Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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

Nuri the Terrible and George W. the Clueless: American Portraits and Self-Portraits in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 24 April 2014 23:55

It is great to finally see something of a revival of the genre of Americans commenting on Iraqi affairs. The first years since the withdrawal in 2011 were characterised by an apparent urge to forget as much as possible, but the upcoming 30 April parliament elections in Iraq – the first democratic contest in the post-2003 era to be carried out without any form of direct American supervision – has also inspired a good deal of fresh commentary on Iraq by American writers.

Among the more prominent pieces in this wave of Iraq writings is an article titled “What We Left Behind” by Dexter Filkins that has just been published in The New Yorker.

Filkins might as well have named his piece “Who We Left Behind”, because this is mostly about the personality of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. As such, it is an important contribution in many ways. Filkins patches together many useful and sometimes previously unpublished anecdotes that contribute to a fuller picture of Maliki than seen in English previously. Among them are the story of an alleged conversation between Maliki and US diplomat Zad Khalilzad that supposedly was decisive in the emergence of Maliki as the premier candidate of the Shiite bloc in 2006; Maliki’s admiration for General Qasem (the coup leader of 1958) as conveyed in private conversation with former US ambassador Ryan Crocker; vivid portrayals of exchanges between Maliki and Crocker at the time of Maliki’s Charge of the Knights operation in Basra in 2008; comments by Maliki on his relations with some of the key Iranian operators in Iraq, including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis; as well as Maliki’s take on accusations directed at his own son Ahmed, who is often accused of building a powerbase for himself. There is also some fascinating detail on the new social geography of the Green Zone, where notorious anti-American figures like Qays al-Khazali of the pro-Iranian Asaeb Ahl al-Haqq now live in sumptuous surroundings.

Here are important insights in US policy-making and thinking, too. There is a priceless snapshot of a conversation between Brett McGurk (at the time at the NSA) and President George W. Bush concerning a map of the Basra battlespace at the time of Maliki’s operations against the Sadrists in 2008. There are details about frustration in the US embassy in Baghdad following the settlement of the second Maliki term basically at the behest of Iran in autumn 2010, with at least one high-ranking official reportedly resigning because of the perceived stand-down in the face of Iranian hegemony. And there are glimpses of the frustration felt by US diplomats during the course of 2011, when possibilities for negotiations about a prolonged, reduced US troop presence in Iraq evidently existed but when the White House simply just couldn’t make up its mind. Perhaps most fascinating, though, are comments by Lieutenant Michael Barbero which reveal that at least until January 2011, the US allegedly threatened Maliki with military resistance if he moved towards the disputed areas with the Kurds. Barbero apparently wished that US troops should continue to serve in this kind of peacekeeping role in infinity.

However, despite the impressive list of people interviewed for the Filkins article, there are also aspects of it that inspire distrust. For starters, in his introduction, Filkins finds it noteworthy that a “long-time associate” of Maliki maintains that the Iraqi PM “never smiles”. This assertion can be easily falsified by a simple Google Image search, and one assumes the longstanding Maliki associate is talking to Filkins because he is not any longer such a close associate and that maybe that, in turn, may explain the perceived absence of smiles.

And there are inaccuracies relating to far more important matters than body language here. In his description of the 2010 government formation process, Filkins asserts that the Iraqi federal supreme court ruling that formally enabled post-election coalition forming “directly contradicted the Iraqi constitution”. This is just untrue. The problem is that the Iraqi constitution is mute when it comes to the relationship between electoral lists and parliamentary blocs. It just says the biggest parliamentary bloc will nominate the premier, and the supreme court simply repeated that sentence, with the addition that pre-election and post-election formation should be considered on an equal footing. Filkins refers to minutes from the constitutional negotiations, but the only thing that has been published by Maliki’s critics from those negotiations is in fact inconclusive as regards the intent of the framers on government formation.

