In a recent opinion piece for CNN, Christopher Hill, the former US ambassador to Iraq who served there from April 2009 to August 2010, discusses the legacy of the Iraq War in light of the recent US decision to not seek a continued military presence beyond 2011. Among his key points is that it would be wrong to plunge into a discussion about “who lost Iraq”… Full story here.
Archive for October, 2011
Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 30 October 2011 19:42
Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 29 October 2011 17:39
During a television interview today, amid accusations of exaggerated de-Baathification and Sunni federalist initiatives, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has added some interesting perspective on his own vision of Iraq.
With respect to the recent wave of arrests, Maliki tried to make the point that the majority of the arrests took place south of Baghdad rather than in the north, implying in other words that most of those arrested were Shiites and not Sunnis. That should be fine as long as those arrested are actually charged with specific crimes rather than punished for their links to the Baath in the past.
Regarding de-Baathification of teachers in Salahaddin, Maliki suggested that those dismissed were former intelligence officials (in which case the sackings would be legal). He nonetheless announced the formation of an investigatory committee, which is a strange ad hoc move. There already is a special appeals institution for de-Baathification, although it has been inoperative for a long time due to the failure of parliament to agree on some of the replacement judges.
The money paragraph in the interview is the following one, on federalism for Salahaddin:
وأشار المالكي إلى أن “ما حصل في صلاح الدين طلب وليس إعلان عن إقليم”، لافتا إلى أن “هذا الطلب سيقدم الى مجلس الوزراء الذي سيرفضه كونه قائم على خلفية طائفية وحماية البعثيين وخلفيات أخرى غير واضحة”.
First, Maliki clarifies that what Salahaddin is not really a declaration of a federal region, since this is not legally possible. This is correct, and thankfully the electoral commission has also contributed on a clarification on the subject, underlining that the governorate can only make the first step towards the creation of a federal region and not simply declare it. But what follows is complete nonsense. Maliki says the government will reject the request for a referendum because it “is based on a sectarian grounds, intended to offer protection of Baathists, and on other unclear grounds”!
This comment by Maliki is tantamount to pissing on the constitution. As long as they stay faithful to the procedures laid down in the law for forming regions, Iraqis can create federal regions for whatever reasons they want. No one has the right to enquire about the motives as long as the modalities are done correctly. If Maliki wants to change that – and there are good reasons for restricting federalism options so as to avoid a constant string of useless federalism attempts – he must work to change the constitution.
It is a sorry sign of the state of play in Iraq that both opponents and proponents of the Salahaddin federal region are now making up their own laws.
Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 27 October 2011 17:38
The most spectacular fallout from the recent de-Baathification escalation is the declaration by the Salahaddin governorate council today that in protest against arrests and sackings they have “established Salahhadin as an administrative and economic region within a unified Iraq”.
The move, while clearly reflecting a growing pro-federal trend in some Sunni circles, is confused, illegal and unconstitutional. Firstly, the council does not have the powers to declare anything of this kind. A third of its members can submit a request to the government to hold a referendum on a federal status – but it is the people, not the politicians, that ultimately decide.
Second, the council members seem to be making a point that they had a two-thirds majority in the council. What are they trying to tell us? Is this a flawed attempt at reading the law on the formation of regions? The only special status granted to a bid by two-thirds of the governorate council members in the law on forming regions is that it will automatically trump alternate federal combinations in the case of multiple competing schemes (say, some want to have Mosul plus Salahaddin to form one region) and thus avoid a pre-referendum poll (istibyan).
It should be noted that similar language about “declaring regions” has previously noted in places like Maysan, but it later died down again. The bottom line is that the only thing the governorate council can do is to request a referendum. According to the law, the government should automatically (and promptly!) enable them to hold such a referendum by activating the elections commission. Basra and Wasit have submitted such requests in the past without any response from the central government. The significant aspect of the Salahhadin bid is that it could put more pressure on Maliki to allow federal referendums from Basra in the south to Mosul in the north. But to get there, the politicians of Salahhadin must first submit a request within the existing legal framework instead of making up their own procedures.
Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 13:29
The full picture is only beginning to emerge after two days of widespread arrests involving hundreds of people across Iraq. Most of those arrested are described as “Baathists”, with vague accusations about plans to subvert the political process in Iraq after the US withdrawal.
The prosecution has yet to speak on these cases, but disturbing language has been employed by those who carried out the arrests: In many cases their choice of words suggests those arrested were not targeted for any specific planned act or terrorism or even for lauding the Baath party, but simply for having been members of the Baath party in the past. In yet other cases, vague accusations of terrorism are coupled with specific information about membership levels in the Baath party. Here are some excerpts from the initial reports:
On 24 October, 28 persons were arrested south of Kirkuk, “among them 12 of the firqa or shaaba membership level” in the Baath party according to local police sources.
On 24 October, police sources in Diyala said 15 persons in Muqdadiyya had been arrested, mostly firqa members of the Baath.
On 24 October, police sources in Babel said 50 persons had been arrested, among them firqa and shaaba members of the Baath.
On 25 October, sources in the security committee in the Basra governorate said 30 persons had been arrested, some of whom were members at the firqa level.
On 25 October, security sources in Diyala said more than 30 persons had been arrested across the governorate, including some firqa level members of the Baath.
Why are these sources so obsessed with membership rank? A terrorist is a terrorist no matter what background he or she has, right? The systematic reference to membership ranks instead of specific accusations of terrorism strongly suggests that a dangerous conflation of the concepts of “Baathists” and “terrorists” has taken place, and that some are being arrested simply for having been a member of the Baath in the past rather than for any specific criminal act.
Suffice to say in this context that the Iraqi constitution actually offers pro-active protection of former members of the Baath. Article 135-5 explicitly says “mere membership of the Baath party is not a sufficient basis for transfer to the court”. Article 7 of the constitution outlaws propagation of a number of political ideologies where Baathism is mentioned alongside racism, terrorism and ethnic cleansing, but stipulates the passage of a law by parliament to codify this more precisely, which has yet to be done. In other words, there is no basis whatsoever for prosecuting anyone for simply having been a Baathist member – and arguably, at the current time, not even for propagation of Baathism since this is not covered by any specific form of legislation.
The systematic information about membership levels strongly suggests this is an attempt to refer to Iraq’s de-Baathification legislation from 2008. But it is a flawed attempt. The de-Baathification legislation is only interested in membership level as a principle governing the reinstatement of former Baath officials in the public sector. High levels like shaaba members are not allowed to return, but firqa members are specifically allowed to return with the exceptions of security, intelligence and diplomatic services. The de-Baathification act does not in itself offer specific procedures for dealing with allegations of Baathist sympathies.
This is of course not the first time vague accusations of Baathism are being used as a basis for vigilante witch hunts against political opponents in Iraq. The pro-Iranian Shiite Islamist parties made such efforts the centrepiece of their election campaign in 2010, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki eventually jumped on the bandwagon, too. In this most recent case, the wave of arrest was preceded by a campaign of sacking personnel from the higher education sector headed by Maliki ally Ali al-Adib, where again ideas about de-Baathification and allegations of “incompetence” made up an uneasy mix. At the local level, outright attempts by Shiite Islamist parties to actually overrule the de-Baathification legislation were noted both in November 2010 and in June 2011.
The arrests were mostly carried out by the ministry of interior. As is well known, the acting minister of interior is Nuri al-Maliki himself, suggesting this could all be yet another element in his minority-government strategy.
The consequences for the climate of Iraqi politics are palpable. Sunni-Shiite issues over de-Baathification, Sunni interest in federalism… These are certainly good days for the Kurdish leader Masud Barzani to visit Kirkuk! For good measure, some reports also suggest the Iraqi judiciary has now decided to drop charges against Muqtada al-Sadr for his involvement in the murder of Abd al-Majid al-Khoei in 2003. (Today, in turn, Sadr expressed support for what the government is doing with de-Baathication in higher education.)
