Iraq and Gulf Analysis

An Iraq Blog by a Victim of the Human Rights Crimes of the Norwegian Government

Archive for the ‘UIA dynamics’ Category

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 Intra-List Struggle in the State of Law Coalition: The Baghdad Parliamentary Contingent, the Shahristani Faction, and the Independent Deputies

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 1 June 2014 22:46

In the middle of the long wait for the certification of the Iraqi election result, speculation about the viability of PM Nuri al-Maliki’s bid for a third term has intensified. One of the recurrent questions concerns possible challenges to Maliki from within his State of Law coalition, especially from deputy PM Hussein al-Shahristani, who according to some sources has increased his influence because of the election result.

A frequent contention is the idea that the Shahristani bloc should have received no less than 33 seats in the latest election, making it the biggest bloc in State of Law – ahead of Badr and with double the seats as Maliki’s own Daawa party faction.

Whereas observers are right in pointing out the potential significance of a big Shahristani win, there are some problems with these rumours. Firstly, they are exactly just rumours: Nowhere has a list of these alleged new Shahristani deputies published. On the Facebook page of the Shahristani bloc it is virtually impossible to find any article that does not focus on extolling the virtues of the personality of Shahristani himself. For its part, the party’s homepage shows a list of deputies from the previous parliamentary session.

In fact, most reports about Shahristani’s ascendancy seem to go back to a claim made by Hassan al-Sunayd, a former Maliki ally who lost his seat in the election and in one interview shortly after mid-May said Shahristani had won 33 seats. Sunayd is reportedly estranged from Maliki and in the process of establishing a new political party.

While the possibility of a large Shahristani bloc in the next Iraqi parliament should not be rejected out of hand, a search of some of the constituencies for which coalition sub-entities are specified makes you wonder who exactly these 33 Shahristani deputies are. They do not appear to be in Basra, where a good State of Law source indicating bloc affiliation exists, and where most of the Shahristani candidates appear to have lost. (Additionally, frequent acting minister for Maliki Safa al-Din al-Safi left the party and ran independently: He received no more than 1,500 votes). Recently, other lists from Wasit and Baghdad have also been released, showing only 3 Shahristani deputies in Baghdad. The Baghdad list is particularly important since it concerns no less than 30 deputies, most of whom appear to be independents. It can be controlled independently against an analysis of the Badr winners in Baghdad, with which it squares 100%.

So where exactly is this monster Shahristani delegation of 33 deputies? Not in Basra,  not in Baghdad (4 deputies at most) and not in Wasit as we have seen.

Other known Shahristani deputies include one in each of Maysan, Dhi Qar, Najaf and Karbala. That’s eight. Where are the rest? They surely aren’t in the Shiite-minority provinces, where all the factional identities of the State of Law winners are known. Are there really 25 Shahristani partisans hidden in the new parliament contingents from the mid-Euphrates areas? That’s hard to believe. Remember that many members of his bloc in those parts lost their existing seats, including some embarrassingly prominent cases (like Khalid al-Attiya, once a deputy parliament speaker).

What can explain these major discrepancies? Semantic problems should not be ruled out, as they have appeared in the past as well. Shahristani’s bloc is named Independents (Al-Mustaqillun). That is the same term that is used for an unaffiliated MP, although the latter terms is always used in the singular and mostly without the definite article (al-). Thus, in parliament lists of members of the National Alliance in the past, some formally independent and unaffiliated State of Law members were listed as (mustaqill or mustaqilla as an adjective that is conjugated in accordance with the gender of the MP), whereas members of Shahristani bloc are listed with the bloc name (Al-Mustaqillun). It is thus very easy to mix up the two categories and erroneously add truly independent MPs to the Shahristani bloc.

Pending the publication of the names of the new Shahristani bloc, this kind of explanation should not be ruled out. Once things get published by Arab newswires – often with sources far removed from Iraqi realities and with anti-Maliki voices prominent – they tend to get repeated endlessly. By way of example, in 2012 some of these sources persistently insisted that 164 (rather than 163) MPs constituted an absolute majority in the then 325-member parliament.

