Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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

One Month ahead of the 30 April Iraq Vote, an Electoral Commission Showdown

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 23:55

On Tuesday, the members of the Iraqi electoral commission IHEC collectively presented their resignations to the head of the commission. If the mass resignation becomes effective, it will leave Iraq without the required institutional framework to carry out parliamentary elections scheduled for 30 April.

First a word on the legal aspects of the resignations. It has been suggested by both Sadrists and ISCI leader Ammar al-Hakim that the resignations are subject to approval by the Iraqi parliament. This view does not seem to square with law no. 11 from 2007 that regulates the work of the commission. In article 6, first, it is stipulated that the membership of commissioners can be terminated upon presentation of a resignation according to the bylaws of the commission. There is no mention of parliament at all. The bylaws of IHEC, adopted in 2013 (PDF here, starts on p. 21), stipulate that any member can present their resignation to the commission and that it will become effective after 30 days unless other action is taken. The collective resignation presented to the head of the commission does seem somewhat unorthodox in that respect, but there seems to be no doubt that legally the matter remains within the commission itself.

As for the substantive context, it is fairly clear that the resignation of the IHEC members comes as a response to the latest legislative action by the Iraqi parliament. This aimed at enshrining a particular interpretation of the Iraqi election’s law concept of “good conduct” as a criterion for election candidacies. Specifically, through its focus on the presumption of innocence parliament effectively negated IHEC’s past practice of using multiple legal charges against an individual (without conviction) as basis for banning them from standing in elections. Of course, to what extent it is within the power of the Iraqi parliament to adopt a simple “decision” in order to rectify the vagueness of its own past legislative efforts is open to debate. In the past, such decisions have materialized from time to time, for example in December 2009 when it was used to enshrine the exact distribution of seats between provinces (conversely, in November 2013 when the new election law was passed, an attachment to the law itself stipulated the seat distribution). Conceivably, a more correct (but more time-consuming) method for challenging what is  perceived as IHEC highhandedness in banning election candidates would be to complain the procedures to the administrative court (rather than the supreme court), which deals with the application of laws in force, and which could in theory address the methods used to determine what constitutes “good conduct”.

In any case, the comparable parliament “decision” from 2009 on seat distribution was adhered to, of course, not least because it reflected a consensus that had emerged after months of parliamentary wrangling.  This time things are very different. It is fairly clear that the parliament action to define “good conduct” was taken by enemies of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in parliament (chiefly the bloc of parliament speaker Nujayfi along with some Shiite discontent support) who were concerned about possible collusion between the PM and the Iraqi judiciary in excluding political enemies from the next elections. For his part, Maliki has responded to the parliamentary move by questioning its legal status, describing it as an “incomplete” legislative act, thereby evoking past supreme court rulings that basically stipulate that every legislative act in Iraq should pass through the cabinet before becoming law. Reflecting the changing political colour of the commission seated in September 2012, thought to be more favourable to Maliki than the previous one, IHEC has implicitly come out on the side of Maliki in this debate. (Possibly due to laziness, some pundits have construed the current conflict as a case of IHEC standing up against Maliki: They should carefully study the chronology of events and how the recent parliament decision immediately prompted an IHEC escalation, as well as this interview with one of the commission members, which at one point goes far in criticising parliament interference with the electoral judicial panel).

The decision by parliament itself should be appealable to the federal supreme court as a matter of constitutional interpretation. Indeed, if Maliki wants to avoid speculation that he is sincere about having elections on time, he should probably file such a complaint in any case.

In all of this is it is noteworthy how the battle lines have changed somewhat from 2010, when there was also a pre-election struggle related to candidacy qualifications. Back then, the struggle related to de-Baathifcation, and the tension increasingly took on a sectarian nature. So far, despite heightened sectarian tension regionally, de-Baathification has been in the background this year, with the MPs complaining about exclusion from the upcoming elections representing both Sunni and Shiite-leaning political parties. But the elections lists must be published soon if there is to be any time left for campaigning, and there could of course be surprises hidden in them.

All in all, Iraq is beginning to look dysfunctional. The president is incapacitated, the annual budget has not been passed, and now the threatened IHEC resignation. And yet there is something quintessentially Iraqi about resignation threats – a staple of Iraqi politics since the days of the British mandate. It will be remembered that half of the Sunni and secular politicians in parliament recently threatened to resign without following through. There may still be possibilities for compromises ahead of 30 April, but time is fast running out.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

In the Conflict over Electoral Candidacies, the Iraq Parliament Stands up for the Presumption of Innocence

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 19 March 2014 19:41

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Following a session on Sunday featuring MPs supportive of PM Maliki’s moves to pass the annual budget ahead of 30 April elections, the Iraqi parliament today brought together a group of MPs critical of Maliki. In a symbolically important move, the assembly passed a measure of interpreting the elections law that effectively challenges Maliki’s use of the Iraqi judiciary to bar political enemies from standing in the elections.

