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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Additional Ministers Approved for the Iraq Cabinet

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 18 October 2014 22:02

After a month of wrangling and indecision that extended into the Eid al-Adha holiday, new Iraq Prime Minister Haydar al-Abbadi today succeeded in winning approval for new ministers in his government, including most importantly ministers for defence and interior.

It makes sense to start with the choice of ministers for interior and defence. These important posts were a stumbling block for Maliki’s two cabinets. In 2006, they took  a month extra to decide, whereas in 2010 they weren’t decided by parliament at all, as Maliki continued to control them himself or through acting protegées. This time, the candidate for minister of interior, in particular, had caused controversy. For a long time the frontrunner was Hadi al-Ameri, a militia figure from the Badr organization with particularly close ties to the Iranians, whose candidacy caused uproar among many Sunni MPs who remain critical of his conduct during the previous sectarian crisis period of 2005-2007. Today, Ameri gave way to Muhammad Salim al-Ghabban, who shares his Badr background but possibly is seen as less toxic to non-Shiite MPs simply because he is younger and has less baggage than Ameri. For his part, Khaled al-Obeidi who is the new defence minister, had been a candidate back in 2010 as well, when he was nominated by Iraqiyya but quickly was criticized for having moved too close to Maliki. Maybe that sort of person – a Sunni and former Iraq army officers with ties in both sectarian camps – is the best Iraq could hope for in a time when urgent work needs to be done to reorganize the Iraqi army and make it more resilient against the Islamic State terror organization. Both ministers achieved more than acceptable levels of backing by MPs, with Yes votes from the 261 MPs present reported at 173 (Obeidi) and 197 (Ghabban), which is considerably more than what many other ministers got back in September.

As for the Kurdish ministers, it was probably wise of Abbadi to have them approved before parliament in the same batch as the others. The vote on those ministers include some new portfolios that were not voted on back in September (altogether five: migration, tourism, culture, women, and a minister for state), as well as reshuffling two key portfolios whose allocation to individual Kurdish ministers by Abbadi was not to the liking of the Kurdish political parties themselves: Rosch Shaways thereby continues to serve as deputy prime minister, and foreign minister Hosyar Zebari becomes minister of finance.

The vote in the Iraqi parliament today makes the Abbadi cabinet more complete. It maintains differences from the cabinet of his predecessor Maliki in at least two important structural aspects: It has got security ministries approved by the Iraqi parliament with solid backing, and it remains significantly slimmer, with less than 30 ministers (out of the 9 ministers approved today, 2 referred to the reshuffling of ministries already allocated). Moreover there are few “empty” ministries of state with no other purpose than placating particular party interests. Kurds have improved their representation in the cabinet significantly, and the alignment of personnel to ministries is also more in harmony with the wishes of the Kurdish parties.

It can be said that through these additions, the Iraqi parliament has realistically done what it can in the short term to help the Iraqi cabinet achieve a more solid platform for its battle against ISIS. Major legislative acts such as de-Baathification reform, a senate law, and an oil and gas law, will continue to remain on the agenda for a long time, probably with no realistic prospects for early solution. But it will now be the job of the cabinet and the new security ministers, above all, to lead the Iraqi effort in combating the challenge of the Islamic State on the ground in  Iraq. To the extent that there is a remaining parliamentary role in the short term, it relates to approval of a draft law for so-called “national guard” units that may be formed to supplement the Iraqi army, particularly in Sunni-majority provinces.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014 | 8 Comments »

The Controversial Kurdish Ministers in the New Iraqi Cabinet

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 17 October 2014 22:07

Iraqi news reports and public controversy regarding the Kurdish ministers in the new Iraqi government of Haydar al-Abbadi that was seated last September have brought to the fore some of the key issues in Iraqi political culture and behavior in the post-2003 period.

In several Kurdish statements, as well as in press reports that uncritically reproduced those statements, one can get the impression that Kurdish politicians who were unhappy with the way portfolios were distributed to individual Kurdish ministers back in September think they have the right to conduct some sort of private reshuffle, moving individual Kurdish politicians between ministries in accordance with their preferences and ideas about which positions fit which individuals better. It has been maintained that Abbadi did not sufficiently consult with the Kurdish parties in making his nominations before parliament, and there is a desire for change of several key ministries. In particular, the Kurds are insistent that Hosyhar Zebari, the previous foreign minister, should be finance minister rather than deputy PM, whereas Rosch Shaways should continue to hold that deputy premiership. The Kurdish view has been that the swap between those positions could be executed as soon as there was internal Kurdish agreement behind the decision.

Of course, from the constitutional point of view, what the Kurdish parties may think about the allocation of Kurdish politicians to ministries is subordinated to the will of the Iraqi parliament, as expressed in the vote on the Abbadi government in September. Constitutionally, it is immaterial what Kurdish parties or the Kurdish regional president Masud Barzani may think about the issue. Parliament has already expressed its will, and if there are to be changes, these will have to be voted on. The only reason there is a legal loophole for making such changes at all without first going through the formal process of dismissing ministers already voted into their jobs is that the Kurdish ministers have refrained from formally taking the oath as ministers in the new cabinet before parliament.