Also other comments on legal affairs sow doubts about the overall reliability of the article. Filkins claimed that Maliki has “secured a decision from the Iraqi High Court that gave him the exclusive right to draft legislation”. Again, this is incorrect. What the supreme court has done, since before 2010, is to assert an orthodox interpretation of the Iraqi constitution which stipulates that legislation can be introduced by cabinet or the president. In other words, the Iraqi constitution does not seem to give the Iraqi parliament the right to initiate legislation on its own without going through cabinet. This is unusual in comparative perspective but nor unheard of, and in any case the ruling certainly did not bestow any particular privileges upon Maliki personally with respect to legislative powers.

Beyond the general leitmotif of Maliki as a horrible autocrat, Filkins also portrays him as the diehard enemy of Sunni Arabs, as a community. Following the standoff at the Ramadi protest camp in 2013, Filkins claims that “the rest of Sunni Iraq erupted”. Whatever security can be found in Baghdad is attributed to the physical separation between the two sects after sectarian displacement in 2005-2007. Filkins repeatedly cites American favourite Adel Abd al-Mahdi for his criticism of Maliki’s alleged wholesale marginalization of Sunnis and Kurds. At one point Filkins claims that Maliki “set out to banish every trace of Sunni influence from the bureaucracy”.

What is lacking in this account is some mention of key Sunnis that Maliki continues to rely on. Just to take one example, some quite substantial “trace of Sunni influence” remains at the federal supreme court, where several Sunni judges continue to shape the rulings of the court. And what about key provincial officials in Anbar and Salahaddin with whom Maliki continues to cooperate? These are people that appear to be more eager to work with Shiite-dominated Baghdad than submerge themselves in the radical Islamism of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Inevitably, when Filkins cannot get basic legal details right, questions emerge as to whether we can fully believe him with respect to all the other, less easily verifiable information about Maliki that he presents as facts. He paints and paints, and he asks other, mostly American, painters about their opinions. In the end, Filkins’ piece of art comes across as a self-portrait of Americans in Iraq, rather than a naturalistic image of Iraq itself.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | 2 Comments »

An Update on My Case: Relevant Medical Notes

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 21 April 2014 12:30

Originally posted on Police Stalking, Police Criminality, and Human Rights:

I’m writing this because the mistreatment that I suffer at the hands of Norwegian police operating abroad has worsened significantly in recent weeks, to the point where I fear my health is at a breaking point. For more than a year now I have suffered in silence, concentrating on my own projects instead of complaining about the police’s mistreatment, but after the recent severe intensification of the mistreatment I have no other choice than to do this. I consider my life to be in immediate danger and I want there to be at least a record of what has happened.

As outlined previously, the operation against me consists of two very different elements. Firstly, there is the public aspect, which consists of various forms of theatrical stalking in public areas in which the general public is invited to take part. This is just a gimmick that has no real impact…

View original 1,346 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

De-Baathification and Criminal Charges: Patterns of Candidate Exclusion in Iraq’s Parliamentary Elections, 2014

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 21 April 2014 11:57

Unlike previous years – and in particular the parliament elections of March 2010 and the provincial elections of January 2013 – the dispute about candidate exclusion ahead of elections has been somewhat limited with respect to Iraq’s upcoming parliamentary poll on 30 April. And to the extent that there has been a debate, it has focused on the question of whether candidates are of “good reputation” – a candidacy requirement enumerated in the Iraqi elections law – rather than on de-Baathification. Accordingly, whereas heated debates about the legacy of the former Iraqi ruling party made its mark on the past two elections (and especially so ahead of the vote in 2010), the focus this year has been on a dispute between parliament and the Iraqi elections commission regarding the interpretation of the requirement that candidates be of “good reputation “ – a dispute in which IHEC ultimately prevailed over parliament’s suggestion for a more restrictive interpretation.

The dual focus on de-Baathification and “good reputation” reflects the fact that legally speaking, apart from the basic age and educational requirements, there are two ways in which an election candidate can be  delisted from an Iraqi election. Either the candidate is excluded because he is subject to de-Baathification according to the de-Baathification law from 2008, or the candidate does not meet the “good reputation” requirement – something that in practice has been operationalized as the existence of multiple legal charges against an individual. This year, around 400-500 candidates were initially excluded because of de-Baathification, whereas around 70 were delisted because of a failure to fulfill the good reputation requirement.