The move in itself represents a somewhat ambiguous parliamentary act, referred to in the official parliamentary proceedings as a “legislative decision” (qarar tashriyi). Its essence involves a more specific interpretation of article 8, third, of the new Iraqi elections law that was passed in late 2013. That law, like previous laws, had vaguely specified that candidates must be known to be of “good behaviour” or “good standing”. In practice this has been used until now to disqualify candidates for whom arrest orders may exist. (Maliki aide Tareq Harb has provided a wonderful exegesis of how this works in practice: One arrest order or charge does not suffice, but where there are multiple orders this is used to disqualify!) The parliament decision today is emphatic that an actual conviction must have ensued for there to be legal grounds for barring a candidate.

Essentially, the message from the Iraqi parliament is that, until a court of law has considered the case, statements by the Iraqi prosecution or police are of no relevance as far as the candidature of an individual is concerned. The decision today specifically refers to the presumption of innocence, stressing that an individual is innocent until proven guilty. This point is worthy of repetition after a series of politically tainted prosecution attempts. Still, it should be mentioned that the decision today appears to be the direct result of the fact that several existing MPs were themselves attempted barred from the elections, a fact which the official parliament record actually quotes.

The number of deputies supporting the motion – 165 – is interesting. It is more or less the same as the 164 deputies who supported the first reading of the annual budget on Sunday in a move seen as pro-Maliki. The 325-member Iraqi parliament is in another words divided in two halves, with at least a handful of deputies wavering between the two camps.

The parliament session today concluded with adjournment “until further notice”. Parliament speaker Nujayfi may be able to effectively filibuster the meetings of the assembly in this way, but it will be increasingly difficult for him to explain to the Iraqi public why no parliament meetings are being held and why parliament is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to pass the annual budget. The absence of political consensus is not an  argument since there is no constitutional requirement that decisions be passed with consensus. A key question going forward is whether the deputies seen to be wavering between the Maliki and Nujayfi camps this week will move more decisively one way or another over the coming period.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Rule of law | 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

The Biden Plan for Iraq Re-Enters US Policy-Making Debate

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 6 February 2014 7:02

With Iraqi political turmoil once more making headlines in the United States, an article in the National Journal has appeared with the headline, “Turns Out, Joe Biden Was Right about Dividing Iraq”.

The article uses as its point of departure the claim made by former defence secretary Robert Gates that Biden was wrong about every single important issue in US foreign policy. It then goes on to counter this by referring to the various “plans for Iraq” that Biden propagated as an oppositionist during the days of the Bush administration, particularly between 2006 and 2008. These plans are difficult to characterize because they changed a good deal over time as Biden’s ideas developed, and as a consequence they have also been misrepresented. In their minimum version, the plans involved an internationally sponsored conference that would somehow use the framework of the Iraqi constitution to subdivide the country into federal provinces. Biden claimed he kept an open mind about the eventual number of provinces. He “guessed” it would be three (a Kurdish, a Shiite Arab and a Sunni Arab one) but he gradually became more open-minded regarding the exact number and has often been misrepresented on this. Rather, the most noteworthy characteristics of the Biden approach to federalism in Iraq was that he expected a settlement that would take place as a one-off conference of political elites, and that it would be “comprehensive”, thus subdividing the entire country in federal entities.

Among the many problems with the Biden plan back then was that it usurped the provisions for federalism outlined in the Iraqi constitution adopted with US support in October 2005. The whole point of the federalism clauses in the Iraqi constitution is that development towards federal entities will be an uneven process, with different timelines for different parts of the country according to their level of economic and institutional development. It is specifically envisaged that individual provinces may prefer to continue to be ruled from Baghdad within a unitary state framework and with a degree if administrative decentralization. Biden’s plans would have violated all of this, meaning it would in practice be tantamount to rewriting the Iraqi constitution if implemented.

The argument that Biden was right after all, penned by James Kitfield,  doesn’t occupy itself with such trivialities as the Iraqi constitution. Instead it asks whether not the best way to stop the current violence in Iraq is “separation”, by which the writer is clearly thinking of a three-way federalization involving Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs.