Accordingly, before any swearing in of Kurdish ministers as per the new allocation preferred by the Kurds themselves can take place, a proper vote in the Iraqi parliament on their candidacies must be conducted. Whether a majority for such a vote is realistic remains an open question. True, one could expect such support for new Kurdish ministers to materialize as part of the general agreement between all the leading Iraqi factions that led to the formation of the Abbadi government in the first place. However, it is noteworthy that voting patterns on the individual ministers back in September featured several protest abstentions and many ministers failed to reach the symbolically important absolute majority mark of 165 (the Iraqi supreme court has insisted that an “absolute majority” means a an absolute majority of the total members of the assembly only in those cases where this is expressly mentioned and therefore an absolute majority of MPs present is enough for minister approval). Accordingly, the Kurdish bloc itself does not have sufficient votes to pass these ministers without the active support of at least some of the non-Kurdish blocs in the Iraqi parliament.

With security ministers still not appointed and indications there may be ministers of state added (one of the reported new Kurdish ministers is just an unnamed “minister of state” to be given to members of a Kurdish Islamist party), the new Abbadi government is structurally looking more and more like the second Maliki cabinet. It is true that the Abbadi government formation process looked cleaner on the surface with no intangible “strategic policy council” and no mysterious “Erbil agreement”. But if there is a multiplication in coming weeks of numbers of ministers with no other purposes than satisfying particular political party interests, some of the assumed differences between Abbadi’s and Maliki’s cabinets could soon get blurred.

The Kurdish stance on its ministers, too, is reflective of the culture of consociated democacy that has crystallized in Iraq since 2003. Essentially, the Kurds think they wield sovereignty within their allotted quota of ministerial seats. That is not a view that is supported by the Iraqi constitution, and one that will be put to the test when the Iraqi parliament gets together to tackle these issues in coming days. A forthcoming decision on Saturday has been expected, but so far there is no formal agenda on the parliament website. What is clear in any case is that any new  Kurdish ministers must be voted on before they can complete the formality of swearing in.

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The Iraqi Parliament Fails to Approve New Security Ministers

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 18:35

New Iraq PM Haydar al-Abbadi kept his promise to present ministerial candidates for portfolios not included in the recent vote on his new cabinet, but the Iraqi parliament proved uncooperative. As a result, only one minister, for water management, was approved in today’s session. Crucially, all key security ministries remain vacant.

The most contentious nominations related to the defence and interior ministries. With respect to defence, the name of Jabir al-Jabiri, an Anbar politician with considerable popular backing and past ties to the former finance minister, Rafe al-Isawi, has recurred for some time as the nominee of the Sunni coalition in parliament. Conversely, it was something of a surprise that Riyad Ghrayb, a Shiite chameleon who has gone from a past with ISCI to the State of Law bloc and the faction of Hussein al-Shahristani, was put forward in the last minute. Before that, it had largely been thought that Badr would present a candidate, even after their original nominee, Hadi al-Ameri, was found by most other parties to be too unpalatable in such a sensitive position. As late as yesterday, a modification of the Badr proposal was presented in the shape of “independents” that might be acceptable to Badr, such as Ahmad Chalabi and Qasim Dawud. Today, the Shiite alliance held a last-minute meeting before the parliament session without being able to agree internally on a candidate.

There are regional and international dimensions involved, too. It has been suggested that the Iraq interior ministry struggle is a reflection of the contradictive relationship between the United States and Iran in the region as a whole, with Iran backing Badr candidates in Iraq and the United States – finally in possession of some real leverage because of the ISIS threat and Iraqi requests for American military assistance, and tacitly in alliance with Iran against ISIS – strongly objecting to this.

It is noteworthy that during the parliament session today, Abbadi implored the chamber to approve the nominees whereas parliamentarians of the Shiite alliance (whom Abbadi himself represents) voiced opposition to a vote, saying the interior minister at least should be internally approved in the Shiite alliance first. Deputy speaker Humam al-Hammudi of ISCI at one point tried to stop the vote according to the official parliamentary record.

Whereas the voting record hasn’t been tied down to individual MPs or even parties, the patterns suggest that parts of the Shiite alliance may have voted No and possibly that there was a revenge No in the vote on the State of Law nominee for tourism (Ali al-Adib). Interior minister Riyad Ghrayb got 117 out of 245 votes, Jabir al-Jabiri 108 out of 251, and Ali al-Adib got only 78 out of 250 votes. By way of contrast, a Sadrist nominee for the water ministry was approved with a more resounding 162 out of 250 votes. Altogether 285 MPs were in attendance, probably a reflection of the realization that a simple majority could have settled the matter of the security ministers and have them approved if those who were against Jabiri and Ghrayb had simply absented themselves.