Unfortunately, the source situation for analyzing how pre-election disqualification plays out in Iraq this year is far more problematic than previously. This is so because IHEC has departed from its past procedure of first publishing a provisional and then a final candidate list – a practice that allowed for statistical analyses of lacunae in the candidate lists resulting from procedures of exclusion. This year, only the final list has been published, meaning that the electoral blocs in many cases will have replaced excluded candidates with new ones, thereby effectively covering over the lacunae that enabled quantitative analysis in the earlier elections. Even though there are some lacunae also in the final list as well, it does not provide the same insights in the processes of exclusion that the combination of provisional and final lists did in the parliament elections in 2010 and the provincial ones in 2013.

Instead, the available material for 2014 consists of three things. Firstly there are lists of those excluded, around 400 names, which appeared in four separate batches released by the de-Baathification committee in early February . Second, there is a list of those excluded with reference to criminal charges (the first three batches along with the criminal  charges list is here; the separate fourth list is here). Thirdly, there is a list of those who were reinstated from the first two batches of de-Baathification subsequent to the appeals process (in some sources this has erroneously been described as a fifth exclusion batch). Importantly, the lists of those subject to de-Baathification give candidate names only, not list affiliation. It is therefore very difficult to pin down their party affiliation, especially so since many of them are not very prominent figures. Advanced name searches on them on Google in Arabic will rarely return any hits at all, even if a liberal number of name combinations is attempted. However, there remains a key to establishing some links between individual candidates and lists for at least a part of the material. This relates to the 52 reinstated candidates, who appear in the final list of election candidates and can therefore be identified by party affiliation.  Also, although no list of those reinstated in cases not relating to de-Baathification has been published, for the smaller number of reinstated candidates who were initially excluded with reference to the “good reputation” requirement it is possible to search through the final candidate list with the names of everyone who had been reported as excluded. It is noteworthy though, that in both categories – de-Baathification and “good reputation” – a large number of reinstated candidates appear to have opted to remain off the list, despite having regained the right to stand as candidates. One possible explanation, especially for candidate far down on the list, is that their lists may have deemed them to be more of a burden than an asset following the suspicions unleashed by their initial disqualifications.

Although these numbers are too small to conduct any kind of meaningful statistical analysis, they can at least provide a glimpse of the process. Specifically, the data relates to candidates who were attempted excluded by the de-Baathification committee or IHEC (which deals with the “good reputation” requirement in the first instance), and subsequently reinstated during the appeals process before the special appeals board for de-Baathification and the electoral judicial penal respectively. These cases of reinstatement highlight cases where the attempt to legally exclude candidates were found to be unfounded during the appeals process, making them particularly interesting for studying the question of political influences over administrative and judicial processes in the “new Iraq”.

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Another general point worth noting is that, with respect to the “good reputation” requirement, the figures of reinstatement are much higher than for de-Baathificaton, with official judiciary reports saying that eventually only 15 out of around 70 exclusions were upheld by the electoral judicial panel. This group also seems less easy to predict according to sectarian variables, with cases arising as often in Shiite as in Sunni areas, and with some of the most prominent exclusions – such as the Sadrist Jawad al-Shuhayli – being of Shiite sectarian identity. Firstly, it should be remarked that exactly like in previous years, the general picture defies the easy, black and white classification schemes prevailing in Western media whereby de-Baathification is seen as something that almost exclusively affects the Sunni Arab minority because of its ties to the Saddam Hussein regime.  In fact, de-Baathification strikes across geographical, sectarian and party lines. As does reinstatement, with which this material deals.  To the extent that some parties stand out for being targeted disproportionately, it is true that the Sunni-secular parties continue to be most preponderant. Note, however,  that this material relates to ultimate reinstatement. It is therefore clear that Sunni-secular politicians in many cases manage to seek legal redress for what is perceived as political targeting by Shiite Islamist circles.