How such an approach would achieve internal peace in the three regions is left largely unanswered. Does Kitfield really mean that if the Iraqi army hadn’t brought troublesome Shiite soldiers into Anbar, the Sunnis would have got along much better with foreign fighters and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) organization? If so, is that a positive scenario? Wouldn’t a Sunni canton that had largely cut ties to Baghdad be immeasurably more susceptible to pan-Sunni propaganda emanating from Syria? Wouldn’t Anbar security forces – on the regional guard model from Kurdistan, controlled exclusively by Sunni commanders loyal to figures in a regional authority that would have earned their positions on basis of Sunni sectarian propaganda during the process of federalization – be an easier target for ISIL cooption than the current Iraqi army, with its mix of Sunni and Shiite commanders? Also, let’s not forget that Biden’s original proposal came as an alternative to Bush’s “surge” and would have meant a US withdrawal from Iraq around 2008, at a time when Al-Qaeda was on the rise.

It seems far more realistic to consider a Sunni canton in Iraq as a potential ISIL asset and a factor that might cement the ascendancy of ISIL in the Syrian opposition. It certainly seems a little reductionist to dismiss Sunnis willing to cooperate with Maliki as an “older generation”, as a former CIA officer commenting in the article seems to do. What about Anbar provincial council members that continue to work with Baghdad, or new political coalitions in the upcoming April parliament elections that feature substantial Sunni representation and are still signaling an interest in cooperating with Maliki?

Still today, eight years after the Biden plan for Iraq was launched, it remains difficult to comprehend what its proponents envisage in terms of specific changes in Iraq. The notion of “a natural Sunnistan” occurs in Kitfield’s article, although history has never seen such a thing. We’re just left with the primitive assumption that Sunnis will go along better simply because they are of the same sect.

If we look at developments in Iraq over the past few years historically, it is clear that before the sectarian pull of the Syria crisis became too overwhelming, there were always plenty of Sunnis prepared to deal with Maliki and put sectarian considerations in the background. Sunnis with such an orientation still exist, but their chances of political prominence decreases each time an article with a sectarian paradigm for understanding Iraqi politics of Kitfield’s calibre is published.

Posted in Iraq and soft partition | Comments Off

Everyone Wants to Be a Governorate: 17 Iraqi Districts Demand Status Upgrade

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 4 February 2014 6:30

Iraqi districts that have been slated for governorate status (green) and districts that demand governorate status (red).

The recent announcement by the Iraqi cabinet that a number of existing district (qada) administrative units will be upgraded to governorate status (muhafaza) has prompted intense discussions across Iraq. As of today, beyond what the cabinet has announced, around 17 additional districts have in various ways been promoted as candidates for governorate status.

The lists that follows is supposed to be up to date as of the time of writing, but this is clearly a moving target, with the situation quite literally changing by the hour. Nonetheless, it can be assumed that the most eager candidates for governorate status have made their voices heard by now. Also, to some extent, there are a few common characteristics between these would-be governorates that seem to explain their candidacies. In particular, in many cases, they form the second most populous area of their current governorate, but not the seat of the provincial government. Furthermore, distinctive minority populations are important in some areas (Yazidi in Sinjar, Shia Arab in Balad and Dujayl, Kurdish in Khanaqin). Some of the districts involved stand out for their natural resources (Qurna and Zubayr in Basra). Generally speaking, it is worth noticing that whereas the new governorates proposed by the cabinet were mainly Shiite minority and other minority areas in the north that are scheduled to be separated from mainly Sunni Arab majority governorates, most of these “bottom-up” demands for governorate status are Shiites wishing to separate from Shiite majority governorates (Dujayl and Balad in Salahaddin being the exception, but Shiite politicians have been talking about plans for the attachment of these to Baghdad at least since 2011).

Here is the complete list, with population estimates from 2003 in parentheses:

Basra: Madina(159,000), Qurna (137,000) Zubayr (277,000), Garma, (106,000)

Dhi Qar: Rifai (280,000)

Muthanna: Warka (n/a), Rumaytha (213,000)

Najaf: Kufa (275,000)

Babel: Musayyib (280,000)

Wasit: Suwayra (162,000), Aziziyya (113,000)

Baghdad: Sadr City (n/a), Mahmudiyya (250,000)

Diyala: Khanaqin (160,000)

Salahaddin: Balad (167,000), Dujayl (n/a)

Nineveh: Sinjar (166,000)

Methodological problems aside, it is noteworthy that according to population estimates from 2003, most of these districts have smaller populations than the districts recently upgraded to governorate status by the cabinet: Tell Afar was estimated at 301,000; the Nineveh plains governorate formed by the 3 districts of Hamdaniya, Tell Kayf and Shaykhan at around 392,000; Falluja at 426,000. The exception is Tuz Khurmato, estimated at only 153,000 in 2003. There aren’t that many districts that had more than 300,000 inhabitants in 2003 without at the same time being the provincial seat of government – Shatra in Dhi Qar is the main exception at around 315,000.

