’s mandate in the potential case of a second PM nomination could be interpreted as using his political skills to select whomever he thinks has the greatest chance of carrying an absolute majority in the Iraqi parliament .

Iraqi politicians now have the rest of the Eid and the next weekend to contemplate these issues. But soon they will have to go beyond the debates about numbers and focus on the premier candidates themselves.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues | 16 Comments »

Iraq Elects Fuad Masum as New President

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 24 July 2014 18:07

There was both irony and symbolism in the air as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Iraq today. In his address upon arriving, Ki-moon highlighted the importance of the Iraqi parliament adhering to constitutional timelines for forming the new government. For its part, apparently unaware about the visit, the Iraqi parliament was already in session. In order to accommodate Ki-moon, it had to postpone its planned vote on a new president by more than an hour.

Once the voting got underway, things went rather faster than expected. Parliament speaker Salim al-Jibburi announced that a committee had considered more than 100 candidates and made some disqualifications based on formal criteria such as age, education and de-Baathification status. He then proceeded to call a vote on several dozen candidates.

There is a case to be made that the way the election was carried out was illegal. This is so because the law on presidency candidates distinctly stipulates that rejected candidates, of which there were several, have a 3-day right of appeal to the federal supreme court. This was not honoured. Sadly, during the procedural discussion prior to the vote, Iraqi MPs wasted their time on political arguments instead of these important legal questions. As for the speaker himself, maybe it was too much to expect that he should take any interest in putting the law above the interests of big political parties since he himself acquired his seat in the previous parliament in an illegal fashion in 2010? And given that Jibburi is a darling of the US embassy, it would perhaps be too much to expect them or the UN to care about these little details of legality.

What happened instead was that a first vote was held in which the candidate of the unified Kurdish blocs received 175 votes – convincing and indicative of the broad political consensus that was also achieved when the new parliament speaker was elected, but of short of the 218 absolute-majority required for the president in the first vote. The second best vote-getter was Hanan al-Fatlawi of the bloc of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who had launched her candidacy “in a personal capacity”. She got 37 votes, whereas several other candidates got a handful of votes each (no verified statistics are available since the Iraq parliament website remains offline).

Following rather unseemly interventions by Shiite alliance figures Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Baha al-Aaraji, Fatlawi was intimidated into withdrawing her candidacy. The third best vote-getter, Faiq al-Sheikh Ali also withdrew, leaving it to the judge Hussein al-Musawi, who also challenged Talabani in 2010, to stand against Masum in the largely ceremonial second vote (since he was absent from parliament, he was unable to withdraw). Of course, the optics of all of this represented a miserable rupture with positive tendencies in the direction of more mature, non-sectarian politics seen in the run-up to the presidential vote. There was something distinctively impotent over the way presidential candidates gave inspired speeches defending their choice to stand as candidates in a protest against the ethno-sectarian spoils system, only to withdraw and leave the field open to the candidate largely decided by one of the Kurdish parties (PUK) in its closed meetings.

Iraq is now actually ahead of the constitutional timeline for forming its next government. But the potentially most problematic task remains: Agreeing on a prime minister. The president has got 14 days to nominate the PM candidate of the largest bloc in parliament, and exactly like in 2010 there are questions about the identity of that bloc and its candidate. In general, much of what has been said publicly about this matter has been futile. The opinion of the new parliament speaker has been quoted, as has the federal supreme court – with claims and counterclaims about its position. The truth is, it is for the new president to identify the largest bloc and ask its PM candidate to form the next government. Whereas the pan-Shiite alliance has declared itself the largest bloc repeatedly, there is a case to be made that as long as it does not have an agreed PM candidate it doesn’t exist in a way that is interesting to the Iraqi government formation and that the State of Law bloc of PM Maliki – whose candidate  is Maliki – is the biggest bloc. It is being reported that Masum will meet soon with the Shiite alliance to clarify these things. Unless a PM candidate emerges, Maliki could legitimately complain to the federal supreme court that Masum is wasting his time with a non-existent political alliance.