Looking at individual de-Baathification cases, it is interesting to see that some of the cases of reinstatement relate to persons who were excluded in 2010. For example, Saadi Faysal Abdallah al-Jibburi was excluded and his entire bloc struck from the ballot in 2010 because of de-Baathification allegations. Since the de-Baathification process relates exclusively to the judicial interpretation of pre-2003 events in Iraq, his reinstatement this year as a candidate on the list of Saleh al-Mutlak effectively means the Iraqi judiciary has overruled the 2010 decision to exclude him.

Other cases, however, do not inspire confidence as far as the integrity of the process is concerned, especially with respect to the actions of the de-Baathification committee as the initial screening centre for potential candidates. When he was disqualified in February, former Unity of Iraq deputy Shaalan abd al-Jabbar Ali al-Karim (currently a candidate of Ayyad Allawi’s Wataniyya) protested that  he had never been a member of the Baath and never formed part of the Iraqi security apparatus. He said he graduated in Islamic studies in 1991-1992 and subsequently worked in agriculture and commerce until the fall of the regime in 2003. His appeal was upheld by the appeals court, suggesting that the de-Baathification committee may once more have attempted to reach beyond the legal criteria for de-Baathification exclusion, based on a combination of Baath party membership rank (shaaba or higher), rank in the Iraqi bureaucracy  (DG or higher) and sector (for security -related backgrounds there are stricter requirements).

Again other cases are more mysterious and raise the possibility of simple name mix-ups, which has happened before. Many would be surprised that the number 2 candidate of State of Law in Basra, Hasan al-Rashid – a veteran of the Badr corps who spent a long time in exile in Iran – was included in the first list of de-Baathificatons. One possible explanation is that the way his name appears in the official lists – with names of himself, his father, his grandfather and great grandfather (Hassan Kazim Hassan Ali) – makes him identical to  an individual from Babel who has been de-Baathified previously. It is mystifying though, that IHEC should overlook such a basic error with such a prominent politician, but similar problems of name mix-ups have actually been reported in the past.

All in all, after looking at this material it is more tempting to conclude that corruption, capriciousness and the absence of due process are universal in Iraq  and do not discriminate between sects in the ways many outsiders claim. Recent reports of partisans of Ahmad Chalabi being targeted by Maliki-controlled security forces would only serve to underline this point.

Posted in De-Baathification, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election | Comments Off

Jumping Ship? Defections from Maliki ahead of the Iraqi Parliamentary Elections

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 6 April 2014 2:28

An interesting piece of information that emerges from the newly released list of candidates for Iraq’s 30 April general elections is that at least a dozen ministers and MPs previously considered part of the State of Law coalition will contest the elections on other tickets than that of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.

It makes sense to structure the discussion of these apparent defections from State of Law with respect to the degree to which they truly constitute a challenge to Maliki. Firstly, there are some lists that are so loudly loyal to Maliki that one might suspect he doesn’t mind them running separately. An example is list 240 associated wih Saad al-Mutallabi, a staunch Maliki supporter.  Named the “Movement of Youth for the State of the Hegemony of the Law”, it is running in Baghdad and Najaf. With Maliki featuring prominently on its election posters, it seems more like an auxiliary than an enemy, even though one cannot help wonder why Maliki would truly want to deliberately split his own vote. (A recurrent theme in the debate on this is the misguided belief that the new Iraqi elections law offers better prospects for smaller parties. It doesn’t.)

In a similar category is list 230. It is focused on two State of Law MPs: Ihsan al-Awwadi (Qadisiyya) and Haytham al-Jibburi (Babel). The list is running in Basra, Mid-Euphrates and Diyala. Originally this movement emerged as the creation of former government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh who himself moved on to ISCI before these elections (though without appearing on their final candidate list). Whereas the schism between Dabbagh and Maliki appears to be final, pro-Maliki slogans are prominent in this successor party: Jibburi, for example, uses the slogan “hand in hand with Prime Minister Maliki” in his campaign.

Other independent candidacies within the State of Law group of politicians seem less friendly  to Maliki, and at least two of them could potentially be somewhat substantial.