Simultaneously, some more news about the thinking of the Iraqi government on the issue of new governorates has  emerged. Regarding Baghdad, the legal adviser of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has made the claim that the city is indivisible because of the capital status enshrined in the Iraqi constitution with reference to its governorate borders (article 124). More generally, in a statement to the press, an inspector general of the ministry for municipalities and public works says that the legal procedure for creating new government is modelled on the old governorate law no 159 from 1969, but then goes on to (rightly) admit that the old law has been replaced by a new law (of 2008, which does not provide any particular framework for such changes). Nonetheless, the inspector general seems to think there are specific criteria that govern the selection of candidates for upgrade to governorate status, including population size, existing institutions of government and distance from the existing provincial centres. He goes on to mention difficulties of investment in places like Halabja and Tal Afar which he attributes to the crimes of the Baath regime and more recent terrorist activity.

All in all, frankly, this does not serve as a legal clarification. Of course, in theory, the Iraqi government can introduce a bill on just about any subject under the sun, but in a modern democracy it is expected that matters such as administrative jurisdictions are governed by a uniform legal framework.

In any case, maybe the multiplication of demands for governorate status was to be expected. Maybe the Iraqi cabinet had calculated this would happen, and that the impracticality of admitting all these candidates – and especially the inevitable debate about the capacity of governance related to such wide-ranging transformations – would kill off the whole idea of changing Iraq’s administrative map in its infancy. The only thing that is certain is that none of these plans will come into existence before the 30 April parliament elections, meaning that much of the debate relating to it must be studied in relationship to those elections first and foremost.

Posted in Iraq - regionalism - general | Comments Off

IHEC Publishes the List of Constituent Elements in Coalitions Contesting Iraq’s 30 April Elections

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 2 February 2014 20:44

At long last, following publication of certified entities as well as the numbers of entities and coalitions, the Iraqi electoral commission has released the list of the constituent elements of the 39 electoral lists in the 30 April Iraqi parliamentary elections that are coalitions of more than one party. The list is to some extent helpful in forming a more precise picture of the strength of the various lists and the competition between them.

With regard to the big and well-known lists, there aren’t that many surprises. The core line-up of the State of Law alliance of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is confirmed as the two main Daawa branches, the Shahristani bloc and Badr. The new list confirms that the Risali movment of ex-Sadrist Adnan al-Shahmani is also on the State of Law ticket. The Turkmen minister for the provinces who played a central role in the recent announcement of new governorates is also on Maliki’s list. Another noteworthy minority representative is a Shabak politician, Hunayn al-Qaddo. Qaddo was previously an advocate of the territorial integrity of Nineveh governorate in the context of Kurdish expansion. He has however congratulated the Shabak on the news of the establishment of the Nineveh plains governorate.

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect regarding the Shiite Islamist Muwatin alliance associated with Ammar al-Hakim and ISCI is the inclusion of a former Maliki ally, Ali al-Dabbagh. Ahmad Chalabi is also here (rather than with the Sadrists, whose election alliance with ISCI in 2009-10 he played a key role in forging), and Fawaz al-Jarba of the Shammar tribe constitutes a mostly symbolic Sunni representation. Basra is particularly well represented in the ISCI alliance, with the party of Shaykhi leader Amir al-Fayiz alongside businessman Tawfiq Abbadi and others.

None of the other main Shiite “coalitions” (the Jaafari branch of the Daawa; Fadila; the Sadrists) offer much in the way of complexity. Jaafari has picked up Muhammad Kazim al-Hindawi who was formerly with Fadila, as well as the Hizbollah party of Abd al-Karim al-Muhammadawi (not to be confused with the other Hizbollah parties in Iraq that originated with Iranian sponsorship). One interesting thing that does emerge from the list, however, is the overall Shiite strategy (or lack of such strategy) in the Shiite minority provinces of Nineveh, Diyala and Salahaddin, where each governorate seems to present a solution of its own. Firstly, there is Diyala, where all the main Shiite parties except ISCI are represented on what amounts to almost a pan-Shiite ticket (coalition C10). Note however, that this list was not given a proper election number in the lottery, so it may have disintegrated in the last minute! Conversely, in Nineveh, every Shiite party is on the Shiite list except Daawa, and this list is definitely running as number 227. But in Salahaddin, things are even more complicated, because there are two Shiite tickets with more or less the same name (variations of the National Alliance, tickets 222 and 249). The first of these two Shiite lists, 222, consists basically of the Sadrists and the party of Ahmad Chalabi. The second list includes most of the other parties, including, uniquely, both Daawa and ISCI.

