Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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

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 »

What Went Wrong in Iraq: The Khedery Version

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 6 July 2014 23:09

It’s going to be cited a lot, so it’s worth taking a closer look at a quite lengthy opinion piece on US policy towards Iraq and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that recently appeared in The Washington Post.

The article is signed by Ali Khedery, one of the most prominent Americans of Iraqi origins to have served the United States government in Iraq between 2003 and 2010. Until now, Khedery’s role has been largely unknown outside policy-making circles, but his assertion that he at times became “the Iraqi leader’s go-to guy for just about everything” seems credible enough, especially given his Arabic language skills, which by his own admission formed something of a rarity and an exception among high-level US decision-makers in Iraq during the years of the Bush administration. Khedery also had particularly close ties to Maliki, described as going back before Maliki’s emergence as premier in 2006, and involving for example a prominent and personal role during Maliki’s visit to London in 2009 for purposes of urgent medical treatment.

Some valuable empirical information is certainly provided in the Khedery piece. We learn that not only did Maliki have the habit of working 16 hours a day during his early days as premier. Until 2009, apparently, leading US officials Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus reportedly were together with him for several hours “virtually every day”, strengthening the impression of a period of American tutelage during long periods of Maliki’s first term. Also, there is credible information in the Khedery piece about the key circles of American support for Maliki – consisting chiefly of Ambassador  Chris Hill and Brett McGurk of the NSC, but also, crucially, at a key juncture in September 2010, of Vice President Joe Biden.  Biden reportedly at one point in 2010 betted his vice presidency that Maliki was going to extend a US-Iraqi agreement that would have enabled American soldiers to stay in Iraq beyond 2011! Also, regarding the continuing debate over how the US ended up with Maliki as PM in the first place (i.e. in 2006), there is some new information that appears to differ slightly from what was revealed by Dexter Filkins in another recent review of US policy in Iraq: According to Filkins, it was an unnamed, Arabic-speaking CIA official who promoted Maliki’s candidature. According to Khedery it was himself and Jeffrey Beals, also both Arabic-speaking but in most sources referred to as political officers at the State Department rather than CIA. Unless one of them was indeed CIA there is some discordance between the two narratives.

However, other parts of the piece by Khedery are clearly misleading even when it comes to events that are well documented in open sources. This contributes to  a sense of distrust regarding the overall reliability of the piece, and certainly raises questions about whether we can rely on Khedery as a key informant for events where the available source base may be limited.

Most of the more problematic comments by Khedery seem guided by a master narrative of Maliki, bad; Ayad Allawi (of the secular Iraqiyya) and Adel Abd al-Mahdi (of the Shiite Islamist ISCI), good. For example, regarding the extensive use of de-Baathification for political purposes prior to the March 2010 general election, Khedery writes: “He [Maliki] coerced Iraq’s chief justice to bar some of his rivals from participating in the elections”. This description of what happened comes across as disingenuous. For starters, the resuscitation of the de-Baathification issue in early 2010 was clearly driven by Maliki’s Shiite enemies who, with considerable Iranian assistance,  had tried in vain to enlist him for their sectarian alliance during the previous summer. Among the newspapers that jumped on the de-Baathification propaganda bandwagon was the very Al-Adala, personally owned by Khedary’s progressive darling, Adel abd al-Mahdi. On the other hand, for his part, Maliki fought hard battles to retain his own candidates on the electoral ballots following attempts by de-Baathification hardliners to exclude them as late as days ahead of the March 2010 election. It was not really until after the elections that Maliki systematically tried to employ dirty tricks to change the result, as seen first and foremost in the attempt to disqualify seat winners after the result had been announced.

A second major theme where Khedery is tendentious concerns the ruling of the Iraqi supreme court  from May 2010 that deemed post-election bloc coalescence (with a view to forming the next government following elections) a legitimate exercise under the Iraqi constitution. Many Americans have tried to portray this ruling as some kind of Maliki coup, but closer inspection of the relevant constitutional background materials suggests that the ruling was quite objective in addressing the limited constitutional ambiguity that existed. Many rulings of the Iraqi supreme court can be seen as politicized (perhaps more clearly so from 2011 and onwards), but the ‘largest bloc” definition ruling just isn’t one of them. Nonetheless, Khedery goes on to generalize from this ruling to a greater theme of “safeguarding the Iraqi constitution” from what is seen as constant encroachments by Maliki. Suffice to say in this context that, back in 2010, the only part of the government formation deal that was truly in conflict with the Iraqi constitution was the American-sponsored idea of a strategic policy council, created to accommodate another of Khederys’s friends – Ayyad Allawi.