Firstly there is list 228, headed by Izzat Shahbandar as candidate no. 1 in Baghdad. It is also running in Wasit, Basra, Dhi Qar and Karbala. The list also includes former Iraqiyya member Abd al-Khadar Tahir, reflecting perhaps the fact that Shahbandar was formerly one of the Maliki aides considered most sympathetic to the idea of cooperating with Sunnis and secularists. Judging from the make-up of his list, though, the successes in this respect north of Baghdad remain limited, even after the split from Maliki.

Second there is list 211, associated with Sami al-Askari. It will run in most Shiite-majority governorates as well as in Diyala. Another leading figure on the list is Najaf governor Adnan al-Zurfi. Given the connection to Najaf, the list has links to Shiite religious circles in Iraq’s holy cities. At the same time these are politicians with a record of dialogue with the Americans and the West, perhaps more so than some of the more Iran-sympathetic circles within State of Law.

Other new lists based on defections from Maliki seem more limited to personalities and localities.

Firstly there is Ali Fayyad and his list 226 running in Baghdad and with a few candidates in Najaf also. This is essentially Ali Fayyad’s personal creation. Judging from its posters, the list is apparently trying to appeal to tribal electorates in and around the Iraqi capital.

Secondly there is former minister of state for security and current MP Shirwan al-Waeli with list 284. It will be running in his home province of Dhi Qar only after initial negotiations to have him as part of the Askari-Zurfi group appear to have failed.

Thirdly there is minister of state Safa al-Din al-Safi, running list 201 in his own hometown Basra as well as in Wasit. It seems more detached from Maliki than one might expect given Safi’s sometimes key role in fixing problems for Maliki in the past. Safi has some links to the religious leadership in Najaf whose calls for “change” have been interpreted as a hint that a shakeup of the current government is needed.

Fourthly there is Jawad Kazim al-Buzuni and list 238 running in Basra, Dhi Qar, Wasit, Babel and Baghdad. Apart from its outspoken, sometimes federalist key figure from Basra, the list comprises mostly academics with relatively low profiles.

While the above statistics of defections are remarkable, equally important is perhaps the fact of relative dissipation – geographically and organizationally alike. Perhaps the bigger challenge to Maliki consists of those MPs who did not start their own new list but instead jumped to an existing enemy: Muwatin, dominated by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and Ammar al-Hakim. They include at least the following: Janan Abd al-Jabbar Yasin (Basra), Hussein al-Assadi (Basra), Ali Kurdi al-Husseini (Karbala; now on Muwatin list in Baghdad), Manal Hamid al-Musawi (Karbala), and Ahmad Habib al-Abbasi (Babel).

It has been suggested that it is the acceptance of post-election bloc formation in Iraqi parliamentary politics (following the precedent of 2010 and the disputed supreme court ruling enabling this) that has prompted so many State of Law politicians to try their luck on their own this time. But as long as the numbers of MPs affiliated with each bloc count as much as they do in Iraq – both practically and in terms of prestige – it is somewhat difficult to take at face value the talk of  friendly and temporary divorces emanating from some of the players involved in these developments. And with respect to the defections to Muwatin, in particular,  there can be no doubt that this is bad news for Maliki. The likely outcome of all of this is a reduction of Maliki’s total bloc size and therefore his stature. Additionally, these acts of defection also tell important stories about how people whose livelihoods depend on the outcomes of these elections think the result will shape up.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014 | 2 Comments »

IHEC Publishes the List of Candidates for Iraq’s 30 April Parliamentary Elections

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 4 April 2014 2:55

The Iraqi election campaign formally began Tuesday, but the official candidate lists weren’t published until Thursday evening, just before the start of the Iraqi weekend. Altogether, the lists contain the names of 9,045 candidates.

A noteworthy general point is that unlike previous years, no provisional list was published pending appeals regarding de-Baathification and other candidacy problems. In other words, the current list purports to be the final. IHEC maintains that, after its latest showdown with parliament (in which it prevailed after parliament decided to backtrack), all appeal options have been exhausted.

As for the characteristics of the main lists, at least a few tendencies can be noted in this material.