With respect to the main Sunni and/or secular coalitions that have emerged from the ashes of Iraqiyya, there are also relatively few surprises beyond the three-way split between Nujayfi, Allawi and Mutlak. It is confirmed that Nujayfi has picked up most of the prominent sub-entities in the old Iraqiyya, including the parties of Zafir al-Ani and Muhammad al-Karbuli and figures like Ahmad al-Masari and Talal al-Zubaye. The tribal leader Ahmad Abu Risha is also in the Nujayfi coalition. For his part, Ayyad Allawi has picked up some former members of Unity of Iraq, including the blocs of Hashim al-Hububi and Wathab Shakir. Abdallah al-Yawir serves as a (tentative) tribal counterweight against the Nujayfi list in Nineveh.

Perhaps the most interesting information in this latest IHEC document concerns two of the smaller coalitions, about which less was known beforehand. Firstly. it is confirmed that Ali al-Fayyad, formerly of the State of Law coalition, has gone ahead with his own coalition (list 226). Alongside the defection to ISCI by Ali al-Dabbagh, this serves to underline a degree of turbulence even in circles that were once considered quite loyal to Maliki. Second, there is the rather large coalition (in number of constituent elements) that is known simply as the Coalition of Iraq, and that has been given ticket number 262. Conceptually, it seems related to the Unity of Iraq coalition in the 2010 election, with a sectarian mix, many seculars and at least attempts at bringing together elements from different parts of the country. The core seems to be the groups that first broke away from Iraqiyya following the conflict between Maliki and (vice president) Hashemi in late 2011: Free Iraqiyya and Wataniyun. Alongside them are, among others, Ali al-Sajri, a former (Sunni) minister of state with a working relationship with Maliki, and Mahdi al-Hafiz, a former (Shiite) planning minister with a background in Iraqiyya.

In his quest for a third term, it seems logical that PM Maliki should be looking to a list like the mixed list 262 to provide a Sunni-secular alternative partner to Nujayfi (whom he considers too strong) or Allawi (whom he cannot work with). How strong this list really is (and how strong Mutlak, another wild card and chameleon is) will to some extent be revealed by the candidate lists. These may take a few more weeks to emerge, following certification of individual candidates including de-Baathification measures.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014 | 4 Comments »

The IHEC List of Coalitions and Entities in the 2014 Iraq Parliament Elections

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 30 January 2014 21:32

Following the lottery yesterday in which participants in the 30 April parliamentary elections were given ticket numbers, the Iraqi election commission has released an official list that also provides the first official overview of coalition and entities that will take part in the election. It is noteworthy that although the deadline for forming coalitions expired late last year, IHEC has so far refrained from publishing a list of the constituent elements of the various coalitions. One reason may be that the process of certification of entities continued well into 2014, with constant updates to the official list of individual entities. This means that there is still no official source that can be used for evaluating the potential strength of the various coalitions, but the most recent list is at least helpful in that it authoritatively distinguishes between coalitions and entities that will run on their own, ending some of the speculation as regards the choices of some of the smaller parties.

The key statistics of the new list are as follows. Altogether 107 lists will take part in the 30 April parliamentary elections. Of these, 36 will be coalitions. A maximum of 71 entities will run on their own.

All the main coalitions are well known. With respect to Shiite Islamists, the following main groups are defined as coalitions: State of Law, Muwatin (mainly ISCI), Ahrar (Sadrists), Islah (Jaafari) and Fadila (with some lesser known smaller parties). Smaller “coalitions” include list 238 which is organized by Sabah al-Saadi, an ex-Fadila MP known for his ferocious verbal attacks on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. There are also what seem to be pan-Shiite lists in some of the northern governorates, with some uncertainty as to exactly who among the main Shiite parties are enrolled in them. This certainly applies to Nineveh (list 227) but also list 222 and/or 249 (Salahadddin). Towards the secular end of the Shiite spectrum, there is a coalition list (228) headed by Wail Abd al-Latif, a well known Basra federalist. Regarding the controversial question of the participation of the Sadrist breakaway (now pro-Maliki) group known as the League of the Righteous, some rumours suggest they will not run as a single list but rather enter as candidates on separate pro-Maliki lists. Analysis of this must await publication of the candidate lists.

As for the Sunni and secular forces that formed Iraqiyya in the last elections, they are now split in at least three main coalitions: Mutahiddun (Nujayfi), Wataniya (Allawi) and Arabiyya (Mutlak). Noteworthy is the all-Iraqiyya list in Diyala (246), which in this context smells something like a Sunni sectarian equivalent of pan-Shiite lists seen in Shiite-minority areas in the local elections last year.  There is also a Sunni-secular list in Kirkuk (242), calling itself the Coalition of Kirkuk Arabs. Press reports claim Nujayfi will run only in six governorates (as list 259 in Nineveh, Salahaddin, Baghdad and Anbar; on pan-Sunni lists in Diyala and Kirkuk). If true, this means Nujayfi’s party has given up some of the pan-Iraqi spirit seen in the last local elections, when it also ran lists in some places in the south, notably in Basra.  The implication is inevitably a more Sunni, sectarian outlook. Rump Iraqiyya in the shape of Ayyad Allawi’s Wataniyya list may be on the defensive if the last local elections are anything to go by, and the only other remaining major pan-Iraqi, secular coalition in the running is the alliance of communists and other minor secular groups (232).

