Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Further Problems in the Iraqi Parliament: Some Representatives Are More Equal Than Others

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 20 October 2009 16:18

A headline by an Iraqi newswire service this morning spelt out the problem: “The parliament will keep searching for a solution on Kirkuk until a consensus position is arrived at”. And search they did, for a couple of hours at least, until Iraqi parliamentarians in predictable fashion called it a day again in the early afternoon.

But actually, a consensus solution is not required. Either Iraqi parliamentarians have a very short memory, or they are in fact making up new rules and establishing preferential treatment for the representatives of certain parties. For example, on 11 October 2006 one of the most fateful decisions in Iraq’s post-2003 history was made when parliament adopted the law for the formation of federal regions in a situation where almost half the assembly boycotted the vote and until this day it remains unclear whether the quorum threshold was actually met. Similarly, on 19 April this year, Ayyad al-Samarrai was adopted as new speaker against 79 votes that were either blank or in favour of his challenger. On both occasions, large segments of the Iraqi parliament failed to have it their way – and gracefully accepted the result.

So why cannot the same method be used for the elections law, where it is possible to vote article by article on the alternatives that are already defined? True, the two biggest Kurdish parties are threatening to march out if any proposal that is at the slightest variance with their own view is even presented for a vote. But is there really any difference from 11 October 2006, when the Kurdish parties remained in the assembly and happily adopted the federalism law with half the parliament absent in boycott? In fact, in contrast to the situation in 2006, in this case those who want to go ahead with the vote have actually presented a range of compromise alternatives that should be attractive to the Kurds if they would only look at them with new eyes – including revisiting the electoral registers of Kirkuk, establishing a special committee to look into the issue, or a separate elections law for the Tamim governorate.

So far, the nationalist Hiwar bloc and Izz al-Din al-Dawla, an independent from Mosul, have been at the forefront of the calls to hold a vote. The Daawa party, too, has seemed more eager than others to move the process forward together with their independent allies (such as Khalid al-Atiyya, who actually tried to hold a second session yesterday afternoon without achieving a quorum), whereas ISCI and Jalal al-Din al-Saghir in particular have been central to the attempts to delay a vote until there is a consensus, thereby taking a position reminiscent of their old alliance with the Kurds (Sami al-Askari of the Daawa openly accused members of the ISCI-led Iraqi National Alliance of deliberately staying away from today’s session) . Yesterday, Saghir reproached Ali al-Adib of the Daawa for wanting to press ahead with a vote, saying this would prompt a presidential veto by Jalal Talabani. That could of course happen, but, as the Sadrist Baha al-Aaraji put it earlier, Talabani would then have to choose between being the president of Iraq or the president of Kurdish alliance.

Iraq’s political system as defined by the 2005 constitution is already overcharged with checks and balances to the point where  government has entered a state of paralysis. The inhabitants of a country that is one of the world’s most important energy suppliers are still facing poor standards of living because their politicians keep searching for elusive consensus. It’s enough consensus and time for a vote.

7 Responses to “Further Problems in the Iraqi Parliament: Some Representatives Are More Equal Than Others”

  1. Salah said

    The inhabitants of a country that is one of the world’s most important energy suppliers are still facing poor standards of living because their politicians keep searching for elusive consensus.

    Some Iraqis reach to point the voiced loudly take the oil and leave us live our life.

    Iraqis for generations had no enjoy with their God gifted the richest land on earth.

    my father born in 1901 telling me how life was tough he remembers WWI during that time with British RAF bombing killing peoples in Iraq, how he was searching for a cover from RAF fighter follow peoples to gun them. We got a monarchy were the country fully controlled by the British, Iraq before as today the westerns thinks it independent in fact the Monarchy used as a mask for the British before.

    Now the GreenZone government not more than a group of disabled politicians, for the last past six years proven they are not up job to lead and control the country as they have no confidence not proud in themselves to do this job.

  2. bb said

    One could also mention July 22 getting a provincial law through the parliament via an unprecedented secret ballot? The validity of this vote was therefore questionable. What wasn’t known at the time, of course, was that July 22 was/is proposing to impose Lebanese-style pre set ethnic quotas on one of the Iraqi provinces. It can’t be a surprise that the Kurds are cautious?

  3. Reidar Visser said

    The decision to vote secretly on 22 July 2008 was in itself a result of a 124-103 vote to allow this kind of procedure, I think with the aim of allowing MPs to follow their conscience rather than the diktats of their party leaders. The Kurds stormed out after having lost that first vote on procedure. Only then was the first version of the provincial powers law adopted. And note that in reality many of the 22 July parties are now pressing for non-quota compromise solutions for Kirkuk (including some of those referred to in the post), but Kurdish parliamentarians consistently misrepresent them on this in the media.