It was reported yesterday that Izzat Shabandar, the State of Law Alliance strategist in chief for dialogue between Maliki and Sunnis and secularists, did in fact attend a crisis meeting of Iraqiyya. His cause, if it even exists anymore, must now be something of an uphill struggle.
Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 22 October 2011 18:21
What some had warned about during the discussion of a possible post-2011 US military presence in Iraq has now happened. Muqtada al-Sadr feels he won the debate about withdrawal, instructors, and immunities, and has moved down to the next target on the agenda: The US embassy in Baghdad.
In response to a question from one of his followers, Sadr now says that after the expiration of the SOFA, the staff of the embassy should be considered “occupiers” and must be “resisted”.
This may well be the single most significant item in all the news stories about Iraq this weekend. Everyone should have known for months (if not years) that there would be no new SOFA and no immunities for US instructors. Thanks to the failure of the Iraqi politicians to create a pro-extension coalition – and due to the failure of Washington to stimulate the formation of such a coalition – the projected US mega-embassy in Baghdad has become the next vulnerable element in American Iraq policy.
Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 21 October 2011 20:22
Does Iraqi really need more problems right now? Is there not already a complete stalemate on such momentous pieces of legislation as the oil and gas law and the federal supreme court law? Can parliament realistically be expected to accomplish significant things when it cannot even agree on its own bylaws or indeed on exactly who the members of parliament are?
Against that backdrop, the sudden call by members of Iraqiyya this week for the appointment of a new parliamentary committee to urgently revise the Iraqi constitution from 2005 inevitably comes across as somewhat unrealistic. The suggested timeline of three months seems particularly utopian.
The constitutional aspect of the matter is as follows. Article 142 of the constitution calls for the establishment of a committee at the beginning of the first parliament (i.e. in 2005-06) that should be representative of the “components” of the Iraqi people and charged with doing a revision of the constitution within four months - to be approved by parliament with an absolute majority and subsequently in a popular referendum where it must not be rejected by two thirds of the voters in any three governorates.
In other words, the constitutional revision belongs to the special category of time sensitive issues in the Iraqi constitution. Other such items include the law for the formation of regions (whose 6-month deadline was violated by some months but nonetheless did produce an actual piece of legislation in October 2006) and the settlement of Kirkuk and other disputed-territories issues (supposedly before 31 December 2007 but not yet implemented).
A constitutional revision committee was eventually formed in October 2006, months past the deadline for the completion of its work. It did produce some draft changes in 2007 and wrote everything up in 2009. However, this was never considered a final package of revisions and was never voted on.
Inevitably, the question today is whether the new Iraqi parliament can legally form a new constitutional revision committee, and, if so, whether its revisions can be approved under the special rules specified under article 142 of the constitution. (“Ordinary” constitutional revision under article 126 requires a two-thirds parliamentary majority and a popular-referendum majority.) The constitution clearly mentions one committee only, but many of the original committee members lost their seats in the March 2010 elections, making it quite unrealistic to revive the old committee. Also, if a new committee is indeed formed, should it start afresh or continue on the basis of the rather toothless draft of revisions prepared by the previous committee?
The likely political dynamics of any such new committee is also an open question. Normally, constitutional issues should bring together the Shiite Islamist State of Law alliance of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the secular Iraqiyya alliance of Ayad Allawi against the Kurds and the Shiite Islamist Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). In theory, both State of Law and Iraqiyya are sceptical to the extension of the federal principle to the rest of Iraq beyond Kurdistan in the way it was enabled in the 2005 constitution (when ISCI and the Kurds dominated). Lately, however, personal rivalries between Allawi and Maliki have prompted Iraqiyya to take surprising positions on several constitutional questions, including supporting the Kurdish stance on the oil and gas law. If recent trends are anything to go by, this could easily turn into a renewed debate about such inventions as the national council for high policies instead of clearing up the existing framework. Indeed, in announcing their desire to reform the constitution, politicians of Iraqiyya seemed to focus mostly on anti-authoritarianism and the dispersal of power, which might well pull them closer to the Kurds than to Maliki on many questions.
