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Archive for the ‘Iraq parliamentary elections 2014’ Category

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 | 2 Comments »

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 »

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 »

Iraq’s Shiite Alliance Wavering in the Question of the Parliament Speakership

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 14 July 2014 22:15

The new Iraqi parliament met briefly on Sunday and failed to make much progress apart from agreeing to meet again on Tuesday.

One interesting aspect of the proceedings that has failed to receive much attention concerns the stance of the pan-Shiite alliance on the issue of electing a speaker before a comprehensive agreement including the positions of president and prime minister has been reached. The Iraqi constitution envisages this kind of sequenced and piecemeal approach (instead of the package deals that were done in 2006 and 2010), and for the first time in Iraqi post-2003 history, there has this year been a degree of actual support for this kind of approach – from Iraqi voices and players in the international community alike. At least some members of the pan-Shiite alliance have also highlighted this possibility, probably fully aware that if they stayed unified, the Shiites in theory have enough votes (more than an absolute majority of 165 deputies) to impose whatever speaker they would like to have.

Interestingly, though, the Shiite bloc has refrained from pushing through any particular speaker candidate to enable a separate speaker vote. Indeed it has been reported that it was members of the Shiite alliance that played a role in having the parliament session on Sunday adjourned following failure to arrive at a more comprehensive agreement on the other leadership posts. This apparent reluctance to go ahead with the speaker election is interesting since it breaks with the trends of majoritarianism sometimes evident in the Shiite alliance (and especially in the State of Law bloc of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki). Instead, there have been some rather contrived suggestions by members of the Shiite alliance to impose particular conditions for the selection of the speaker. In one version, Maliki’s legal adviser Tareq Harb suggested that a speaker could be elected “from the smaller lists and temporarily”. How, one wonders, can Harb see this to resonate with his avowed orthodox approach to the Iraqi constitution? Then on Sunday, Hanan al-Fatlawi, another Maliki ally, suggested the speaker could be elected from among some of the tiny religious-minority lists in the Iraqi parliament (such as various Christian lists, Shabak and Sabaeans).

What this all suggests is that the Shiite alliance remains worried about giving away the speaker seat to a Sunni whom they don’t fully trust – Salim al-Jibburi (from the Iraqi Islamic Party in Diyala) having been the most prominent candidate so far. This in turn relates to a broader contradiction between majoritarianism and consensus models that continues to afflict the Shiite alliance. It goes back at least to the spring of 2011, when, after having sometimes promoted majoritarianism in the preceding period, the State of Law coalition pathetically demanded the creation of a third vice-presidency to make sure they had a say even within that minor office. Despite all the persisting talk of “political majority”, it seems the Shiite alliance has lately been fully preoccupied with dividing the spoils of the elections in the traditional way – with heated discussions about who should be the Shiite deputy speaker (Humam Hamudi of ISCI is a forerunner) and who should be the Shiite deputy president (it seems this may go to a Sadrist).

In all of this it is worth noting that despite weather problems (that some suggested dovetailed rather conveniently with Kurdish threats to boycott the Iraqi parliament), the short session on Sunday was actually rather well attended. Press reports talked about 225-235 (out of 328) deputies present, but the official parliament record says 270 which is very high compared with averages from the previous parliamentary cycle. What this means is that there are more than enough deputies present to complete a vote on a speaker, which requires an absolute majority. Maybe Iraqi politicians should now try to liberate themselves from past practices and just go ahead with the speaker vote, as indeed the Iraqi constitution stipulates? Such a move might in itself potentially produce new dynamics and alliances that are capable of affecting the current deadlock in the key question of who should be the next Iraqi prime minister.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Iraqi constitutional issues, UIA dynamics | 4 Comments »

The New Iraqi Parliament Opens

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 1 July 2014 20:39

So the new Iraqi parliament met today after having promised Iraqi voters, the Shiite religious authorities, and the international community that they would do so.

Unsurprisingly, they did little else than meet. Following the inaugural formalities, Mahdi al-Hafez, the “speaker of age”(the oldest MP who chairs the first session), introduced the only point of substance on the agenda: The election of a parliament speaker and his two deputies. At that point, a Kurdish MP found the time had come to complain about the refusal of Baghdad to  compromise on the KRG share of the budget. This rather blunt violation of the official agenda prompted heckling and even blunter derogatory verbal counter attacks. Speaker Hafez, who represents the small and secular Iraqi coalition with both Sunni and Shiite members, proposed a half-hour break to calm tensions and explore the opportunities for electing a speaker.