  4. bb said

    I should have added a qualifying clause to my first sentence to wit “although I’m sure justifications will be cited for July 22’s abuse of parliament”! Obviously there are no justifications for Kurdish/ISCI perfidies!

    Seriously though, while I don’t object to July 22 trying it on this secret ballot stuff was a serious hijacking of parliamentary intergrity and should have been over-ruled by the Speaker. It created a very dangerous precedent and on its own justified the subsequent veto. I don’t think it has been tried since?

    It was ironic that after getting the law through the July 22 parties were pretty much wiped in the subseuqent election. Or perhaps it was due desserts?

  5. Reidar Visser said

    The veto was not procedural, it related to the content of the bill. And 22 July won another victory in September by the inclusion of special clauses for Kirkuk in the final bill, and also in November in the specific formula adopted for minority seats. Honestly, I think you tend to underestimate the constructive contribution the 22 July parties made to Iraqi politics in 2008. They alone spearheaded the demand for a timeline for provincial elections in the provincial powers law and thereby enabled the creation of the window where Maliki emerged as a nationalist politician. And with the exception of Fadila most of them held up reasonably well in Jan 2009. Conversely, by using the presidential veto, ISCI and the Kurds tried to postpone the local elections infinitely.

  6. bb said

    I do understand the constructive elements of July 22’s achievement re the provincial elections; it’s the ongoing destructive elements (with quite serious implications for the integrity of the process) that I don’t feel get the attention they deserve.

    You wrote at the time, on July 22, 2008: “Interestingly, complaints about the voting procedure for the law itself prompted criticism from Kurds and UIA independent Khalid al-Atiyya alike, suggesting that the presidential veto may once more come into play in Iraqi politics in relation to this piece of legislation.”

    It seemed clear enough there was a link between the secret nature of the ballot and the validity of the passing of the legislation that would attract the veto, although you didn’t note then the complaints were about unprecedented (and questionable) secret ballot that had taken place.

    The elections law that July 22 forced through by secret ballot on that day singled out Kirkuk from the rest of Iraq for a % 32-32-32 ethnic pre-set quota. However it was the presidential veto of this that seemed to attract criticism not the discriminatory way the Kurds were treated or the more-than-questionable procedure that was used? Similarly today: the same forces are trying to force further discrimination on the voters in Tamim but it is the Kurds who are criticised for not aquiescing to the discrimination. Sure, there are vague stories about compromise proposals but who is to know how well based or well intentioned they are. From one view, it could be surmised that July 22 is determined to provoke the Kurds into quitting Iraq or starting a civil war.

  7. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, very briefly, whilst the secrecy was certainly one element of the debate when I wrote my initial article (this was just hours after the passage of the law), it soon became evident that it was the Kirkuk issue itself that was at the heart of the presidential veto (which only came the day after). Among other things, Talabani’s office quoted fears of “sectarian” and “national” tensions, growth of extremism etc, and also complained that so many parliamentarians were absent – a carbon copy of the complaint that was made after the October 2006 legislation on federalism (but not acted upon since it was favoured by the Kurds and ISCI). For the bigger picture as it evolved over the summer, see also this other article from August:

    On the whole, with all the important aspects of the 22 July vote, I just cannot help finding a highlighting of the secrecy element in it as a somewhat odd angle. I mean, you seem to portray Iraq’s parliamentary life generally as some kind of super-transparent process. Have you ever tried to use the parliamentary proceedings (which are invariably published with month-long delays) to pin down exactly who voted for what? It is mostly impossible, since this information is not recorded and many of the sessions are closed to the public! Until this day, no one knows exactly who voted for the federalism bill in October 2006 and exactly how many MPs were present in the assembly. It is precisely for this reason we see so much noise today in the Iraqi media and demands for the vote on the elections bill to be televised – i.e. because that level of openness would be unprecedented. Also note that the Kurds are defending the closed-list argument which the Iraqi public fear will prevail unless full transparency is provided, i.e. they would certainly not be the victims of any secrecy in this case. That leaves us with their demand to be treated on a different basis than other parliamentarians, by effectively making a demand for a supermajority decision in parliament that is not rooted in the constitution.

    It is for all these reasons I think the net contribution of 22 July, i.e. that local elections were actually held in January, is more important. And finally, for the last time, they did not demand (and are not demanding) permanent special arrangements for Kirkuk, but transitional solutions that would acknowledge that there have been problems also in the post-2003 period. The TAL and the 2005 constitution are full of references to post-2003 injustices but on the whole they ignore problems in the post-2003 period. This is also a reason behind the desire of so many Iraqis to revise the constitution.

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