These are of course two radically different interpretations. Whereas “Independent Bloc members” loyal to Shahristani may conceivably constitute a threat to Maliki, true “independents” are actually more likely to be loyal to Maliki rather than to anyone else since their inclusion on the State of Law list came outside of the competing factions and most likely through the general effort of the prime minister’s office to cultivate ties to a broad range of Iraqi professionals from all spheres. This is important since many analysts tend to focus much on the fact that relatively few of the new State of Law parliament bloc appear to be full members of the Daawa party,

Of course these questions are also bound to have an impact on larger issues. As an alternative to the various majoritarian constellations that are being discussed, a return to the old model whereby an enlarged Shiite alliance essentially decides the PM and then invites Sunnis and Kurds in to form an oversized partnership government – arguably the antithesis to Maliki’s political majority concept – is also receiving much attention. Clearly the question of finding a replacement for Maliki inside State of Law (a parallel to the sidelining of Ibrahim al-Jaafari in 2006) is correlated to the question of the relative size of the coalition subunits: In the internal Shiite alliance contest, political elite relationships count more than the popular vote. For example, in a fascinating image of an Iraq between majoritarian and consociational democratic models, Maliki with 720,000 personal votes is being challenged as PM candidate by people like Ahmed Chalabi with 10,000 votes.

Shahristani is also in that segment of around 10, 000 personal votes. However, unless the rumours of his new-won mega contingent of parliamentary deputies are accurate, it seems highly unlikely that Shahristani should be able to upend people like the well-connected Chalabi or, for that matter, the highly popular Maliki.

Posted in UIA dynamics | 26 Comments »

The Badr Organization and the Internal Structure of the New State of Law Parliamentary Faction

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 22 May 2014 21:14

There have been several rumours flying around regarding the electoral success of the various subunits that form part of the State of Law coalition of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Some of these stories suggest parties outside the Daawa movement may potentially pose a significant challenge to Maliki’s authority, something that would form a contrast to the situation in 2010 when Maliki did not face any major competing centres of power internally in his coalition.

The rumour that is easiest to verify – and confirm – relates to the relative success of the Badr organization. Badr, which came into existence in the 1980s as a paramilitary organization sponsored  and trained by Iran to fight the Saddam Hussein regime, has won at least 19 seats within the group of parliamentary seats that can be counted as State of Law in the new Iraqi parliament, meaning they make up more than 20% of the State of Law coalition.

Here are Badr deputies in the next Iraqi parliament that can be identified easily, by governorate:

Governorate No of Badr deputies Names
Basra 2 Ahmad al-Khafaji, Hassan al-Rashid
Maysan
Dhi Qar 2 Razzaq Ujaymi, Amal Attiya al-Nasiri
Muthanna 1 Ali Lafta al-Murshidi
Qadisiyya 2 Muhammad al-Shaybawi, Suham al-Musawi
Babel 2 Razzaq al-Haydari, Manal al-Muslimawi
Najaf 1 Muhammad Abbas al-Musawi
Karbala
Wasit 1 Qasim al-Zuhayri
Baghdad 5 Abd al-Karim Yunis, Muhammad Naji, Abd al-Hussein al-Azayrjawi, Hassan al-Saadi, Muhammad al-Ghaban
Diyala 2 Hadi al-Ameri, Mina  Saleh al-Umayri
Nineveh 1 Hunayn al-Qaddo

 

Some of the individual results call for special comment. There are a few prominent vote getters in terms of personal votes, including Hadi al-Ameri with 20,000 in Diyala, though this is really nothing in comparative national perspective . There are some significant climbers such as Hassan al-Saadi in Baghdad who went from an initial 35th place to a seat-winning 21st position, although on the whole Badr winners were mostly placed high on the list by the State of Law leadership in the first place. And the newly declared Badr affiliation of the representative of the Shabak minority Hunayn al-Qaddo can now be confirmed! Qaddo, who is emphatically not a militiaman, has previously wavered between the Hakim and Maliki factions.

Qaddo

Similar stories about the alleged surges of other competitors to Maliki inside the State of Law list have not been possible to confirm as easily. Materials on candidates for the Independents bloc of deputy premier Hussein al-Shahristani and the Tanzim al-Iraq faction of the Daawa is less easily available. An initial superficial count indicated less than a dozen MPs for each of these factions, including some setbacks for prominent figures (like Khalid al-Attiya), though this may be an underestimate.

Of course, historically Badr has been the Iraqi Shiite faction closest to Iran, constituting the premier example of an organization formed for the single purpose of exercising Iranian leadership over Iraqi Shiites. Their strong ties to Iran could prove  particularly important if the question of resurrecting the pan-Shiite National Alliance for purposes of government formation once more moves to the foreground of Iraqi politics.