Starting with the Shiite Islamists lists, there is the State of Law list of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (277). Many of its top candidates run in Baghdad: In addition to Maliki himself at top of the list, deputy PM Hussein Shahristani is second and Haydar al-Abbadi is third. In Basra, former governor Khalaf Abd al-Samad is the top candidate, and several prominent provincial council members are now trying their luck as MP candidates. In Qadisiya, Khalid al-Attiya, the former deputy speaker of parliament, is the State of Law candidate number one, whereas figures from the Badr movement are at the top in Wasit and Diyala (Qasim al-Aaraji and Hadi al-Ameri respectively). A notable cooption from Sunni-secular circles is Iskandar Witwit (formerly Iraqiyya deputy; now State of Law candidate no 9 in Babel).

For their part, ISCI-dominated Muwatin (273) has a current MP as top candidate in Basra (Furat al-Shaara), a former governor as top candidate in Dhi Qar (Aziz Kazim Alwan), and a former provincial council speaker as top candidate in Najaf (Abd al-Hussein Abd al-Rida). In a possible sign of sectarian times, in Qadisiyya they have managed to coopt the former (Shiite) Iraqiyya deputy Hussein al-Shaalan, where he is now their number three candidate. Watch out for their Baghdad personal vote results: Behind Baqir Solagh (former finance and interior minister) they have chameleon Ahmed Chalabi as their second candidate, followed by Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum (oil minister in the CPA period). Also some figures from smaller entities appear in prominent Muwatin list positions elsewhere, including as Hassan Radi al-Sari of the “Hizbollah in Iraq” movement as number one in Maysan.

As for the Sadrists (214), to a greater degree than the two other big Shiite lists, they rely on relatively unknown politicians at top of their lists. An exception is Baghdad, where Hakim al-Zamili is number 2, Maha al-Duri no. 4, and Falah Hasan Shanshal (briefly de-Baathification head) no. 5.

As has been clear for some time, both Fadila (219) and the Jaafari splinter group from the Daawa (205) run separately. Prominent Fadila candidates include Suzan Aklawi (no. 4 in Basra) and Ammar Tuma (top candidate in Baghdad). The Jaafari list  has relatively few famous top candidates. In addition to Jaafari himself there is Muhammad al-Hindawi in Karbala.

It is noteworthy that the efforts to establish a pan-Shiite alliance in Diyala seem to have failed, because all the main groups are fielding separate tickets there. In Kirkuk there is a Shiite-dominated Turkmen list (282) including pro-Maliki figures like minister of state Turhan al-Mufti. Rumoured Maliki allies close to the Asaeb Ahl al-Haqq are everywhere running separately as list 218, Al-Sadiqun.

Turning to what was formerly the Sunni-secular Iraqiyya, it makes sense to start with Mutahhidun headed by parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi (259). Prominent Mutahhidun candidates – beyond Nujayfi himself as no 1 in Nineveh – include Muhammad Iqbal (no. 3 in Nineveh), Falah Hassan Zaydan (no. 6 in Nineveh), Muhammad Dalli (no. 3 in Anbar), Zafir al-Ani (number one in Baghdad), Umar Hayjal (5 in Baghdad) and Attab al-Duri (female candidate, no. 7 in Baghdad). In a sad testament to the sectarian polarization in Iraqi politics (and an apt geographical illustration thereof), Mutahhidun is not running south of Baghdad whereas it is backing pan-Sunni lists in Diyala and Kirkuk.

The Arabiyya bloc headed by deputy PM Saleh al-Mutlak (255) is also limited geographically to Sunni-majority areas. Mutlak himself is the top candidate in Baghdad.

Parts of old Iraqiyya still remain in list 239, now called Wataniyya under the leadership of Ayad Allawi. In Anbar, their number one candidate is Hamid al-Mutlak; in Diyala it is Abdallah Hassan Rashid; in Nineveh Salim Dalli is number two. In Baghdad they obviously have Allawi himself as number one, followed by former Iraqi Islamic Party member Ala Makki as third, and prominent female parliamentarian (and bloc spokesperson) Maysun al-Damluji as number four.