The main Kurdish coalition list is apparently number 210. There is also a special Kurdish list in Baghdad (203). Confusion remains regarding the exact structure of the Kurdish electoral effort because unlike the other parties, the Kurds continue to list their individual parties as electoral lists alongside their coalition.

As for the parties that run individually, they are mainly the smaller ones. Among them the Sunni islamist Islamic Iraqi Party stands out (263). The list is also helpful in ending some of the speculation regarding various Shiite Islamist parties whose coalition allegiances were in doubt. The party of Shirwan al-Waeli, formerly with State of Law, is still listed separately (284), as are those of Haytham al-Jibburi (230) and Saad al-Mutallabi (240). Conversely, there are no signs of parties registered in the names of people like Ali Fayyad, Ali al-Dabbagh, Adnan al-Shahmani, Amir al-Fayiz (Basra Shaykhis) and Abd al-Karim al-Muhammadawi (aka Lord of the Marshes), meaning they have likely opted out or have joined a coalition.

A fuller picture will emerge when candidate lists are ready in February/March. Before that, the potentially controversial process of candidate verification – including de-Baathification measures – will take place.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014 | Comments Off

The Iraq Elections Commission Assigns Electoral Ticket Numbers

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 11:26

The Iraqi electoral commission (IHEC) today held a lottery for electoral ticket numbers for the upcoming 30 April parliamentary elections. Although a rough picture of the coalition-forming process has been in the public domain for some time, the information released today provides the first official confirmation of the electoral alliances that have been approved for participation in the election, following certification of individual entities towards the end of last year.

It should be noted that at the time of writing, the complete and official list of approved coalitions itself had not been published by IHEC, and that the following discussion is based on reports about the election list numbers as reported by the Iraqi press. However, the picture that emerges is consistent enough. Generally speaking, it is a story of fragmentation in all political camps. For example, the idea of a pan-Shiite list has hardly been on the agenda this year. Instead, all the major players run separately: Maliki’s State of Law (list 277), Hakim’s Muwatin (273), Sadr’s Ahrar (214), Fadila (219) and Jaafari’s Islah (205). A possible caveat concerns the Shiite-minority governorates (Salahaddin, Nineveh, Diyala). Lists sounding like variations of the Watani alliance of Shiites in parliament appear in all these places, and it could be pan-Shiite lists on the pattern seen in last year’s local elections. Confirmation of this must await release of the comprehensive IHEC coalition list, and possibly even the candidate lists themselves, expected in February/March.

Similarly, what was once the secular and increasingly Sunni-backed Iraqiyya has now fragmented into a number of factions. Parliament speaker Nujayfi’s Mutahhidun got list number 259; Allawi’s list now just called Wataniyya or “nationalism” got number 239; the Arab Iraqiyya bloc of deputy PM Mutlak got number 255.

With regard to the Kurds, the situation is slightly confused because both political entity numbers and coalition numbers have been published. Of these, there is little doubt that Goran and the Islamists will run separately, but the rationale for publishing the entity numbers for KDP and PUK alongside various coalition numbers is not clear. Again, it is possibly better to await publication of the candidate lists to see what sort of alliances the Kurds are running within the KRG and in Kurdish-populated areas outside the KRG respectively.

For the time being, the information available is too sketchy to make very firm conclusions about the overall direction of the upcoming elections. For example, candidate lists are needed to determine whether all Shiite parties are joining a common sectarian ticket in places like Salahaddin and Nineveh, or whether just a few take part. Instead, ongoing developments in the Iraqi parliamentary debate may perhaps provide some clues. Firstly, the recent announcements of new provinces in Nineveh and Salahaddin catering at least to some extent to Shiite Turkmen audiences could be a suggestion about a move towards a more sectarian electoral climate. On the other hand, attempts to create a parliamentary oversight committee to supervise the election commission itself have been spearheaded by Sadrists and Kurds, with Muwatin and State of Law resisting (and successfully defeating the motion). Whether the Hakim-Maliki relationship is still salvageable remains to be seen, but given the amount of fragmentation seen today it seems fairly clear that these elections are unlikely to produce a  clear single winner. We are thus left with a situation in which post-election coalition building and maneuvering may prove as important for the final outcome as the elections themselves.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Uncategorized | Comments Off

More on the New Iraqi Provinces: Election Stunt or a Strategic Vision of Local Government?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 27 January 2014 4:49