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

The Iraqi Parliament Completes the First Reading of the 2014 Annual Budget

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 17 March 2014 14:23

In a significant move, the Iraqi parliament has completed the first passage of the 2014 annual budget despite boycotts by the Kurds and the Mutahhidun bloc loyal to the parliament speaker, Usama al-Nujayfi.

The sheer arithmetic behind the successful quorum at Sunday’s session speaks volumes about shifting political winds in Iraq ahead of the 30 April parliament elections. In order to go ahead with the first reading, 163 MPs needed to be present to reach the legal minimum requirement for taking parliamentary action. According to the official parliament record, 164 deputies attended. In the context of boycotts by Kurds and Mutahhidun alike, this is a remarkable achievement. It means, firstly, that the Shia bloc in parliament is exhibiting internal discipline at a level not seen since 2005. Altogether the three main Shiite factions – State of Law, Muwatin and the Sadrists – command around 161 deputy votes. The numbers suggest that despite internal turmoil among the Sadrists (or because of it?) a majority of these deputies will have been present during the budget reading. Whereas previous occasions involving Kurdish opposition to Maliki have seen widespread ISCI solidarity with the Kurds, no such major Shiite challenge to Maliki appears to have materialized this time around. But beyond this, importantly, there must have been some MPs from the Sunni and secular camps attending as well. The numbers don’t lie: even on a good day, there are no more than aroundd 160 Shiite Islamist MPs, and most of the handful of minority MPs from small non-Muslim groups and ethnic micro-minorities are loyal to the Kurds. Accordingly, in the context of continued criticism of PM Maliki by Iraqiyya leader Ayyad Allawi, it makes sense to assume that at least some of the breakaway elements of Iraqiyya that materialized in 2012 were present to secure the necessary quorum.

Substantially speaking, the conflict involves primarily Kurdish opposition to proposed measures of control regarding oil export from the Kurdish areas. For their part, the Sunni Mutahiddun appear to be boycotting more out of personal opposition to Maliki than a coherent anti-centralism agenda (although the tendency in the latter direction is more pronounced today than it was a couple of years ago). It is interesting that Maliki is using the issue of the budget and the question of Kurdish oil exports to mobilize popular opinion ahead of the elections. This is unprecedented: In 2010, neither the question of Kirkuk nor the budget tension was brought to the fore in a big way. At the same time, when seen within the context of the election campaign more generally, this is Shia chauvinism within a shell of Iraqi nationalism, quite different, for example, from the 22 July movement of 2008 focused on representation issues in the Kirkuk provincial council. Alongside assertiveness on the part of the central government in oil issues comes new governorate proposals clearly speaking to Shia Turkmen minorities, as well as the cabinet’s recent passage of retrograde Shia personal status law that would enable underage marriage – an apparent concession by Maliki to hardliners in the Fadila party ahead of the elections.

Still, this is only the first reading of the budget. Parliament speaker Nujayfi will be able to stage filibuster-like obstacles to delay the second reading and the decisive vote. It is however noteworthy that Nujayfi himself chose to be present and chair the budget first reading on Sunday, quite despite his own bloc’s boycott.

Three further parliament meetings are scheduled for this week. For now, the second budget reading is not on the agenda.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Oil in Iraq, UIA dynamics, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Is Maliki About to Fall?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 31 May 2012 16:59

Two articles discuss the political showdown in Iraq as critics of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki claim they have the 163 votes needed to bring him down. One focuses on the question of Iran’s interest in Iraq and the possibility that Iran may have fabricated some aspects of the current political crisis to demonstrate its leverage in Iraq for world powers; another highlights the contrast between a government in Baghdad that for all practical purposes remain operative and the multiplication of gatherings of Maliki enemies in the autonomous region in Kurdistan, where many are more focused on the prospect of eventual Kurdish independence than the fate of the rest of Iraq.

Discussion section open as usual below.

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, UIA dynamics | 89 Comments »

Maliki’s Meeting with Shahrudi in Iran

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 24 April 2012 14:04

If you look at the website of Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s premier, it offers ample coverage of his two-day visit to Iran completed this week. One item is however not reported: His meeting with Mahmud Shahrudi, a member of the Iranian guardian council of Iraqi origin.