One additional interesting aspect of today’s sessions: Iraqi MPs apparently forgot about ueseless vice-presidential positions altogether! Hopeully the PM question will now remain their preoccupation.

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For the First Time in Iraq, a Large Field of Presidential Candidates

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 22 July 2014 18:29

Following positive developments in the Iraqi parliament and the election of a speaker before agreement was reached on other leadership positions, it is more difficult to evaluate the posturing for the next constitutional step: The election of the largely ceremonial office of president of the Iraqi republic.

For starters, one very key source has been missing for days: The Iraqi parliament website is offline, apparently due to a site subscriber or maintenance issue, or potentially to do with a hacker attack. This prevents insights into the details of the ongoing process of nominations to the presidential post. According to the law on candidacies for the Iraqi presidency, candidates are to submit their credentials within 3 days of the election of the speaker, whereupon the speaker has got 3 days to vet them for formal criteria (age, education, de-Baathification status etc.) before a 3-day appeals window for any candidate excluded during the initial part of the process.

With reports about a large field of candidates, it is very hard to see how due process can be adhered to if an attempt to elect the president will go ahead on Wednesday, as press reports suggest. The legal adviser of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Tareq Harb, has suggested that adherence to the timelines of proper vetting and appeal possibilities would take us to August before the president could be voted on. By way of contrast, though, at a presser today, the new parliament speaker, Salim al-Jibburi, nonetheless seemed to indicate that a vote would go ahead, which seems legally problematic.

Beyond the legal aspects, there are potential procedural and practical problems relating to the election of the next president following the explosion of the number of candidates this year. In 2006, Jalal Talabani was the only candidate. In 2010 he was challenged by a judge who presented himself as candidate in protest against the ethno-sectarian spoils system. This year, more than 100 candidates have reportedly registered. As a minimum, a vote on the president should feature a brief presentation of each candidate, meaning the presentation of candidates alone could go on for many, many hours. And we have not even talked about vice presidents yet.

Of course, in general terms, the multiplication of presidential candidates seems to be a good thing for Iraq’s democracy. There has been a stark contrast between the official discourse of  a contest that is open to all (with potential contestants ranging from those who protest the ethno-sectarian spoils system to those who think the presidency should go to particular ethnicities), and what many believed was the real decision-making process: A debate about which member of the Kurdish PUK party should have the job, maybe with the president of the Kurdish region as supreme arbiter.  Eventually, though, even the PUK came up with more than one candidate as both Fuad Masum and Barham Salih registered for potential election.

In general the greater openness seems to have a liberating effect on Iraqi politics – if only Iraqi politicians can manage to find a way of getting the formalities right for the much larger field of presidential candidates than usual.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The Iraqi Parliament Elects Its New Speakership

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 15 July 2014 20:05

Claims and counter-claims continue to dominate Iraqi media concerning the military battle against ISIS in the north of the country, with reports about renewed action around Tikrit today. But whatever the exact situation may be in Tikrit, the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad today scored a very significant victory in the battle against ISIS: The election of a new parliament speakership in accordance with the relevant constitutional provisions.

The vote today was historical also for reasons beyond the ongoing struggle against ISIS. Above all, it is the first time in Iraq’s post-2003 history that Iraqi deputies have followed the constitution to the letter and held a separate vote on the parliament speaker and his two deputies. Previously, the speaker vote has been subjected to more far-reaching package deals also covering the presidency and the premiership. Indeed, as late as during the first session of the new Iraqi parliament just 2 weeks ago, Sunnis and Kurds demanded that the Shiites decide on their premier candidate before a vote on the speaker. Now, after considerable pressure from the outside (and in particular from the Shiite clergy), that knot has been disentangled. Hopefully it will all have positive and liberating side effects for Iraq’s political process.