Parliament adjourned until Thursday 18 September but it is unclear whether Abbadi will come up with new nominees by then. It cannot be stressed enough that these final components of the Abbadi cabinet are among the most important decisions relating to the new Iraqi government as a whole – and as such far more significant than the plethora of international gatherings that are currently going on in the name of defeating ISIS in Iraq. Experiences from Yemen suggest that airstrikes will eventually hit someone that shouldn’t have been hit. In that kind of context, only a durable political coalition in Baghdad can prevent the situation from fragmenting completely. The absence of agreement on security ministers was a key reason the second Maliki government remained so shaky throughout its term, and it is likely this issue, more than anything else, that will seal the fate of the new, so far partial, government put in place by Haydar al-Abbadi.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014 | 7 Comments »

The Iraqi Parliament Approves the Abbadi Cabinet

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 9 September 2014 1:40

The new Iraqi cabinet headed by Haydar al-Abbadi has been approved by the Iraqi parliament. Abbadi has 3 deputies and 23 ministers, with some portfolios still not named.

The programme of the new cabinet, approved by 177 votes, is very general. Still, it goes further than past governments in terms of underlining the need for decentralization as well as implementing reform in the Iraqi armed forces. All of this seems to represent recognition of past failures, which at least constitutes a good first step. It seems clear, though, that no major promises have been issued along the lines of the pompous Erbil agreement of 2010. In itself, perhaps not a bad thing. Also the timing of the whole process is admirable, for the first time entirely consistent with the Iraqi constitution.

In terms of ministries, Shiite Islamist parties have taken the lion’s share, including several particularly important portfolios. These include Ibrahim al-Jaafari as foreign minister and Adel Abd al-Mahdi of ISCI as oil minister. In addition to the premiership, the State of Law bloc of former PM Maliki also has the portfolios of health, education and work. Fadila continues to control the ministry of justice. Whereas ISCI was awarded additional ministries, Badr and the Sadrists seem to have only two each, though the Sadrists also control one of the three deputy premier positions. Badr was at one point on the verge of boycotting the entire session after they were denied the interior ministry portfolio. As in previous government formations, the PM kept these portfolios for himself, though promising to present candidates within a week.

Sunni and secular representation is largely by individuals affiliated with the broad coalition associated with current parliament speaker Salim al-Jibburi and previous speaker Usama al-Nujayfi. Together, they hold around 7 ministries, all of them service-oriented (plus Saleh al-Mutlak as deputy PM). The movement of previous Iraqiyya leader Ayyad Allawi, which has remained separate, does not seem to have more than one portfolio.

As in previous government deals, the Kurds have a relatively low number of portfolios, around 3, but these include the heavyweight ministry of finance. They also have one deputy PM as before.

A separate chapter relates to three vice presidents approved today as part of the package. The Iraqi presidency proper is a mostly symbolic position, whose main responsibilities largely end with the successful formation of a new government. The vice presidents have even less power, and it is an ironic sight to now have three major players in the previous term – Nuri al-Maliki, Ayad Allawi and Usama al-Nujayfi – in these sinecure-like positions.

On a legal and constitutional note, parliament speaker Jibburi made it clear during the vote that he intends to follow a supreme court ruling that says “absolute majority” in the Iraqi constitution means “absolute majority of those present” as long as “absolute majority of parliament membership” is not expressly mentioned. After the new deputy premier Saleh al-Mutlak got less than an absolute majority of the total members, Jibburi simply stopped specifying the exact number of votes received, only referring to the fulfilment of a majority of those present. Exactly like in the sessions to vote for parliament speaker and his deputies, though, the votes that were counted, including the approval of the government programme, were in the range of 140-180 Yes votes, out of altogether 289 MPs reportedly present. This seems to indicate that whereas all blocs may have supported their candidates and made a strategic decision to be inside the government, wholehearted enthusiasm is still not widespread.

The international community has largely welcomed the new government as somehow being more “inclusive” than past ones. This is largely inaccurate as far as ministerial appointments are concerned. The ethno-sectarian balance, which seems to be the prime interest to these commentators, remains largely the same as in the Maliki II government. Security portfolios remain unoccupied. Those who care about sectarian balances will also note that the Sunnis have lost the sole “sovereign” ministry they held (finance, now held by the Kurds). What has improved somewhat, though, is the size of the government (it has been reduced in size by at least 25% compared with past governments), as well as the political language emphasizing the need for reform.

To what extent Abbadi means business will be seen over the coming week, when candidates for the key positions of defence and interior ministers have been promised. Maliki in 2010 also issued such promises, only to keep the portfolios for himself or close friends acting as ministers without parliament approval for the duration of his term. That, in turn, formed the basis for many of the accusations of over-centralization and mismanagement of the Iraqi security forces that ultimately prevented him from a third term.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014 | 6 Comments »

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 »


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