The overly crude characterizations of the workings of the Iraqi judiciary continue in Khedery’s description of Maliki’s second term. Here, there is arguably more to pick on, but instead of focusing on some of the bluntest examples of judicial overreach that exist (such as the ruling on the independent commissions in January 2011) Khedery writes, “he [Maliki] did not abide by a law imposing term limits, again calling upon kangaroo courts to issue a favorable ruling.” In fact the veto of the term limits law was perfectly predictable with reference to past rulings of the Iraqi supreme court, which have consistently stressed the constitutional articles that say full legislative projects must go to parliament from the cabinet and/or president before they can be voted upon. One can agree or disagree with that orthodox reading of the Iraqi constitution, but in itself it is nothing new and the court was merely repeating itself rather than responding to some sort of Maliki concoction authored as an ad hoc measure after the law on term limits appeared.

Yet another theme that seemed biased in Khedery’s account concerns Sunni-secular representation in the Maliki government that was eventually formed in December 2010. Khedery describes this as “impressive sounding posts with little authority”. Well, those posts included some rather weighty ministries such as finance! In order to make sense of his own narrative, Khedery then conveniently flashes forward to the threatened arrest of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi right after the US withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, and then jumps further to the targeting of Rafi al-Eisawi, the finance minister, in late 2012. Between those events, however, there were junctures where things could have gone very differently in Iraqi politics if the US government had had the acumen to act in a more balanced way – between unlimited support for Maliki on the one hand and unrestrained kowtowing to the most radical voices among his enemies on the other.

Then, as if there is a need to amplify his story beyond empirical facts – and as if he doesn’t himself fully trust the persuasiveness of his own narrative – Khedery brings in some rather dubious expert witnesses whose presence in the story actually has the net effect of reducing Khedery’s own credibility as an objective chronicler. First, Khedery finds reason to mention the fact that  “one stunned executive [apparently of the Council on Foreign Relations], the father of an American Marine, turned to me and asked, American troops are dying to keep that son of a b—- [Maliki] in power”? No, Khedery, one does not acquire some sort of higher monopoly on truth by fathering an American marine, although that kind of belief is not entirely unknown in the US. It would probably be no more difficult to find hundreds of executives with children serving in the US army who would be ready to use exactly the same kind of colourful language that was used about Maliki with reference to President Bush, Obama, or both! To make matters even worse, Khedery goes on to cite none other than Muqtada al-Sadr for his labelling of Maliki as a “tyrant”. And that was meant to buttress Khedery’s own argument along similar lines! Well, if Muqtada, the great democrat, says so, well surely it has to be true?

Things like these make it more difficult to evaluate other aspects of the Khedery piece that are not well known from previous accounts. What, for example, are we to make about allegations about Maliki’s supposed desire to flatten whole parts of Basra (“urging American airstrikes to level entire city blocks”) during the Charge of the Knights operations against the Sadrists in early 2008?

Generally speaking, Khedery paints a mostly positive or sympathetic picture of Maliki until Khedery himself left Baghdad in February 2009. However, when Khedery returned to Iraq on a special mission during the frenzy of government formation in autumn 2010, he had clearly changed his mind about Maliki and had only bad things to say about him. Instead, for this period, Khedery drums up a rosy image of Iraqiyya headed by Ayyad Allawi (“a moderate, pro-Western coalition encompassing all of Iraq’s major ethno-sectarian groups”). Apparently Khedery himself played a leading role in the attempt to make Abd al-Mahdi of the Shiite Islamist ISCI the PM candidate of Iraqiyya, as well as a bid to obtain approval from the highest clergy in Najaf for this kind of “nationalist alternative” (very secular indeed, that turn to Najaf).