The votes on the new speaker and his two deputies were in themselves interesting, although not much is known about voting patterns because of the secrecy (paper ballots) with which the votes were conducted. Firstly, Salim al-Jibburi (originally of the Sunni Islamist Iraqi Islamic Party from Diyala and currently part of a wider Sunni alliance headed by Usama al-Nujayfi, the former parliament speaker), won the speakership itself with an impressive 194 votes, far more than the required absolute majority of 165 votes. His challenger, Shuruq al-Abaji (a female MP from a smaller secular bloc) got only 19 votes, whereas 60 blank or invalid votes seemed to indicate some sort of protest.

The first deputy vote was more dramatic, with Ahmed Chalabi mounting a surprise internal Shiite challenge to the official Shiite alliance candidate, Haydar al-Abbadi of the Maliki list. There was also a third candidate, Faris Yusuf Juju, yet again a secularist. Abbadi did win the competition with Chalabi 149-107 but that was not enough for an absolute majority. Chalabi then withdrew and Abbadi won the second vote with 188 votes, though 76 deputies voted blank.

The second deputy vote was more of an acclamation, with the Kurdish candidate from the Gorran party, Aram Sheikh Mohammad, gaining 171 votes and with 70 blank votes.

Not all of this is easy to interpret. The blank votes seem to have been quite consistently in the range of 60 to 70 deputies, though this has not been tied to any particular bloc. The bomb represented by the intra-Shiite Chalabi challenge to Abbadi may have been an attempt at testing the waters for a forthcoming premier candidacy and his ability to attract votes outside the Shia alliance, although it has been suggested that it is difficult to compare the Abbadi-Chalabi struggle with a future Maliki-Chalabi struggle because Abbadi has more friends than Maliki outside his own faction. At any rate, it was quite impressive for Maliki’s coalition to gain 149 votes for Abbadi  in today’s heated political atmosphere, where the advance of ISIS has been so marked lately that it could now be hurting Maliki more than it is helping him. Abbadi was nominated as recently as this morning, after Humam Hammudi of ISCI had been considered the frontrunner for the first deputy speaker post previously.

Perhaps the most important result of today’s vote was the leap of faith that Iraqi politicians conducted despite wavering to the last minute. Shiites and Kurds voted for the Sunni Islamist Jibburi as speaker without any guarantees regarding the deputy speakers – not to speak about the president or the PM. This in turn could have positive side effects, and hopefully the president will be duly elected in the same manner and with adherence to the constitutional timeline – 30 days from the first parliament meeting on 1 July.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014 | 16 Comments »

Iraq’s Shiite Alliance Wavering in the Question of the Parliament Speakership

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 14 July 2014 22:15

The new Iraqi parliament met briefly on Sunday and failed to make much progress apart from agreeing to meet again on Tuesday.

One interesting aspect of the proceedings that has failed to receive much attention concerns the stance of the pan-Shiite alliance on the issue of electing a speaker before a comprehensive agreement including the positions of president and prime minister has been reached. The Iraqi constitution envisages this kind of sequenced and piecemeal approach (instead of the package deals that were done in 2006 and 2010), and for the first time in Iraqi post-2003 history, there has this year been a degree of actual support for this kind of approach – from Iraqi voices and players in the international community alike. At least some members of the pan-Shiite alliance have also highlighted this possibility, probably fully aware that if they stayed unified, the Shiites in theory have enough votes (more than an absolute majority of 165 deputies) to impose whatever speaker they would like to have.

