The saga goes on: Another attempt at electing three deputies for Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani failed in parliament today after the bloc of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki withdrew from the session and thereby prevented a quorum.
Reportedly, the reason for the withdrawal of State of Law was doubt concerning the sincerity of rest of parliament with respect to approving the State of Law candidate to fill one of the three positions, Khudayr al-Khuzai, after a previous compromise proposal of expanding the number of deputies to four thankfully went nowhere. Apparently their fear was that the two other candidates (Adel Abd al-Mahdi of ISCI and Tareq al-Hashemi of Iraqiyya) would be approved and that Khuzai would be left out.
It should be stressed that as far as the legal aspect is concerned, State of Law seems to be right in insisting on a vote on the deputies in a single batch. The law on the deputies of the president simply refers to a nomination (tarshih) in the singular, which would require a minimum of consensus beforehand. A complicating factor has been added because of an alleged legal challenge by Fakhri Karim, an adviser to President Jalal Talabani, against Tareq al-Hashemi because of his use of the title of vice-president in the period after the end of the presidency council in November 2010. Whereas it is possible to appreciate the legal aspects of that challenge, it seems strange that it should come from someone so close to Talabani: According to another of the vice-presidential candidates, Adel Abd al-Mahdi, Talabani had personally ordered his deputies from the presidency council to continue as interim deputies for him in his new position as ordinary president of Iraq! (Some reports actually say the legal challenge by Karim is directed against two of the deputies, in which case one would assume that the other one is Adel Abd al-Mahdi, who has done the same thing as Hashemi in terms of continuing to use his vice-presidential title.)
The politics of this is as follows. There appears to be some rapprochement between Iraqiyya, ISCI and also the Sadrists in terms of challenging the State of Law bloc on the issue of the vice-presidency. (Importantly, there are reports that the Sadrists, too, opposed Khuzai.) However, this movement is clearly not strong enough for the moment to push through its will in parliament. The withdrawal of State of Law was sufficient to deprive parliament of a quorum. Also, one suspects that in the reported actions of Fakhri Karim against one or two deputy candidates, the old alliance between the Kurds and Maliki could once more be resurging. True, the legal challenge against Hashemi and/or Abd al-Mahdi was mounted by Karim as a private citizen, but it seems unlikely that it should come from someone as close to Talabani unless it had been agreed with him. This is important because the Kurds have been blowing hot and cold over Maliki ever since his new government was passed in December 2010, and at one point seemed ready to join forces with the emerging “opposition” of ISCI and pro-Allawi elements in Iraqiyya. Other voices critical of the attempt to have a vote today include Salim al-Jibburi of the Wasat bloc and the old Tawafuq, which represented Sunni interests in the previous parliament.
Importantly, State of Law today criticised the parliamentary speaker, Usama al-Nujayfi, for his management of the session in parliament and its ultimate breakdown. This, along with statements critical of Maliki by Nujayfi as well as Salih al-Mutlak over the past week, indicates that any rapprochement between Maliki and Nujayfi is still a long way off. Once more, Maliki seems forced to rely on a constellation of parties who will have great difficulty in getting anything passed in parliament: His own State of Law, the Kurds, Wasat and maybe White Iraqiyya. Together, they might perhaps be able to muster a majority of 163 votes in parliament, but only on a good day, and only just.