When the session resumed, many of the 255 deputies that had  been present at the outset failed to show up. It was suggested that there was no longer a quorum (165 MPs); indeed some reports suggested the number of deputies present had fallen as low as 70-100. What apparently had happened was that Kurds and Sunni Arabs deliberately boycotted – the Kurds probably to some extent offended by the verbal altercation about its attempt to put budget issues on the agenda, but also with suggestions that both protested what they saw as a failure by the Shia alliance to come up with a replacement candidate for Nuri al-Maliki as premier. What was clear, at any rate, was that there was no speaker candidate.  Accordingly, there wasn’t much to do except agree the next session, and it fell to the mainly Shiite Islamist MPs that remained in the session to work this out together with Hafez, the temporary speaker. To Hafez’s credit, he did not go along with suggestions by Ibrahim al-Jaafari that this could wait until after Ramadan. Instead, another meeting next Tuesday, 8 July, was fixed.

A couple of comments on the constitutional and legal aspects of this. Firstly, there has been much talk about the ability of the Iraqi supreme court to speed up the government formation process, based on its intervention back in 2010. Sadly, though, the ability of the court to do much in practice is probably limited. In 2010, its ruling against parliament was focused on its open-ended and everlasting (jalsa maftuha) session. Iraqi politicians have found an easy solution to this by simply ending today’s session without results and then calling a new one. The truth is, the supreme court cannot force Iraqi parliamentarians to remain within the parliament building until they find a solution, papal conclave-style. What actually happened in 2010 was not that the court suddenly became extremely powerful, but that its ruling coincided with the first real signs of progress on the political front after the Sadrists agreed to a second Maliki term.

Second, it should be stressed that constitutionally speaking, the only thing the Iraqi parliament needs to agree on at its first meeting is the speaker. The practice of agreeing on all three top positions – i.e. speaker, president and premier – is not rooted in the constitution. Rather, it is a tradition that has come into use on two previous occasions in 2010 and 2006. Sunnis and Kurds who are using this precedent to force the Shiite alliance to come up with a replacement of Maliki should be aware of this aspect, since for the first time the Shiites in the new parliament hold the numbers (170 plus) to proceed with elections of a speaker to suit their own interests even if the main Sunni and Kurdish parties continue to boycott. (It should be noted, though, that the debate about quorum or no quorum is immaterial to the speakership vote, which explicitly demands an absolute majority to be valid in any case per the Iraqi constitution.)

This point is also important because there seems to be a gross disconnect between the actual Iraqi political process and the media description of it. Consider, once more,  the move to squeeze out Maliki, which is seen as a foregone conclusion in all Western and most Arab media. Compare it with the composition of the last key Shia alliance meeting on the subject on Monday, where those present consisted of 6 potential Maliki loyalists (Maliki himself plus Khudayr al-Khuzaie, Hadi al-Ameri, Hashem al-Hashemi, Faleh al-Fayyad and Ibrahim al-Jaafari) whereas only 2 (Ammar al-Hakim and Karar al-Khafaji) are known to be wholeheartedly against a third term. With a situation like that, a more realistic interpretation is that the tug-of-war inside the Shiite alliance may take rather longer than some on the outside seem ready to admit.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, UIA dynamics, Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

The Iraqi Supreme Court Certifies the 30 April General Election Result

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 16 June 2014 19:54

It’s official: The provisional result of Iraq’s 30 April general election, published last month, has been certified by the federal supreme court.

In the IHEC statement to this effect, there is a caveat. 4 seat winners have not been approved, and won’t be approved until they have been cleared of charges relating to serious crime cases against them. Pending settlement of the court cases, their membership in parliament will remain pending, and no replacement deputies will be appointed. Whereas this may sound somewhat messy, it is actually what happened also in 2010, when 2 seat winners were provisionally excluded. Back then, it took longer for parliament to reconvene than for the judicial authorities to settle one of the cases (and one candidate was voluntarily substituted by another candidate from his bloc), so no procedural problems emerged.

With the general political climate in Iraq approaching boiling point, questions will inevitably pertain to the political affiliations of those 4 that were excluded. 3 of them come from a single list, the Sunni, pro-Nujayfi list that ran in Diyala province: Salim al-Jibburi, Raad al-Dahlaki and Umar al-Humayri. They have all been in various forms of conflict with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and Jibburi (once an Iraqi Islamic Party member who cooperated with the first Maliki government) and Humayri (ex governor of Diyala ousted by Maliki allies) most bitterly so.