Interestingly, though, the Shiite bloc has refrained from pushing through any particular speaker candidate to enable a separate speaker vote. Indeed it has been reported that it was members of the Shiite alliance that played a role in having the parliament session on Sunday adjourned following failure to arrive at a more comprehensive agreement on the other leadership posts. This apparent reluctance to go ahead with the speaker election is interesting since it breaks with the trends of majoritarianism sometimes evident in the Shiite alliance (and especially in the State of Law bloc of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki). Instead, there have been some rather contrived suggestions by members of the Shiite alliance to impose particular conditions for the selection of the speaker. In one version, Maliki’s legal adviser Tareq Harb suggested that a speaker could be elected “from the smaller lists and temporarily”. How, one wonders, can Harb see this to resonate with his avowed orthodox approach to the Iraqi constitution? Then on Sunday, Hanan al-Fatlawi, another Maliki ally, suggested the speaker could be elected from among some of the tiny religious-minority lists in the Iraqi parliament (such as various Christian lists, Shabak and Sabaeans).

What this all suggests is that the Shiite alliance remains worried about giving away the speaker seat to a Sunni whom they don’t fully trust – Salim al-Jibburi (from the Iraqi Islamic Party in Diyala) having been the most prominent candidate so far. This in turn relates to a broader contradiction between majoritarianism and consensus models that continues to afflict the Shiite alliance. It goes back at least to the spring of 2011, when, after having sometimes promoted majoritarianism in the preceding period, the State of Law coalition pathetically demanded the creation of a third vice-presidency to make sure they had a say even within that minor office. Despite all the persisting talk of “political majority”, it seems the Shiite alliance has lately been fully preoccupied with dividing the spoils of the elections in the traditional way – with heated discussions about who should be the Shiite deputy speaker (Humam Hamudi of ISCI is a forerunner) and who should be the Shiite deputy president (it seems this may go to a Sadrist).

In all of this it is worth noting that despite weather problems (that some suggested dovetailed rather conveniently with Kurdish threats to boycott the Iraqi parliament), the short session on Sunday was actually rather well attended. Press reports talked about 225-235 (out of 328) deputies present, but the official parliament record says 270 which is very high compared with averages from the previous parliamentary cycle. What this means is that there are more than enough deputies present to complete a vote on a speaker, which requires an absolute majority. Maybe Iraqi politicians should now try to liberate themselves from past practices and just go ahead with the speaker vote, as indeed the Iraqi constitution stipulates? Such a move might in itself potentially produce new dynamics and alliances that are capable of affecting the current deadlock in the key question of who should be the next Iraqi prime minister.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Iraqi constitutional issues, UIA dynamics | 4 Comments »

What Went Wrong in Iraq: The Khedery Version

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 6 July 2014 23:09

It’s going to be cited a lot, so it’s worth taking a closer look at a quite lengthy opinion piece on US policy towards Iraq and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that recently appeared in The Washington Post.

The article is signed by Ali Khedery, one of the most prominent Americans of Iraqi origins to have served the United States government in Iraq between 2003 and 2010. Until now, Khedery’s role has been largely unknown outside policy-making circles, but his assertion that he at times became “the Iraqi leader’s go-to guy for just about everything” seems credible enough, especially given his Arabic language skills, which by his own admission formed something of a rarity and an exception among high-level US decision-makers in Iraq during the years of the Bush administration. Khedery also had particularly close ties to Maliki, described as going back before Maliki’s emergence as premier in 2006, and involving for example a prominent and personal role during Maliki’s visit to London in 2009 for purposes of urgent medical treatment.

Some valuable empirical information is certainly provided in the Khedery piece. We learn that not only did Maliki have the habit of working 16 hours a day during his early days as premier. Until 2009, apparently, leading US officials Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus reportedly were together with him for several hours “virtually every day”, strengthening the impression of a period of American tutelage during long periods of Maliki’s first term. Also, there is credible information in the Khedery piece about the key circles of American support for Maliki – consisting chiefly of Ambassador  Chris Hill and Brett McGurk of the NSC, but also, crucially, at a key juncture in September 2010, of Vice President Joe Biden.  Biden reportedly at one point in 2010 betted his vice presidency that Maliki was going to extend a US-Iraqi agreement that would have enabled American soldiers to stay in Iraq beyond 2011! Also, regarding the continuing debate over how the US ended up with Maliki as PM in the first place (i.e. in 2006), there is some new information that appears to differ slightly from what was revealed by Dexter Filkins in another recent review of US policy in Iraq: According to Filkins, it was an unnamed, Arabic-speaking CIA official who promoted Maliki’s candidature. According to Khedery it was himself and Jeffrey Beals, also both Arabic-speaking but in most sources referred to as political officers at the State Department rather than CIA. Unless one of them was indeed CIA there is some discordance between the two narratives.