The meeting, which was covered by the Iranian news agency IRNA, was different from the string of other meetings held by Maliki in Tehran. Meetings with key Iranian leaders like Ahmadinejad, Jalili, Larijani and Khamenei could plausibly be construed as bilateral meetings between the Iraqi premier and key Iranian officials. Shahrudi, however, has a strictly domestic role in the Iranian government focused on internal power-broking. True, Shahrudi is in some ways an Iraqi exile living in Iran, but then again there are thousands of other Iraqis living in Iran with whom Maliki could have plausibly met.

Inevitably, the meeting between Maliki and Shahrudi will fuel speculation about the links between Maliki’s Daawa party and Shahrudi. Historically – and unlike other Iraqi Shiite Islamist parties – the Daawa has been reluctant to impose adherence to a particular Shiite cleric on its members, leaving this as an individual choice. However, since autumn 2011, rumours about a move by the Daawa to adopt Shahrudi as a collective marja have  mushroomed. Indeed, at times this has been linked to a reported attempt by Shahrudi to establish a presence in the holy Iraqi city of Najaf with a view to contesting the successor struggle expected when the current leading cleric, Ali al-Sistani, passes away.

Any such move would be of momentous significance for Iraqi politics. Unlike Sistani and the Najaf scholars, Shahrudi belongs to the school of the Iranian revolution and advocates a leading role for the clergy in government. If Shahrudi should succeed in emerging to prominence in Najaf with the help of the Daawa it would transform the outlook of the city entirely. Indeed, it would change Iraqi politics more broadly: Those arguing  that Maliki is moving towards ever greater coordination with the Iranian clergy would feel vindicated, and rightly so.

For the time being, numerous factors militate against such a scenario. In the first place, historically, the Daawa has been more reluctant than other Shiite parties in Iraq to embrace the Iranian doctrine of clerical government (wilayat al-faqih). After all, this was what prompted its split from SCIRI as an umbrella organization in the 1980s and the relocation of several Daawa leaders from Iran. Even very recently, it is being reported that Maliki’s parliamentary bloc alongside the Kurds and Iraqiyya are resisting attempts by ISCI and Fadila to impose a federal supreme law clause that would provide clerical veto on Iraqi laws on the Iranian model. And of course, historically, Najaf has a record of posing resistance to Qum in Iran as a centre of Shiism.

These tendencies may well prevail in Iraq. But by visiting Shahrudi yesterday Maliki did nothing to kill the rumours about some kind of Iranian design on the holiest centre of Iraqi Shiism.

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, UIA dynamics, Uncategorized | 38 Comments »

Targeting Mutlak and Hashemi: Towards Full Political Disintegration in Iraq?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 18 December 2011 13:15

Only days after Maliki’s Washington photo-op and with the US withdrawal formally sealed, Iraqi politics is alive again – but for all the wrong reasons. Yesterday saw unprecedented statements by people close to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that a move is afoot to withdraw confidence in Deputy Premier Salih al-Mutlak of Iraqiyya (on charges of incompetence) and to bring legal charges against Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, also of Iraqiyya, for alleged involvement in the recent terror attack against the Iraqi parliament.

It should be stressed that so far much of this remains rumours and statements. Iraqiyya leaders say no formal request to parliament nor any arrest warrants have been seen so far. However, to some extent, the exact formal status of these proceedings does not really make that much difference. Mentally speaking the cat is out of the bag anyway: Here are two abrupt attacks by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki against participants in his own government. Two lines of attack are being followed, one political and the other judicial.

With respect to the Mutlak case, given his latest comments to US media about the nature of Maliki’s regime it is perhaps unsurprising that Maliki should take some action: When Mutlak accused Maliki of being a dictator, Maliki allies quipped back that Mutlak was the deputy dictator! Whether Maliki has the parliamentary support base to do this remains to be seen. In this matter, Maliki can probably count on the Shiites outside the State of Law alliance (Sadrists and ISCI), since many of them are bitterly opposed to Mutlak for his past association with the Baath party (after previously having been targeted judicially, Mutlak was formally exempted from de-Baathification proceedings as part of the December 2010 government-formation compromise). It is also interesting that the move against Mutlak and the Iraqiyya boycott comes at a time when the general amnesty law is making progress in parliament: That was a case of Iraqiyya and the Sadrists uniting against Maliki.

