Maliki the Strongman Preparing for Ramadan
Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 27 July 2011 12:58
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in his capacity as acting minister for interior, has issued detailed instructions for how Iraqi restaurants should adapt to the coming holy month of Ramadan which starts in early August. Most importantly, all eateries – with a few exceptions such as those clearly relating to the tourism industry – are to be closed from dawn to dusk.
Maliki’s order raise interesting questions about centre-periphery relations in today’s Iraq. On previous occasions, the governorates have often taken the lead in defining holidays locally, as seen in the many local holidays that have been declared in various Shiite-majority governorates relating to Shiite festivities. Also, rules governing the sale of alcohol have largely been determined at the governorate level, as seen in places like Basra, Najaf, Wasit. Previously, the governorate of Baghdad have also passed special measures relating to Ramadan.
It will be interesting to see how Maliki’s order goes down across the country. Will it be observed nationwide? What about the Kurdistan federal region (KRG), which is sometimes seen as a more liberal enclave? Of course, Iraq’s constitution does not specify any particular role for the central government in regulating commerce locally, meaning that residual powers in this respect rests with federal regions and governorates alike. But in practice – and to some extent with reference to the more restrictive provincial powers law of 2008 – a more centralistic spirit has prevailed in relations between Baghdad and the governorates than between Baghdad and the KRG during the past few years.
Maliki’s order comes at the time when decisions on two other issues deemed important by him seem imminent. The first is the sacking of the independent elections commission (IHEC), supposedly to be voted on by parliament tomorrow. Maliki supporters now says he enjoys the support of all the Shiite parties enrolled in the National Alliance, but ISCI, in particular, has been critical of the move, which is natural given its own strong influence in IHEC. Then, on Saturday, Maliki is supposed to address parliament on the issue of reducing the size of his government. Once more, the solution he is proposing do not seem to have a clear constitutional basis (according the Iraqi constitution, each ministers will have to be voted out through an individual vote of confidence).
The parliamentary response in both of these questions will serve as an indicator of Maliki’s parliamentary strength as the pressing issue of the security ministers continues to linger.
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