Still, before running to conclusions about another politicized court decision in Iraq, consider the fourth excluded candidate: Abbas Jabir al-Khuzaie, a seat winner in Qadisiyya province for Maliki’s own State of Law list. Khuzaie is a local politician from the Qadisiyya council who was once with the secular Iraqiyya before defecting to State of Law in 2011. He was then with the Independents bloc of Hussein al-Shahristani and may still be a member of that bloc subunit. Still, despite ongoing internal rivalry in State of Law, it seems unlikely that Maliki would fabricate an exclusion from his own rank in a situation where the loyalty of every new single Iraqi deputy is meticulously being monitored in the contest to form the biggest parliament bloc and supply the next premier candidate.

The certification of the election result opens the door for government formation: The Iraqi president (or his acting deputy) must issue a call for the Iraqi parliament to convene within 15 days, i.e. at the end of June. Theoretically, parliament will then elect its speaker, and, within a month, a new president who will then charge the candidate of the largest bloc in parliament to form a government.

For Iraqi politicians, despite the current crisis, the parliamentary government formation process is likely to remain the main political track going forward. It is a problem, therefore, that much US rhetoric on conditions for aid to the Iraqi government seem focused on ideas about some sort of national reconciliation initiative that would precede the delivery of further assistance. It is very hard to see how that would fit in with the Iraqi government formation logic. Whereas there has been much talk among Americans about imposing conditionality on future military assistance in Iraq, US rhetoric has been disconcertingly void of specific proposals for measures that would satisfy them. On the other hand, there is no lack of American suggestions for favourite cabinet line-ups that could be imposed, possibly even with Iranian support. Some of this thinking seems to belong to the era of the CPA in 2003–04, rather than in today’s situation.

Meanwhile, ISIS continues its savagery, the Kurds consolidate their quasi-independence, and Maliki for once actually has an excuse for drumming up state-of-emergency rhetoric.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014 | 9 Comments »

Maliki’s Kurdish Dilemma

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 28 May 2014 14:16

A world without Usama al-Nujayfi, Ayyad Allawi, Ammar al-Hakim and Mutqada al-Sadr. Surely that must be one of the most pleasant dreams that could happen in the head of Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki these days?

In fact, given political developments during the weeks since the announcement of the uncertified election result, Maliki has quite good chances for such a dream to become reality. Crucially, though, that dream would have to include a personality Maliki probably would have preferred to shut out along with the others: Masud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish federal region.

What has happened is as follows. In the uncertified election result there were 92 straightforward State of Law winners and another 3 State of Law affiliated people running on various pan-Shia lists in the Shiite-minority provinces in the north. Subsequently, Maliki has been formally joined by smaller Shiite parties such as Solidarity in Iraq (1 seat in Dhi Qar), the Just State (1 seat), Professionals and Masses (2 seats), Loyalty to Iraq (2 seats in Najaf). Additionally, support for Maliki from the Sadiqun movement affiliated with Asaeb Ahl al-Haqq (1 seat) is a foregone conclusion since probably no one else wants to have anything to do with that controversial movement.

That’s 102 seats. For their part, the combined parliamentary strength of the Kurds is mostly assessed to be above 60 seats, certainly if pro-Kurdish minority representatives from the north are included. Accordingly, Maliki and the Kurds are now so close to securing the absolute majority needed to seat a new government (165 seats) that it would be very easy for them to secure a few extra MPs without having to involve any other big bloc. Also, by virtue of their relatively disciplined parliamentary contingent, the Kurds are probably in a better position to deliver actual votes to Maliki in parliament than any combination of smaller Arab-dominated parties would be able to. All of this is different from 2010, when State of Law plus the Kurds would have fallen short of 163 votes, the absolute-majority mark in the 325-member parliament back then.

This scenario offers a potential negotiation dynamic that is very different from the outcomes that have dominated the discussion thus far –  i.e. a political majority government of pro-Maliki centralists against decentralizers among the Kurds, ISCI and Nujayfi; or a quasi political-majority government of Maliki and at least one of the big parties (Nujayfi, Allawi, Hakim, Sadr) that would be prepared to join him bilaterally in opposition to the others; or an anti-Maliki coalition along the lines that challenged him in the first part of 2012; or a decision on the next PM inside a reconstituted grand Shiite alliance, perhaps followed by another oversized partnership government.