It is more unclear what the Kurds would do and their votes should be needed even if Iraqiyya continues to boycott parliament since sacking a minister in theory requires an “absolute majority”. Given his penchant for exploiting potential legal loopholes, it is however not entirely unlikely that Maliki may try to make use of ambiguity that arguably exists in that the constitution regarding the definition of an absolute majority in this particular case: In most instances, the constitution explicitly refers to an “absolute majority of the members of parliament”, but with regard to the sacking of individual ministers it speaks only about an “absolute majority” (aghlabiyya mutlaqa). This may well have originated as a simple clerical omission, especially since the concept of a “simple majority” (aghlabiyya basita) occurs elsewhere in the constitution. In other words it would be a an exercise – far-fetched perhaps? – of redefining all of this as plurality, simple majority and absolute majority respectively. Under that kind of scenario, of course, the Shiite Islamists might theoretically seek to sack Mutlak singlehandedly.

As regards Hashemi, this very much looks like a judicial attack on a political enemy that Maliki would probably not be able to get rid of in parliament: Last spring, Maliki had more trouble getting his own vice-presidential candidate, Khudayr al-Khuzaie, confirmed than Hashemi had with respect to his own candidature. Today, there is a statement from the higher judicial council to the effect that it will create a special investigatory committee to look into the accusations against Hashemi’s security detail – a judicial approach that in itself seems ad hoc and extraordinary.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect in all of this is that Maliki is targeting people with a record for compromise. Both Mutlak and Hashemi have at times taken chances with their own constituencies for the sake of cooperating within the Iraqi political system. Back in 2009, Mutlak led a rapprochement attempt towards Maliki, whereas Hashemi was vice-president in the previous parliamentary cycle despite opposition from many Sunni Muslims. When Hashemi was labelled “Baathist” by the Sadrist Bahaa al-Aaraaji in autumn 2009, the revulsion against Aaraji in parliament included many Shiite Islamists and Kurds.

Symptomatic of all that is going on are perhaps today’s developments in Diyala. The embattled, pro-federal governorate council is in emergency session in the Kurdish-dominated Khanaqin. They complain about armed Shiite demonstrations in Baquba and the inability of the government security forces to provide adequate security. This is a pattern we have seen before: Secularists and Sunnis withdrawing to the Kurds in times of trouble with Maliki.

So far the Kurds have a track record of hosting Iraqiyya in a friendly manner and then ultimately betraying them in bilateral deals with Maliki.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraqi constitutional issues, UIA dynamics | 20 Comments »

Maliki, the Fayli Kurds, and the Return to an Ethno-Sectarian Political Discourse in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 2 October 2011 19:34

Ever since he came to power in 2006, a key issue for Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki has been the tension between, on the one hand, a majoritarian, all-Iraqi politicial discourse, and, on the other, a discourse that instead emphasises the identity of separate ethnicities and sects.

In a speech to a gathering of Fayli Kurds yesterday, Maliki certainly emphasised ethno-sectarian identity. Firstly, Maliki stressed that the Faylis had suffered more than any other Iraqi community because they are “both Kurds and Shiites”. But not only that. Maliki advised the Faylis to seek “unity” within the component (mukawwin), meaning he demanded political conformity across the imagined “Fayli Kurd community”. He went on to suggest that the census to be carried out in Iraq in the future would make clear how many Fayli Kurds there are in Iraq! This would effectively transform the census to a questionnaire about more than mother tongue (Arabic, Kurdish or Turkish) and main religion (Muslim versus Christian): It is mainly their Shiite sectarian identity that sets the Faylis apart from other Kurds.

Seen in isolation, one could wonder whether Maliki perhaps was simply following a strategy of reinforcing sub-divisions among the Kurds, as seen before in Iraqi history and perhaps most prominently in the case of the Shabak around Mosul. But Maliki’s tendency to focus more on the components than the whole has been a consistent trend since the disappointing result for his State of Law coalition in the 7 March 2010 parliamentary elections. Back then, Maliki expressed disappointment that his hope of building a political-majority government had been crushed, and that the alternative of an ethno-sectarian power-sharing formula would likely lead to ineffective government. However, Maliki soon seemed to adapt to the new realities. Already in August 2010, people in his alliance (and the US ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill) expressed the view that the prime minister “had to be a Shiite”. This year, Maliki and his State of Law allies have increasingly expressed the view that certain posts should be given to sects, as seen especially in the call for the defence ministry to go to a Sunni. These are all important steps towards the permanent Lebanonisation of Iraq.

