Just days after the provincial council of Najaf voted in favour of Adnan al-Zurfi as new governor – backed by a pro-Maliki alliance and against the votes of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) – a legal challenge against Zurfi’s accession to the governorship has been mounted.
Technically, the challenge has been initiated by the legal committee of the Iraqi parliament. Unsurprisingly, however, ISCI’s governor candidate for Najaf and Zurfi’s main competitor, Asaad Abu Gulal, has been foremost in publicising the decision, with a special press conference in Najaf on 4 May. The decision itself is procedural and relates to the way in which an extraordinary convening of the provincial council rather than a regular meeting produced the vote in favour of Zurfi, after an earlier meeting had ended inconclusively and without immediate recourse to the legally-mandated second round of voting for the two candidates with the highest number of votes. While all of this may be true, it has to be said that this sudden upsurge of fervent legalism by members of the Iraqi parliament does come across as somewhat remarkable in a context where the existing Iraqi legal framework has been routinely tested, bent and violated in a number of other key decisions relating to both provincial government as well as the constitutional provisions themselves. Also, the ISCI representatives and their partners did show up for the disputed vote and cast their ballots; the criticism of the decision to go ahead with the meeting seems to have emerged retrospectively.
An interesting detail in all of this is that the letter from the legal committee of the Iraqi parliament communicating the rejection of the pro-Maliki Zurfi’s right to be governor was signed by Baha al-Araji, a prominent Sadrist and ostensibly an ally of Maliki at the moment. Back in 2007 he did something similar which also hurt the Maliki government, except that on that occasion his letter served to protect Basra governor Muhammad al-Waili against the combined efforts of Daawa and ISCI (then allies) to oust him from his job through a vote of no confidence. As such, this latest move, which may now end up being settled by the Iraqi federal supreme court, could be an indication of which way winds are blowing at least inside the “parliament of 2005” and some Shiite Islamist circles.