The constitutional mandate for a new committee seems unclear in the extreme. Whether it could actually arrive at a package of revisions seems doubtful. Still, there are no signs that parliament is able to move forward on other critical issues at this time. Maybe another revision committee could at least create a new forum with the potential to avoid a mere replication of the frontlines that are having such a destructive impact on most other spheres of Iraqi politics at the moment?
Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 18 October 2011 18:04
The dust has still yet to settle after the recent shrinking of the Iraqi government. That process – and the question of what to do with the sacked ministers – is intertwined with the lingering conflict about the validity of the parliamentary membership of several deputies who gained their seats through a messy process of replacement when party members became ministers in the Maliki government in December 2010.
In August this year, the Iraqi press widely reported an alleged decision by the consultative assembly of state – a somewhat shadowy administrative court – to the effect that the sacked ministers could revert to the seats they formerly held in parliament if they so desired. More recently, this description of the situation has been modified somewhat through the publication of the actual court ruling, which is in fact more limited in scope. In its ruling 85 dated 16 August 2011, the court says former ministers can return to their seats provided they remain unoccupied (shaghir). It should be added that the jurisprudence behind the decision seems somewhat Delphic. Most of the points listed have absolutely no relevance to the decision (such as the reference to the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of parliament), and the argument that is used to settle the case is somewhat extraordinary: There is no law that prevents the sacked ministers from returning to vacant seats!
وحيث ان لايوجد نص يمنع المستوضح عنه من العودة لشغل مقعده النيابي غير المشغول من عضو آخر
To give someone a seat in the assembly simply with the reference to the absence of laws explicitly forbidding such allocations certainly seems somewhat contrived as long as there are very specific constitutional provisions governing the allocation of those seats. In theory, the sacked ministers are Iraqis like everybody else. One might even argue that their sacking in late July was implicitly a verdict of incompetency on behalf of the national assembly.
At any rate, in accordance with the ruling, one of the ministers of state, Falih al-Sari who belongs to the Hizbollah in Iraq party within the broader ISCI/Badr coalition of parties, recently got his seat back and was sworn in again as a deputy. There had been rumours last winter that he was about to be replaced in parliament by someone else from his party but this apparently never happened. Accordingly, in this case the action by parliament was at least consistent with the ruling by the consultative state assembly.
Most others of the sacked ministers will not become members of parliament, either because they were never deputies in the first place, or because someone else was given their seat during the first half of 2011. There are however at least two other cases that remain in focus because of inconsistencies in the way parliament – and parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi in particular – has opted to deal with them. Firstly, there is Ali al-Sajri, whose replacement in parliament, Jawad al-Bulani, recently lost his seat based on a court ruling. Accordingly, that seat remains just as “vacant” as that which was given back to Sari and it seems unclear why parliament should have any legal reason not to give it back to him. Secondly, there is the problematic case of Jawad al-Batikh, who was recently replaced in parliament by Ammar Hasan Abd Ali from Iraqiyya. That decision by parliament has been challenged by White Iraqiyya, the breakaway faction from Iraqiyya that was formed by Batikh and others around the time he was promoted to minister of state in the Maliki government. They say that subsequent to the split between Iraqiyya and White Iraqiyya, Batikh and Ammar Hasan belong to different blocs. Like Sajri, Batikh is demanding his seat back.
It cannot escape notice that both Sajri and Batikh belong to the secular circles that have opted to remain separate from the rest of Iraqiyya. They are now complaining that Usama al-Nujayfi, the parliamentary speaker from Iraqiyya, is deliberately preventing them from returning to parliament based on political motives. The sudden promotion of Ammar Hasan to replace Batikh in parliament just days before the ruling of the consultative assembly of state is cited as particularly suspicious in this regard, given that Batikh would have automatically regained his seat had not Ammar Hasan won it so suddenly in August (the seat had remained vacant since March). To some extent, then, this whole matter seems to be about Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki relying on the court system to get potential allies back in parliament (his adviser Tariq Harb recently lauded the ruling of the consultative assembly of state), whereas Nujayfi is trying to oppose these moves by applying the rulings selectively and manipulating the agenda of parliament to this end.