There are of course examples of brave resistance and cases where Iraqi national sentiment clearly does survive. When Turkmens in Kirkuk recently demanded an ethnic Turkmen militia to protect them, Sunni Arabs from the same area instead called for central government intervention, notwithstanding the fact that the Iraqi army is now Shiite-dominated. Similarly, those Sunni Arabs were among the first to reject the idea of a Sunni federal region when it hit the political agenda this summer.

Away from political elites, many ordinary Faylis continue to express unhappiness about being labelled as anything other than Iraqis. However, it seems Prime Minister Maliki is now giving them pretty little choice.

Posted in Sectarian master narrative, UIA dynamics | 13 Comments »

Washington Heads Buried in Middle Eastern Sand

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 28 September 2011 19:57

Here is what Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, had to say about Iranian influence in Iraq during the recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing:

“I think Prime Minister Maliki – I think he understands that he – his country cannot allow Iran to be able to conduct that kind of influence within his country, provide those kinds of weapons and basically undermine his government.

That’s what’s happening and I think he gets that message. But we’re going to have to continue to make sure that – that they take the right steps and I think Iran needs to understand that we’re going to be around awhile here, making very clear to them that we’re not – we’re not simply going to ignore what Iran is doing in – in Iraq.”

Once more, it seems, the United States government is pre-occupied with so-called “special groups” as the prime instrument of malign Iranian influence in Iraq. Kataib Hizbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haqq and the Promised Day Brigades are reckoned as the most dangerous pro-Iranian challenges to political stability in Iraq and have even been elevated to the status of an acronym (SG) in American military terminology – probably the safest possible indication that you are taken seriously in DC. Of course, some US analysts also include the mainline Sadrist movement on their lists of potential Iraqi troublemakers.

The problem with this approach to the subject of Iranian influence in Iraq is its myopic, one-sided character. It ignores at least two other key aspects of Iranian strategy: Maintaining a sectarian definition of politics and keeping de-Baathification as a key issue on the political agenda in Iraq. We can probably add a third aspect: A touch of “divide and rule” once a sectarian Shiite governing coalition had been safely put in place again in December 2010. This could include encouraging general state fragmentation, be it through federalism or consociational “power-sharing” with merely symbolic value.

The problem in Iraq is not so much that these aspects of Iranian grand strategy go undetected by Washington. The problem in Iraq is that Washington actively abets Iranian strategy in these areas. In 2010, during the run-up to the parliamentary elections, Ambassador Christopher Hill basically extended support to the process of ad hoc, illegal pre-election de-Baathification. Once the elections had been done with, Hill went on to endorse the sectarian idea that the next Iraqi premier “had to be a Shiite”.  With this kind US support for most of its strategy in Iraq, Iran can afford to use the “special groups” as an auxiliary to its general approach, adjusting its force in a secondary cat and mouse game with what remains of US military forces there.

Alas, in the Middle Eastern region more broadly, there are worrying signs that the Americans are unable to comprehend what went so seriously wrong in Iraq. In a recent (20 September) New York Times article on Syria, an unnamed US official declared that “nobody wants another Iraq”. But the whole article suggested that precisely those same epistemological mistakes that derailed US policy in Iraq are still thriving in Washington. Here were quotes from Vali Nasr, talking as before about “Sunnis” and “Shiites” as if these constituted coherent monolithic  communities. And the article author, Helene Cooper, remarked, “the United States has been exploring how to deal with the possibility of a civil war among the Allawite, Druse, Christian and Sunni sects in Syria” before adding that the US ambassador remains in the country “so he can maintain contact with opposition leaders and the leaders of Syria’s myriad sects and religious groups.”

In Iraq it was “mosaic”; maybe in Syria it will be “myriad”. It is a good thing that the US cannot seem to have the courage to intervene in Syria. Maybe it would be even better if Washington and the US mainstream media at large would simply shut up before they talk Syria to pieces exactly like they did with Iraq?

This is a companion article to a more analytical piece published in the Combating Terrorism Center Sentinel, titled “Religious Allegiances among Pro-Iranian Special Groups in Iraq”. The comments section is open for both articles below.

Posted in Sectarian master narrative, UIA dynamics | 23 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 183 other followers