The surprise decision by the Iraqi government last week to announce plans for altogether four new provinces has been met with mostly predictable reactions among Iraqi politicians. Kurds are angry; as are Sunni Arabs and particularly those of Nineveh who will get most directly affected by the central government’s plans to parcel out some of their territory to create new governorates. Conversely, there has been jubilation in some of the minority communities affected by the plans (Turkmens, Shabak, Christians). Few know what the people of Falluja – the last area to become a projected province – may think about the plans. Their problems are of a more immediate nature, with dramatic estimates of the number of refugees having left the city because of the recent flare-up in the conflict between the Iraqi government and sympathizers of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

At first it was tempting to assume that the reason behind the sudden declaration of new provinces related to the upcoming 30 April parliamentary elections, with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki possibly trying to win votes among Shiite minorities (and Christians) outside the Shiite majority areas. However, interestingly, a more elaborate justification for the scheme has now been presented, suggesting there could be an attempt at grander strategic thinking behind the initiative after all. Tareq Harb, a close legal adviser to Maliki, has maintained that the move is aimed at pre-empting the creation of more federal regions and the potential split-up of Iraq. According to Harb, by weakening large governorates like Basra and Nineveh, the prospect of them turning into federal regions lessens since the tiny rump governorate in each case would be “a joke” of a federal region. Among the potential new governorates enumerated by Harb are Rawa (Anbar), Balad and Dujayl (Salahaddin, both with Shiite populations) and Qurna (Basra).

Meanwhile, the legal framework concerning the creation of such new governorates remains unclear. It has not helped matters that the minister of state for the governorates, Torhan Mufti (himself a Turkmen) has declared that the provincial powers law of 2008 does give the central government a right to change provincial boundaries. The same claim has been reiterated by a member of the parliament committee for the governorates, but neither claim has been buttressed with a reference to a specific article of the provincial powers law. It would be helpful if they (or anyone else who knows) could do so. A cursory reading of the amended law of 2008 indicates a right of governorates to change their internal boundaries (sub-provinces) in article 7-11, but where is the alleged corresponding right of parliament to change provincial boundaries?

One would have thought the US government, which was influential in Iraq at the time the provinces law was adopted in 2008, had analysed this problem. However, whereas an annotated version of the provincial powers law by USAID sounds promising, it fails to produce the required clarity. It seems to agree that there is no power for anyone to change provincial boundaries in the provinces law itself; however it does refer to the 1969 law on provincial administration as an alleged basis for parliament to change borders. There are several problems here. Footnote 32 of the American reports refers to “a power of parliament to change provincial boundaries” in law 159 of 1969. However, article 4 of the 1969 law does not mention parliament at all: Instead, it refers to the revolutionary command council. Even more importantly, as the American report itself goes on to mention, the 2008 law abrogated the 1969 law and hence took away any specific framework that may have existed in that piece of legislation for the central government to create new administrative entities.

Few believe these latest decisions will create changes on the ground in the near future. However, there is a qualitative shift in the Iraqi debate when the redrawing of provincial boundaries becomes part of the political horse trading process. Heretofore, provincial grievances have mostly been contained in the budgetary process, with a certain inflation of petrodollars and other dollars (including compensation for border provinces and provinces with pilgrimage traffic). But whereas money can be easily negotiated, the mere discussion of borders threatens to create precedents and goals that can be difficult to contain once they have been ignited. For example, the schemes for provinces in the Nineveh plains and Turkmen areas dovetail with far more ambitious schemes among Christian and Turkmen politicians to create federal regions in their own right. Another problem relates to scale. If areas the size of Falluja can have their own governorate, one would expect a degree of symmetry in the shape of a multiplication of other similarly small-scaled new governorates. Whereas the existence of micro-minorities like Turkmen, Christians and Shabak may conceivably be used as an argument for administrative separateness (advocates of their scheme refer to article 125 of the Iraqi constitution), no such argument is present in the case of Falluja. All in all, then, given the momentous implications of such vision, it seems doubly important that Iraqi politicians should be a lot clearer about the legal basis for the dramatic changes they now propose.

Posted in Iraq - regionalism - general, Iraqi constitutional issues | 7 Comments »

The Iraqi Cabinet Decides to Form Three New Governorates

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 22 January 2014 1:44

The Iraqi cabinet made big headlines today with a shock decision to form three brand new provinces. Supposedly, there will be new governorates in Tuz Khormato (a Turkmen-dominated area currently in Salahaddin province), the Nineveh plains (a Christian-dominated part of Nineveh province) and Falluja (centre of the current Sunni-led uprising in Anbar province). With a recent decision to create Halabja as a separate governorate in Kurdistan, some observers declared that Iraq all of a sudden has 22 provinces, after decades of relative administrative stability in 18 governorates since the early 1970s.