However, other parts of the piece by Khedery are clearly misleading even when it comes to events that are well documented in open sources. This contributes to  a sense of distrust regarding the overall reliability of the piece, and certainly raises questions about whether we can rely on Khedery as a key informant for events where the available source base may be limited.

Most of the more problematic comments by Khedery seem guided by a master narrative of Maliki, bad; Ayad Allawi (of the secular Iraqiyya) and Adel Abd al-Mahdi (of the Shiite Islamist ISCI), good. For example, regarding the extensive use of de-Baathification for political purposes prior to the March 2010 general election, Khedery writes: “He [Maliki] coerced Iraq’s chief justice to bar some of his rivals from participating in the elections”. This description of what happened comes across as disingenuous. For starters, the resuscitation of the de-Baathification issue in early 2010 was clearly driven by Maliki’s Shiite enemies who, with considerable Iranian assistance,  had tried in vain to enlist him for their sectarian alliance during the previous summer. Among the newspapers that jumped on the de-Baathification propaganda bandwagon was the very Al-Adala, personally owned by Khedary’s progressive darling, Adel abd al-Mahdi. On the other hand, for his part, Maliki fought hard battles to retain his own candidates on the electoral ballots following attempts by de-Baathification hardliners to exclude them as late as days ahead of the March 2010 election. It was not really until after the elections that Maliki systematically tried to employ dirty tricks to change the result, as seen first and foremost in the attempt to disqualify seat winners after the result had been announced.

A second major theme where Khedery is tendentious concerns the ruling of the Iraqi supreme court  from May 2010 that deemed post-election bloc coalescence (with a view to forming the next government following elections) a legitimate exercise under the Iraqi constitution. Many Americans have tried to portray this ruling as some kind of Maliki coup, but closer inspection of the relevant constitutional background materials suggests that the ruling was quite objective in addressing the limited constitutional ambiguity that existed. Many rulings of the Iraqi supreme court can be seen as politicized (perhaps more clearly so from 2011 and onwards), but the ‘largest bloc” definition ruling just isn’t one of them. Nonetheless, Khedery goes on to generalize from this ruling to a greater theme of “safeguarding the Iraqi constitution” from what is seen as constant encroachments by Maliki. Suffice to say in this context that, back in 2010, the only part of the government formation deal that was truly in conflict with the Iraqi constitution was the American-sponsored idea of a strategic policy council, created to accommodate another of Khederys’s friends – Ayyad Allawi.

The overly crude characterizations of the workings of the Iraqi judiciary continue in Khedery’s description of Maliki’s second term. Here, there is arguably more to pick on, but instead of focusing on some of the bluntest examples of judicial overreach that exist (such as the ruling on the independent commissions in January 2011) Khedery writes, “he [Maliki] did not abide by a law imposing term limits, again calling upon kangaroo courts to issue a favorable ruling.” In fact the veto of the term limits law was perfectly predictable with reference to past rulings of the Iraqi supreme court, which have consistently stressed the constitutional articles that say full legislative projects must go to parliament from the cabinet and/or president before they can be voted upon. One can agree or disagree with that orthodox reading of the Iraqi constitution, but in itself it is nothing new and the court was merely repeating itself rather than responding to some sort of Maliki concoction authored as an ad hoc measure after the law on term limits appeared.