Nonetheless, despite all the talk about these scenarios (and perhaps a revived Shiite alliance in particular), the only thing that has actually happened on the ground since the election result was announced  is that State of Law has continued to grow steadily, attracting also some parties with more secular leanings that wouldn’t fit particularly well in the Shiite Islamist National Alliance at all. Indeed, it is likely that such smaller parties on the Sunni side could also be subsumed by the State of Law alliance.  It is noteworthy that despite the strong regional tensions, parties favouring dialogue with Maliki instead of maximizing the sectarian conflict won multiple seats in key Sunni governorates such as Anbar. Indeed, it could be argued that the vote for the smaller pro-sahwa lists and the secular Iraq coalition in Anbar – altogether 130,000 votes and 6 seats – was a vote in favour of rapprochement with Maliki. If movements like these get included in the next Iraqi government, the contention frequently seen in Western media to the effect that “Iraqi Sunnis lost the elections” would lose even more of its limited relevance. True, the option of Maliki’s enemies forming some kind of grand coalition against him still exists, but with Maliki’s recent growth they are running out of time: Once Maliki reaches around 125 deputies, it will be near mathematically impossible for his adversaries to form a bigger parliamentary bloc without the Kurds. With trends like these, the chances of Maliki acting bi-laterally instead of multi-laterally in the government formation process certainly go up.

Of course, the Kurds will not sign up to a a third Maliki premiership just for the sake of forming a slimmer government. Like in 2010, they will have specific demands, including the general relationship between Baghdad and the Kurdistan federal region, oil policy issues, payment for Kurdish armed forces as well as disputed areas.

There are key differences from 2010, though. Firstly, the Kurdish demands have grown more radical. No longer are questions about the validity of contracts of foreign oil companies most prominent on the agenda. The Kurds have recently opened up separate pipelines to Turkey and want Baghdad to approve this move without any interference. Second, the Kurds have already seen what happened with lofty promises in the Erbil agreement of 2010, which largely remains unimplemented. Surely they will fashion their demands to Maliki in ways that can prevent a repeat of that disappointment this time.

In practice, it will not be too difficult for Maliki to reverse much of his anti-Kurdish political majority rhetoric if he instead can form the new government on the basis of some kind of landmark agreement with the Kurds that can lead to satisfaction on both sides. The problem though, given the increasingly radical nature of the Kurdish demands, is to find concessions that are in the spirit of the Iraqi constitution of 2005 as a union between Iraqis, rather than practical guidelines for the implementation of a divorce.

Some such potential concessions within the framework of a federal state still exist. Firstly, there are things Maliki could offer on disputed internal boundaries that would involve one-off concessions to the Kurds in some of the less disputed of the disputed territories in the north, though without Kirkuk and a comprehensive article 140 settlement (which is likely to take many years to be implemented even under the rosiest of circumstances). Second, there is the recurrent issue of payment for the Kurdish security forces. Since these forces also serve in domestic and internal roles, their payment over the federal budget is not particularly logical. Still, if such an arrangement can serve as glue in the Iraqi federation, it is far better than deals that would remove the oil sector entirely from Baghdad’s sphere, effectively making Kurdistan an independent country but without a suitable legal and constitutional framework. Thirdly, there are the oil contracts with foreign companies operating in Kurdistan, which Baghdad have yet to formally approve. It could be argued that one-off approval of these contracts could be a suitable concession if an appropriate framework for cooperation for future foreign contracts could be established as part of the compromise.

All of the above are compromises that would retain the essence of the Iraqi constitution of 2005 and would be sellable also to Maliki’s domestic audience (which should not be forgotten after they gave him more than 700,000 personal votes). Above all, though, if Maliki and the Kurds want to cut a separate deal, it is important that both sides exercise realism in order that another Erbil paper tiger, and the concomitant dysfunctional government it produced, can be avoided.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories, Oil in Iraq, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

The Use of the Personal Vote Option in Iraq’s 30 April 2014 General Election

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 27 May 2014 1:37

After it was introduced in 2008, the personal vote option has become a success in the Iraqi democracy, contributing significantly to shaping election results in unpredictable ways, often against the wishes of the party leaderships.