It is not like the inhabitants of Falluja, Tuz and the Nineveh plains will feel any major changes related to administrative status when they wake up tomorrow. Some of the uncertainty regarding the new move of the Iraqi government can be glimpsed from the language of the cabinet decision itself: The agreement on the formation of these new decisions was made “in principle”, to be completed after the necessary formalities “had been completed”. Those formalities were not detailed: A special committee including members of the ministries of justice and municipalities will look into the “standards and procedures” necessary to complete the transformation.

This ambiguous choice of language in turn reflects wider legal uncertainties regarding any decision to form new provinces. In theory, despite the absence of any constitutional reference to administrative boundary changes, after 2003 such administrative changes were governed by a Baathist-era law, law no. 159 from 1969, which vested the power to change administrative boundaries in cabinet. However, the anachronistic nature of that procedure is attested to by a requirement that “the revolutionary council” approved the measure – an institution that Iraq now thankfully lacks. In any case, in 2008 a new provincial powers law specifically replaced the old provinces law (and repealed it), but it failed to make provision for new administrative boundary changes, meaning there is currently no detailed Iraqi legislation dealing with the subject of the creation of new provinces. That’s the ironic reality of the new Iraq: Whereas elaborate measures exist for the creation of new federal regions, no special provisions for the creation of new governorates exist.

Of course, the absence of a law does not necessarily mean decisions on these matters are off limits to the current Iraqi government. However, in a democracy there will be an expectation that such momentous decisions regarding the administrative structure of a country are governed by laws. Indeed, the recent Iraqi cabinet decision to transform Halabja in Kurdistan to a governorate was accompanied by comments to the effect that a law was expected to be sent to parliament for approval, the lack of relevant formal mechanisms notwithstanding. But whereas the submission to cabinet of a separate Halabja governorate project reflected longstanding internal Kurdish debate on the issue (and eventually a modicum of consensus), no such consensus is known to prevail regarding these three latest would-be provinces.

In sum, such is the uncertainty connected to today’s decision that it is tempting to view it as mainly empty rhetoric calculated to create happiness in particular political circles prior to Iraq’s 30 April parliamentary elections. The question then is what those interested political circles would be. In the case of Tuz and the Nineveh plains (Tall Kayf) one obvious answer would be minority groups in those areas that have long advocated autonomy – Turkmens and Christians respectively. Some view these projects as antidotes to Kurdish expansionism and potential annexation (either through article 140 on disputed territories or the Talabani project to change administrative boundaries back to pre-Baath conditions). It has therefore been suggested that the cabinet move today was an anti-Kurdish project, with Falluja thrown in as a new governorate simply in a rather strained attempt at mollifying Sunni Arab opinion. It would certainly look rather asymmetrical with a small Falluja governorate carved out from the vast Anbar – a hark back to the special administrative provinces seen in particularly ungovernable parts of the Ottoman Empire!

Since the early 1970s, Iraq has experienced relative stability in its administrative map with minor changes to the administrative boundaries of the 18 provinces. If actually granted governorate status, these new entities could soon apply for status as federal regions – something which the proponents of the Nineveh plains unit have long hinted at. It would open the path for similar demands from oil-rich districts in the south who have long felt marginalized within the governorates of which they currently form, including Zubayr and Qurna in Basra. If Falluja can be a governorate, why shouldn’t they claim the same status, with similar population numbers and vast energy resources?

Of course, the Maliki government is not known to be in favour of this kind of large-scale territorial fragmentation. Nonetheless, we now have yet another fictional act of state affecting centre-periphery relations in the new Iraq: The three projected new governorates come on top of a theoretical right for forming federal regions that is always rejected in practice, and a revised and very permissive law on provincial powers that  few think can work in practice.

For the time being, the Maliki government may feel safe that it can play with words in centre–periphery relations without having to face the consequences. In the long run, however, the increasing gap between rhetoric and practice – and between public expectations and the state’s capacity to deliver – may form a contributing factor to a more radical political climate in Iraq.

*Postscript: The changes above are contained in conclusion number 2 from the Iraqi cabinet meeting on 21 January. However, hidden away further down in conclusion number 4 is also mention of a law project to transform the largely Turkmen Tall Afar area of Nineveh to a governorate, and to send this law to parliament for approval. That does seem to indicate plans for altogether four new provinces. Tall Afar has apparently reached a more mature stage of progress towards governorate status. It is also clear that the Iraqi government believes it can send laws for changes of borders of individual governorates to parliament, quite without there being a more elaborate legal framework for such administrative changes in place. The cabinet can also probably rest assured that parliament is unlikely to approve these measures.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraq - regionalism - general, Iraqi constitutional issues, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories, Uncategorized | Comments Off

 
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