Yet another theme that seemed biased in Khedery’s account concerns Sunni-secular representation in the Maliki government that was eventually formed in December 2010. Khedery describes this as “impressive sounding posts with little authority”. Well, those posts included some rather weighty ministries such as finance! In order to make sense of his own narrative, Khedery then conveniently flashes forward to the threatened arrest of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi right after the US withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, and then jumps further to the targeting of Rafi al-Eisawi, the finance minister, in late 2012. Between those events, however, there were junctures where things could have gone very differently in Iraqi politics if the US government had had the acumen to act in a more balanced way – between unlimited support for Maliki on the one hand and unrestrained kowtowing to the most radical voices among his enemies on the other.

Then, as if there is a need to amplify his story beyond empirical facts – and as if he doesn’t himself fully trust the persuasiveness of his own narrative – Khedery brings in some rather dubious expert witnesses whose presence in the story actually has the net effect of reducing Khedery’s own credibility as an objective chronicler. First, Khedery finds reason to mention the fact that  “one stunned executive [apparently of the Council on Foreign Relations], the father of an American Marine, turned to me and asked, American troops are dying to keep that son of a b—- [Maliki] in power”? No, Khedery, one does not acquire some sort of higher monopoly on truth by fathering an American marine, although that kind of belief is not entirely unknown in the US. It would probably be no more difficult to find hundreds of executives with children serving in the US army who would be ready to use exactly the same kind of colourful language that was used about Maliki with reference to President Bush, Obama, or both! To make matters even worse, Khedery goes on to cite none other than Muqtada al-Sadr for his labelling of Maliki as a “tyrant”. And that was meant to buttress Khedery’s own argument along similar lines! Well, if Muqtada, the great democrat, says so, well surely it has to be true?

Things like these make it more difficult to evaluate other aspects of the Khedery piece that are not well known from previous accounts. What, for example, are we to make about allegations about Maliki’s supposed desire to flatten whole parts of Basra (“urging American airstrikes to level entire city blocks”) during the Charge of the Knights operations against the Sadrists in early 2008?

Generally speaking, Khedery paints a mostly positive or sympathetic picture of Maliki until Khedery himself left Baghdad in February 2009. However, when Khedery returned to Iraq on a special mission during the frenzy of government formation in autumn 2010, he had clearly changed his mind about Maliki and had only bad things to say about him. Instead, for this period, Khedery drums up a rosy image of Iraqiyya headed by Ayyad Allawi (“a moderate, pro-Western coalition encompassing all of Iraq’s major ethno-sectarian groups”). Apparently Khedery himself played a leading role in the attempt to make Abd al-Mahdi of the Shiite Islamist ISCI the PM candidate of Iraqiyya, as well as a bid to obtain approval from the highest clergy in Najaf for this kind of “nationalist alternative” (very secular indeed, that turn to Najaf).

Intriguingly, though, Khedery does not specify any single juncture or decisive event that made him change his mind about Maliki so radically. There is, however, a crucial little detail in his biography in the introduction that cannot and should not escape notice. Today, Khedery is “chairman and chief executive of the Dubai-based Dragoman Partners… In 2011, as an Executive with Exxon-Mobil, he negotiated the company’s entry into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq”. Now, that was quick: Khedery’s embrace of some of the most separatist forces among the Iraqi Kurds apparently materialized only months after his own resignation from US government service in Iraq in December 2010. A bit Kurdish  separatism, courting the Shiite clergy in Najaf, promoting secularists cum Islamists: Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised about inconsistencies like these since Khedery already told us that the 11 September 2001 terror attacks played a key role in making him enlist for government service in Iraq, which in actual fact had nothing to do with those attacks?