Intriguingly, though, Khedery does not specify any single juncture or decisive event that made him change his mind about Maliki so radically. There is, however, a crucial little detail in his biography in the introduction that cannot and should not escape notice. Today, Khedery is “chairman and chief executive of the Dubai-based Dragoman Partners… In 2011, as an Executive with Exxon-Mobil, he negotiated the company’s entry into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq”. Now, that was quick: Khedery’s embrace of some of the most separatist forces among the Iraqi Kurds apparently materialized only months after his own resignation from US government service in Iraq in December 2010. A bit Kurdish  separatism, courting the Shiite clergy in Najaf, promoting secularists cum Islamists: Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised about inconsistencies like these since Khedery already told us that the 11 September 2001 terror attacks played a key role in making him enlist for government service in Iraq, which in actual fact had nothing to do with those attacks?

The alternation between (and sometimes combination of) support for the Iraqi central government and Kurdish separatism is of course nothing new in American approaches to Iraq. In the past, the Obama administration supported Maliki as a leadership personality but never embraced his idea of a political-majority government, thereby contributing to an uneasy end result which at times looked paranoid and sectarian instead of stable and national. In the current political crisis, one can certainly get the impression that Washington is arming all sides at the same time: Nujayfi and Barzani feel boldened by frequent telephone calls from VP Biden, whereas Maliki undeniably gets empowered by US military assistance, regardless of exactly what the packaging says.  Exactly like Khedery, the Obama administration  employs a contradictive approach to Iraq based on unhelpful caricatures of the key Iraqi players. Until the underlying methodological issues here are sorted out, these contradictions are likely to persist, with unsatisfactory results accompanying any attempt by the United States to exercise political influence in Iraq.

Posted in Sectarian master narrative, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | 11 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 Responds to the ISIS Attack on Mosul

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 13 June 2014 19:55

My piece for Foreign Affairs on Maliki’s response to the ISIS offensive in northern Iraq, with some comments about how it relates to the enduring tension between sectarianism and Iraqi nationalism in Maliki’s political thought:

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141563/reidar-visser/more-than-mosul

Posted in Uncategorized | 24 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 »

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

IHEC Releases Data from the Special Vote in Iraq’s General Election

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 23 May 2014 20:57

In its process of reviewing complaints following the publication of the uncertified elections result, the Iraqi elections commission IHEC has taken the unusual step of publishing data for the special vote for the Iraqi security forces that took place days before the 30 April general elections. In releasing this data, IHEC is presumably responding to a flurry of rumours regarding potential corruption and vote buying for the security forces vote (which amounts to almost 1 million votes and is thus bigger than the expat vote and many governorate votes).

The released data has the form of percentages of the special vote for the main winning lists per governorate. This can be tabulated with the percentages for the total vote as indicated in the second row for each governorate below.

specialvote

It emerges from this tabulation that the special vote differs significantly from the general vote only in a few provinces.

Firstly, there is slightly elevated support for PM Maliki in a number of Shiite-majority provinces, including Dhi Qar, Qadisiya and Babel. This is mostly in the 10-15% range and as such may not be anything than an expression that this is a special segment of the electorate where affection to the commander in chief may be expected to be elevated compared to the general population. A similar situation with a potential explanation relating to the Kurdish peshmerga security forces relates to Dahuk.

Second, there are provinces where the special vote differs significantly from the general vote. This includes Diyala (Maliki has almost doubled his percentages whereas the pro-Nujayfi list has its share reduced to the half); Nineveh (where Nujayfi again has only half the percentage of vote in the special votes whereas the Kurdish vote is doubled): Sulaymaniya (where PUK has enormous gains compared to Goran in the general vote); and finally Arbil (where the same phenomenon albeit on a smaller scale relates to the KDP-Goran balance).

It has already been suggested that the Kurdish parties applied pressure to their security forces to vote for them, which could explain the dismal Goran performance in the special vote. The surge for Maliki in the Diyala special vote needs explaining, and it will be interesting to see what IHEC may come up with in this respect. In seeking to address concerns about possible ballot-stuffing in the “Baghdad belt” IHEC has also released individual tallies from the counting centres in that area. The truly hard question, though, is to what extent these numbers will be used to affect and change the final result when it gets sent to the supreme court for certification, hopefully within a few weeks.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Uncategorized | 3 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

 
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