Firstly, it can be concluded that using the personal vote has become the norm in Iraqi elections. The numbers in the results clearly suggest a majority of Iraqi voters indicate a candidate preference in addition to party preference when they cast their votes. Just to take one example from the 30 April 2014 general election: Out of 27,800 Sadrist voters in rural Muthanna, more than 25,900 used the personal vote option, in line with high figures reported in previous elections. Iraqi voters use the personal vote despite the fact that technical modalities of voting still militate against its use: Voters must take the trouble of remembering the name of their preferred candidate since this is not indicated on the ballot papers.

In analyzing data about the personal vote, it is also important to be alert to its many possible uses. These include pure stunts by a small number of senior politicians who feel so secure about their popularity that they deliberately place themselves far down the lists in order to demonstrate their ability to be promoted to the top by the popular vote. The most spectacular example in the recent general election is Hummam Hammudi of ISCI in Baghdad, who deliberately put himself at the rock bottom position of the list as candidate 138, only to be gracefully lifted to a seat-winning third position through the personal votes of some 10,000 devoted supporters.

Mostly, though, the personal vote use affects the overall outcomes in ways that reflect real struggles between party leaderships and electorates as to which individuals are the best representatives to send to the Iraqi national assembly in Baghdad. A good way of getting an impression of the degree of internal fighting going on, already tested out with respect to the local elections last year, is to tabulate the data of some main lists according to their numbers of successful candidates initially placed on winning positions, followed by numbers of those promoted to winning seats from non-winning positions based on the wishes of the electorate (i.e. personal votes outnumbering those who initially held these lists positions), as well as the numbers of women promoted to winning positions because of the female quota (technically speaking “against” the preferences of the electorate, though it should be noted that more than 20 female Iraqi deputies this time won their seats without help from the quota thanks to strong personal votes).

Here are some examples from the State of Law results:

persvotesol

So that’s 27 new MPs from State of Law alone that hadn’t been planned by the party leadership which had placed them far down on the lists!

The tendency of active use of the personal vote in ways that challenge political elites is less pronounced for the Muwatin bloc of Ammar al-Hakim, though not non-existent:

persvotemuwaten

After having played a role in the perhaps most spectacular use of the personal vote in 2010 (when they used it to promote candidates from their own party to top positions on the Iraq National Alliance slate), the Sadrists this time showed less interest in using the personal vote in radical ways to affect the ranking of candidates set by the party leaderships. On the other hand, the personal vote has been used with considerable impact among other lists, including the main Sunni and Kurdish ones.

Here is the example of the Mutahhidun bloc of Usama al-Nujayfi, the speaker of the previous parliament:

persvotenujaifi

That’s just 3 blocs and yet we have no less than 44 deputies in the Iraqi parliament that probably wouldn’t have been there if the party elites had had it their way.

The tabulations above don’t tell the whole story, though.  This is the case especially with respect to the distance travelled by some of the candidates far down on the list who went all the way to the top. This time, the phenomenon of big climbers was most pronounced in the big cities of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, and with some particularly spectacular examples within Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance. They include 3 candidates in Basra who went from positions 29, 30 and 31 to become seat winners, and similar impressive climbs from positions 41, 45, 62, 69, 73 and 77 in Baghdad. Also Muwatin had a candidate who went from 50 to 4 in Basra, whereas Nineveh winners for the  Mutahhidun list of Usama al-Nujayfi included candidates 24, 29 and 53.

All in all, it is the active use of the personal vote among State of Law voters that this time stands out in comparative perspective vis-à-vis previous elections. Incidentally, data about the personal votes may also be useful in evaluating the independence of IHEC. There has been some suggestions that the current commission, considered more friendly to Maliki than the previous one, may have been under pressure to manipulate the vote. But some of the painful exclusions of Maliki favourites following their personal inability to garner enough personal votes tell a different story. If IHEC was so corrupt as its critics claim, it would have been a comparatively easy job to shift internal votes to the advantage of party leadership favourites. Instead, we have seen several State of Law deputies lose their jobs due to poor electoral performance, including people like Ali Shallah, Hassan al-Sunayd, Khalid al-Attiya, Yasin Majid and Walid al-Hilli. Indeed, it can be argued that the personal vote establishes a second tier of accountability in the Iraqi elections since both candidates and voters will have more specific interests to guard and will be doubly aware to attempts to manipulate.  This is important when the elections results are as disputed as they are in Iraq.

Hopefully, after the expiry of the deadline for legal complaints against the results later this week the Iraqi elections commission can soon move forward to certification, thereby sealing some of these important expressions of nascent democracy even under adverse circumstances of regional tension.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014 | Comments Off

 
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