The alternation between (and sometimes combination of) support for the Iraqi central government and Kurdish separatism is of course nothing new in American approaches to Iraq. In the past, the Obama administration supported Maliki as a leadership personality but never embraced his idea of a political-majority government, thereby contributing to an uneasy end result which at times looked paranoid and sectarian instead of stable and national. In the current political crisis, one can certainly get the impression that Washington is arming all sides at the same time: Nujayfi and Barzani feel boldened by frequent telephone calls from VP Biden, whereas Maliki undeniably gets empowered by US military assistance, regardless of exactly what the packaging says.  Exactly like Khedery, the Obama administration  employs a contradictive approach to Iraq based on unhelpful caricatures of the key Iraqi players. Until the underlying methodological issues here are sorted out, these contradictions are likely to persist, with unsatisfactory results accompanying any attempt by the United States to exercise political influence in Iraq.

Posted in Sectarian master narrative, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | 11 Comments »

The New Iraqi Parliament Opens

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 1 July 2014 20:39

So the new Iraqi parliament met today after having promised Iraqi voters, the Shiite religious authorities, and the international community that they would do so.

Unsurprisingly, they did little else than meet. Following the inaugural formalities, Mahdi al-Hafez, the “speaker of age”(the oldest MP who chairs the first session), introduced the only point of substance on the agenda: The election of a parliament speaker and his two deputies. At that point, a Kurdish MP found the time had come to complain about the refusal of Baghdad to  compromise on the KRG share of the budget. This rather blunt violation of the official agenda prompted heckling and even blunter derogatory verbal counter attacks. Speaker Hafez, who represents the small and secular Iraqi coalition with both Sunni and Shiite members, proposed a half-hour break to calm tensions and explore the opportunities for electing a speaker.

When the session resumed, many of the 255 deputies that had  been present at the outset failed to show up. It was suggested that there was no longer a quorum (165 MPs); indeed some reports suggested the number of deputies present had fallen as low as 70-100. What apparently had happened was that Kurds and Sunni Arabs deliberately boycotted – the Kurds probably to some extent offended by the verbal altercation about its attempt to put budget issues on the agenda, but also with suggestions that both protested what they saw as a failure by the Shia alliance to come up with a replacement candidate for Nuri al-Maliki as premier. What was clear, at any rate, was that there was no speaker candidate.  Accordingly, there wasn’t much to do except agree the next session, and it fell to the mainly Shiite Islamist MPs that remained in the session to work this out together with Hafez, the temporary speaker. To Hafez’s credit, he did not go along with suggestions by Ibrahim al-Jaafari that this could wait until after Ramadan. Instead, another meeting next Tuesday, 8 July, was fixed.

A couple of comments on the constitutional and legal aspects of this. Firstly, there has been much talk about the ability of the Iraqi supreme court to speed up the government formation process, based on its intervention back in 2010. Sadly, though, the ability of the court to do much in practice is probably limited. In 2010, its ruling against parliament was focused on its open-ended and everlasting (jalsa maftuha) session. Iraqi politicians have found an easy solution to this by simply ending today’s session without results and then calling a new one. The truth is, the supreme court cannot force Iraqi parliamentarians to remain within the parliament building until they find a solution, papal conclave-style. What actually happened in 2010 was not that the court suddenly became extremely powerful, but that its ruling coincided with the first real signs of progress on the political front after the Sadrists agreed to a second Maliki term.

Second, it should be stressed that constitutionally speaking, the only thing the Iraqi parliament needs to agree on at its first meeting is the speaker. The practice of agreeing on all three top positions – i.e. speaker, president and premier – is not rooted in the constitution. Rather, it is a tradition that has come into use on two previous occasions in 2010 and 2006. Sunnis and Kurds who are using this precedent to force the Shiite alliance to come up with a replacement of Maliki should be aware of this aspect, since for the first time the Shiites in the new parliament hold the numbers (170 plus) to proceed with elections of a speaker to suit their own interests even if the main Sunni and Kurdish parties continue to boycott. (It should be noted, though, that the debate about quorum or no quorum is immaterial to the speakership vote, which explicitly demands an absolute majority to be valid in any case per the Iraqi constitution.)