On the balance, one can certainly argue that the decision by the consultative assembly of state to reinstate the members is in itself legally problematic. But if Nujayfi wants to protest it he should at least do so in a consistent fashion. If dirty tricks are used on either side of the divide between the executive and legislative in Iraq, it will be even more difficult to develop healthy political alternatives to a government increasingly described by its opponents as “authoritarian” in nature.
Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 15 October 2011 12:29
In an interview with the BBC during his recent visit to Britain, parliament speaker and Iraqiyya politician Usama al-Nujayfi once more uttered the controversial “federalism” term. Nujayfi reportedly said that the Sunnis of Iraq feel they are being treated as second class citizens and if no improvement takes place many will feel compelled to call for the establishment of “geographically-based federal regions”.
Nujayfi’s comments constitute a careful modification of his previous reference to federalism (and even partition) as a possible option for the Sunnis of Iraq. In the first place, instead of indicating the possible establishment of a single, sectarian Sunni administrative unit, Nujayfi is foreshadowing calls for multiple federal regions in accordance with the constitutional provisions that enable governorates to transform themselves to standalone federal units or to merge with several governorates to form multi-governorate federal regions. Indeed, Nujayfi says he “favours” the establishment of such entities, which would mean a departure from the official Iraqiyya line which has tended to be sceptical to the establishment of additional federal entities in Iraq, but at the same time, especially more recently, surprisingly prepared to extend concessions to the one existing federal entity (Kurdistan). Secondly, Nujayfi this time emphasises Sunni commitment to the territorial integrity of the Iraqi state as a whole, although it should be noted that his whole approach of talking on behalf of the Sunnis signifies a political mindset that nonetheless remains focused on sectarian subdivisions.
Still, on the whole, Nujayfi’s comments mainly add to the string of examples of federalism used as a threat by elite politicians rather than necessarily reflecting any strong popular commitment to the creation of such entities. To some extent, this reflects the exasperation of Iraqiyya leaders who have been unable to get the concessions they are seeking from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, partly thanks to their own haplessness. In this perspective, federalism comes across as a tool of opportunistic politicians, as also seen in some of the recent calls for federal regions by governorate council members in areas that do not enjoy any genuine tradition for making such demands, including Wasit. Unfortunately, the overly permissive law on the establishment of federal regions from 2006 enables such opportunism, since a mere third of governorate council members can call for a referendum on the creation of a federal region. This in turn can lead to useless referendums for initiatives that in reality do not enjoy support anywhere close to the levels needed to win a referendum.
Nonetheless, any growth of such calls for federal regions in the Sunni-majority governorates would create an interesting dilemma at the level of the central government. So far, Maliki has deliberately resisted initiatives for federal referendums initiated by politicians from his own State of Law coalition in several governorates south of Baghdad and most prominently Basra, which does have a consistent pro-federal tradition dating back to 2003. The main reason he has been able to contain these initiatives (and, indeed, unconstitutionally obstruct them) is precisely the fact that they originate from his own partisans. A multiplication of similar calls from the Sunni-majority governorates would be more difficult to resist, and in turn could create domino effects in the Shiite areas that would altogether threaten Maliki’s ambition as a nominally nationalist and centralist strongman for Iraq.
At the same time, it is interesting that the calls for federalism come at a time with persistent reports about a deepening of the subdivisions within Iraqiyya, with precisely Nujayfi reported as one possible alternative point of gravity to Ayad Allawi, the leader of Iraqiyya and his Wifaq movement. Whether the federalism threat is just a negotiating card in a strategy that ultimately aims at negotiations between Maliki and parts of Iraqiyya remains to be seen.
Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 11 October 2011 12:58
Perhaps the most significant development in yesterday’s parliament session came towards the end: Parliament will be on holiday until 20 November.
That’s right: Despite continuing political stalemate, Iraqi lawmakers will not meet for another 6 weeks or so. Ostensibly, the reason for the long holiday is the fact that it coincides with the pilgrimage to Mecca in early November. It is expected that a large number of deputies will be out of the country.
One cannot help wonder, though, whether political expediency may have played a role in the decision. Asma al-Musawi, a Sadrist, reportedly said a request to the federal supreme court for extending the term had been rejected on constitutional grounds! That statement should arouse some serious incredulity since the constitution only stipulates that there shall be two parliamentary terms annually of altogether 8 months and that parliament can also extend its work for an additional 30 days if 50 members or the parliamentary speaker request it. As usual, there is a delay in the publication of the court ruling – if there actually is one, that is.
More likely, the will to call for such an extension was missing because the long holiday will fit the agenda of the biggest political parties perfectly. For Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his State of Law coalition it makes sense because they can continue to rule Iraq as a de facto minority government. For the secular Iraqiyya, the long holiday probably makes sense as well, not least since what they are able to do in terms of effective parliamentary opposition is limited anyway. Hence, they may well prefer to remain muttering on the sidelines.
This stalemate, or variations of it, is likely to continue until there is some kind of rapprochement between the two main factions. In this respect, one interesting development yesterday was the approval of a new electricity minister from the Karbuli bloc within Iraqiyya. It means that in terms of ministers, the factions of Iraqiyya outside the direct control of Ayyad Allawi at least technically speaking remain more integrated in the Maliki government than Allawi’s own Wifaq movement. Potentially, a future decision on the security ministries and the defence portfolio in particular might have a further impact on that relationship.
Still, with the upcoming holiday recess we are fast approaching the one-year anniversary of the formation of the second Maliki government and still have no ministers of interior or defence approved by parliament. Maybe that is exactly the situation Maliki wants to have.
Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 8 October 2011 19:21
Today’s developments in the Iraqi parliament served as yet another indication of the growing disconnect between parliamentary politics and government in the country.
There is no official report from the session because the legal quorum (163 deputies) was never reached. Of course, the Iraqi parliament is rarely filled above the two-thirds level, but today attendance was particularly poor thanks to additional politically-motivated abstentions. Some reports say Iraqiyya were absent in protest against the failure to include the second reading of the strategic policy council bill on the agenda. For their part, State of Law was reportedly unhappy about the inclusion of an item about lifting the legal immunity for Sabah al-Saadi – an independent Shiite Islamist who has been deeply critical against Nuri al-Maliki to the point where the latter has launched a legal case against him. Reportedly State of Law they feared they did not have the numbers to strip Saadi of his immunity. Saadi says he personally asked parliamentary speaker Usama al-Nujayfi to include the vote as an act of protest.
For good measure, two other unrealistic items had been added to the agenda as well when it was finally published this morning, just hours before the meeting was supposed to take place: A vote on the controversial laws for the federal supreme court and the higher judicial council. Little wonder, then, that parliament was postponed until Monday. If past practice is anything to go by, all these controversial decisions will simply disappear from the agenda again. For example, there has still been no decision on the validity of the parliamentary membership of several deputies whose credentials are in doubt. And once more the parliamentary bylaws have also been dropped from the agenda.
Meanwhile, Iraqi politics remains in its usual messy state. Everyone shouts they will agree to anything that is in accordance with the constitution. (Few of them know what is actually in it.) Ammar al-Hakim garners widespread praise for a supposed initiative of five principles for dialogue that have nothing substantial to them. (This is precisely why everyone thinks they are wonderful.) The Kurds declare that Maliki has agreed to implementing the Arbil agreement. (Again.)
There is a real danger that the Iraqi parliament is becoming unable to reach decisions except on matters that are so petty and insignificant that few will notice anyway. Arab Spring enthusiasts in search of a model democracy please look elsewhere.