Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for October 29th, 2009

Objections by the Kurds, the IHEC and UNAMI; the Legal Committee Comes Up with Two More Alternatives on Kirkuk

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 29 October 2009 17:53

[Update 31 October 12:25 CET: It has just been reported that the IHEC has extended the deadline for forming coalitions until 4 November 2009]

Today’s brief proceedings in the Iraqi parliament made it clear that it was indeed the objections of the Iraqi elections commission (IHEC), supported by UNAMI and the Kurds (who boycotted), that prevented a vote on the elections law. Meanwhile, the legal committee came up with two more alternatives on Kirkuk.

The first alternative involves holding a vote using the 2009 registers, to be followed by a scrutiny of those registers within one year to find whether there are irregularities amounting to more than 38% “in the registers” (a little unclear what the percentage really refers to, given as واذا كان هناك خلل بنسبة 38% في السجل يتم الغاء نتائج) in which case the annulment of the result will follow.

The second alternative is another creative multi-constituency arrangement. Once more, an explicit ethno-sectarian distribution formula has been avoided, even if three of the four proposed constituencies seem intended to guarantee some kind of minimum communal representation: Hawija, Taza and Shwan will each have three deputies (apparently aimed at Arab, Turkmen and Kurdish constituencies) whereas Kirkuk itself will remain fully competitive with 5 representatives. This seems to over-represent the peripheral constituencies to a certain extent over Kirkuk, but the proposal has the clear advantage of keeping the potential for cross-sectarian voting in Kirkuk alive, while at the same time apparently offering each of the main communities a minimum fallback position in their areas of demographic concentration. In the case of the Turkmens it is particularly easy to sympathise with this approach: As a medium-sized minority they are in many ways the bravest of the Iraqi nationalists since they so far have been competing without guaranteed quotas of the kind offered to the micro-minorities (Shabak, Yazidis, Christians, Sabaeans), and also without a de facto guaranteed minimum vote in bastions of governorate-level territorial concentration (of the kind enjoyed by the Shiite and Sunni Arabs and the Kurds).

All in all, while both of these options do preserve a special status for Kirkuk, the first one seems highly diluted given the high threshold for annulling elections (if correctly specified in the official report from today’s proceedings). One can get the impression that the second one could conceivably have greater appeal to Iraqi nationalists. Be that is at may, the rapidity with which the Iraqi parliament seemed to accept today’s highhanded intervention by the IHEC is quite shocking. The Sadrist Fawzi Ikram Tarazi, himself a Turkmen, has been one of the few parliamentarians to protest to the Iraqi press so far, suggesting that at least some of the non-Kurdish members of the legal committee would be more than happy to see endless procrastination and a reversion to the closed-list system of 2005 by way of timeout. In this they are ably assisted by the Kurds, who appear to receive full support from UNAMI and IHEC in torpedoing any proposal that does not conform one hundred per cent to their own preferences.

A new element in the mix is the release by the US embassy in Baghdad of a somewhat cryptic joint statement by General Ray Odierno and Ambassador Christopher Hill. It goes as follows:  “As Iraqi authorities prepare to adopt an elections law, we reiterate our view that the rules, procedures, and decisions adopted for the January elections should apply only to that election.   They should not serve as precedents for future elections or for future political settlements related to Article 140, demographic change, disputed boundaries, or other contested issues.”

In the first place, this is a flagrant and remarkably public interference in Iraqi affairs of a kind not seen since the Bush days (and the 2003–2005 period in particular). Secondly, the statement really is quite hard to decipher! The first sentence and the first part of the subsequent one seems to suggest that this election law should be unique to the January 2010 elections, thereby presumably opening space for special treatment of Kirkuk (the Kurds want it to be treated as an ordinary governorate; if that procedure had been acceptable to others and therefore was adopted there would have been no need to restrict the application of the law to 2010 as per the Odierno/Hill recommendation). The second part of the second sentences raises doubts, however. One would expect the logic to continue to flow in a consistent fashion, i.e. a reassurance to the Kurds that any special arrangements arrived at for Kirkuk should not prejudge the outcome of future negotiations over the city (the Kurds want to keep article 140 of the constitution sacred). But is that what is being said? After all, the standard argument by the Kurds and UNAMI has been roughly “the election law should not serve as diversion or substitute for political settlements related to Article 140, demographic change, disputed boundaries, or other contested issues”. But the American statement clearly says “precedents”, which seems to create the exact opposite logic, i.e. a rather indiscreet American initiative to convince the Kurds to be more accommodating. So far, the PUK has published the statement on its website without adding any comment.


Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories | 8 Comments »

The IHEC Invents New Problems

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 29 October 2009 8:39

[Update 29 October 13:50 CET: The Iraqi parliament has just started its session, the last before the Iraqi weekend, reportedly with an agenda that does not include the election law. 14:35: Parliament has reportedly adjourned until Sunday]

After the idea of using the 2004 registers of voters for Kirkuk in the next parliamentary elections has been circulating as an alternative since at least June, all of a sudden yesterday night – and only hours before a bill including an option to use the 2004 registers is scheduled to be presented to parliament for a vote later today – Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced that it would be “technically impossible” to use those registers. One press report states that the IHEC cites the fact that the registers were compiled by the United Nations and that the IHEC would need “a very long period of time” to make them compatible with its own system. Another simply says the IHEC does not have the registers and there is even talk about the possible “loss” (fiqdan) of the records!

Meanwhile, the Iraqi press is discussing the contradiction whereby the political council for national security including several key Kurdish representatives first agreed by consensus to a package of three different alternatives for Kirkuk that could be voted on, only to see them rejected by Kurdish politicians the day after. The speculation focuses on possible intra-Kurdish conflicts, highlighting the fact that Masud Barzani was represented at the meeting only by a person acting in his capacity (he himself rarely travels to Baghdad) and once more identifying Barzani and his party as the real obstacle to progress.

It cannot escape notice in this context that Faraj al-Haydari, the chairman of the IHEC, used to be a member of the highest political leadership in Barzani’s party, the KDP. He, along with Qasim al-Abbudi (who broke the news about the “unavailability” of the 2004 registers), has been a frequent focus of criticism by the Iraqi parliament lately which has questioned his political independence. The main defender of the IHEC against any suggestion about changes to its membership has been UNAMI, the UN body which has consistently sided with the Kurds in the discussion of the election law (and which receives lots of credit in statements by Kurdish politicians for that reason). If it is correct that the IHEC has deliberately withheld information about supposedly insurmountable technical problems concerning the 2004 registers for so long, then the capital I for “independence” in its acronym is no longer meaningful.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories | Comments Off on The IHEC Invents New Problems