This point is also important because there seems to be a gross disconnect between the actual Iraqi political process and the media description of it. Consider, once more,  the move to squeeze out Maliki, which is seen as a foregone conclusion in all Western and most Arab media. Compare it with the composition of the last key Shia alliance meeting on the subject on Monday, where those present consisted of 6 potential Maliki loyalists (Maliki himself plus Khudayr al-Khuzaie, Hadi al-Ameri, Hashem al-Hashemi, Faleh al-Fayyad and Ibrahim al-Jaafari) whereas only 2 (Ammar al-Hakim and Karar al-Khafaji) are known to be wholeheartedly against a third term. With a situation like that, a more realistic interpretation is that the tug-of-war inside the Shiite alliance may take rather longer than some on the outside seem ready to admit.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, UIA dynamics, Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

The Iraqi Supreme Court Certifies the 30 April General Election Result

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 16 June 2014 19:54

It’s official: The provisional result of Iraq’s 30 April general election, published last month, has been certified by the federal supreme court.

In the IHEC statement to this effect, there is a caveat. 4 seat winners have not been approved, and won’t be approved until they have been cleared of charges relating to serious crime cases against them. Pending settlement of the court cases, their membership in parliament will remain pending, and no replacement deputies will be appointed. Whereas this may sound somewhat messy, it is actually what happened also in 2010, when 2 seat winners were provisionally excluded. Back then, it took longer for parliament to reconvene than for the judicial authorities to settle one of the cases (and one candidate was voluntarily substituted by another candidate from his bloc), so no procedural problems emerged.

With the general political climate in Iraq approaching boiling point, questions will inevitably pertain to the political affiliations of those 4 that were excluded. 3 of them come from a single list, the Sunni, pro-Nujayfi list that ran in Diyala province: Salim al-Jibburi, Raad al-Dahlaki and Umar al-Humayri. They have all been in various forms of conflict with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and Jibburi (once an Iraqi Islamic Party member who cooperated with the first Maliki government) and Humayri (ex governor of Diyala ousted by Maliki allies) most bitterly so.

Still, before running to conclusions about another politicized court decision in Iraq, consider the fourth excluded candidate: Abbas Jabir al-Khuzaie, a seat winner in Qadisiyya province for Maliki’s own State of Law list. Khuzaie is a local politician from the Qadisiyya council who was once with the secular Iraqiyya before defecting to State of Law in 2011. He was then with the Independents bloc of Hussein al-Shahristani and may still be a member of that bloc subunit. Still, despite ongoing internal rivalry in State of Law, it seems unlikely that Maliki would fabricate an exclusion from his own rank in a situation where the loyalty of every new single Iraqi deputy is meticulously being monitored in the contest to form the biggest parliament bloc and supply the next premier candidate.

The certification of the election result opens the door for government formation: The Iraqi president (or his acting deputy) must issue a call for the Iraqi parliament to convene within 15 days, i.e. at the end of June. Theoretically, parliament will then elect its speaker, and, within a month, a new president who will then charge the candidate of the largest bloc in parliament to form a government.

For Iraqi politicians, despite the current crisis, the parliamentary government formation process is likely to remain the main political track going forward. It is a problem, therefore, that much US rhetoric on conditions for aid to the Iraqi government seem focused on ideas about some sort of national reconciliation initiative that would precede the delivery of further assistance. It is very hard to see how that would fit in with the Iraqi government formation logic. Whereas there has been much talk among Americans about imposing conditionality on future military assistance in Iraq, US rhetoric has been disconcertingly void of specific proposals for measures that would satisfy them. On the other hand, there is no lack of American suggestions for favourite cabinet line-ups that could be imposed, possibly even with Iranian support. Some of this thinking seems to belong to the era of the CPA in 2003–04, rather than in today’s situation.

Meanwhile, ISIS continues its savagery, the Kurds consolidate their quasi-independence, and Maliki for once actually has an excuse for drumming up state-of-emergency rhetoric.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014 | 9 Comments »

 
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