For the Kurdish lists, one of the most prominent aspects is the absence of a unified list in most areas, including in so-called disputed territories where they have historically put in much effort to remain united. The continuing power struggle and impasse in the internal KRG government formation process following elections last years may well be part of the explanation.

Some smaller lists are interesting, in particular the Iraq coalition (262) which stands out for competing in Sunni and Shiite areas alike. In Baghdad the list is topped by former minister from the CPA period Mahdi al-Hafez and is also featuring former Fadila figure Nadim al-Jabiri. In Salahaddin, they have Qutayba al-Jibburi as no. 2, a former Iraqiyya MP who split from them in early 2012 after the controversy ove the Hashemi affair. This list is perhaps the most credible cross-sectarian alternative that has emerged in the ashes of Iraqiyya (perhaps in addition to list 232 which is close to the old communists). By way of contrast, other Iraqiyya breakaway entities are not running across the country. A case in point is White (288) which is not running in Sunni areas north of Baghdad.

Other new parties are also often geographically limited. In Basra, the former Sadrist Uday Awwad is topping his own list (270). There is also a women-only list with 5 candidates (281) and federalist Wail Abd al-Latif is trying his luck with at the head of yet another new party (228). Former Maliki ally Shirwan al-Waili has his own list (284) and he is himself its top candidate in Dhi Qar.

Generally speaking, fascinatingly – and despite the general sectarian polarization regionally –  issues like de-Baathification have  been less prominent in Iraq this year than ahead of the last general elections in 2010. Instead, the dispute of the 2014 budget (and the failure of parliament to pass it) has been a main background factor. The budget is at least a political issue that is connected to some important ideological differences regarding interpretations of federalism. Clear battle lines between the Maliki government and the Kurdish regional government aside, the process remains somewhat opaque though: Maliki has reportedly this week complained to the federal supreme court about parliament’s procrastination over the budget passage. In election times, would it not be more logical to ensure wider parliamentarian backing for the budget? Surely that is doubly relevant these days, when Maliki allies already talk about forming a “political majority” government after the elections. Their efforts over the next few weeks will decide whether such a prospect is realistic at all.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014 | Comments Off

Half of the Maliki Bloc Reportedly Stays away from Budget Session in the Iraqi Parliament

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 1 April 2014 3:06

Until now the struggle over the 2014 Iraqi budget has mainly shaped up as a conflict between the central government and the Kurds. The Shiite parties have generally supported PM Maliki, with the Sunni Nujayfi bloc forming the main support for the Kurds outside their own parties.

For this reason, it had been expected that the second reading of the budget bill would pass on Sunday. Prior to the scheduled session, MPs from most of the Shiite blocs had vowed to be present and make sure the budget bill made the necessary progress. However, in the event no parliament meeting took place because no quorum was achieved.

How could that happen? The Shiite parties alone account for around 159 MPs and are thus very near to constituting a quorum (163) on their own. It is also clear that a number of Sunni and secular MPs outside the Nujayfi bloc – Ahmad al-Jibburi of the Wataniyun being a case in point – have been attending, meaning that some of the explanation must lie within the Shiite bloc itself.

In a remarkable press statement, Baqir al-Zubaydi of the ISCI bloc in parliament has claimed that the reason quorum was not achieved on Sunday was the large number of absent MPs from the Sadrist and State of Law blocs. Claiming that all of ISCI was present, Zubaydi says that altogether 147 deputies attended, missing the quorum by 16. Other sources say only 48 of the around 90 State of Law deputies attended – around half of the bloc. Similar percentages of absentees were reported for the Sadrists whereas it was claimed that Badr showed up in full force alongside their former ISCI allies.

So far, the State of Law deputies have been in the forefront in calling for the annual budget to be passed. The reported number of absentees is larger than what can plausibly be reduced to practical and logistical problems, even by Iraqi standards. With the electoral campaign ahead of the 30 April elections starting this week (and the conflict over IHEC reportedly solved after Nujayfi backtracked from his original position), they may have some major explaining to do to their electorates if they continue to stay away from parliament in the way claimed by their political opponents.

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

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

 
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