Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for November 4th, 2009

The Neutral, Piecemeal Approach to Kirkuk: How to Unlock the Current Stalemate

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 4 November 2009 14:45

[Update 5 November 12:45 CET: Around midday Baghdad time today, the legal committee of the Iraqi parliament held a short meeting before the full assembly met, once more without dealing with the election law. There are however rumours about some kind of compromise (some Kurdish sources deny this) and parliament has specifically been asked by the presidency of the assembly to reconvene already on Saturday in order to vote on the election law. It does seem a little reckless to postpone the vote for a full two days if a consensus had indeed been arrived at, suggesting once more that the real decision-makers may be people who are not themselves members of the parliament]

It is by now a familiar a pattern: Towards the evening, rumours about some kind of election law compromise start to swirl in Baghdad, leading to optimistic articles in the newspapers the next morning. A few hours later the legal committee of the Iraqi parliament holds a brief meeting which ultimately breaks down, followed by a full session of parliament with no mention of the election law. Today’s variation of the theme also included a deeply worrying meeting between parliamentary speaker Ayad al-Samarraie and the Turkish ambassador in which the election law was supposedly on the agenda in a formal way. While they are at it, perhaps they should also try to strike up a conversation with Iran’s Ali Larijani, who also arrived in Baghdad today? Ostensibly his objective is to discuss water and shared oilfield issues, but there is probably also a juicy “etcetera” heading somewhere on the itinerary. Wasn’t this supposed to be an Iraqi process?

If this pattern should continue to repeat itself, it might be worth considering one of the better ideas to be circulated by the IHEC over the past days: To do this whole thing piecemeal. There is an argument for separating the Kirkuk issue from the mostly technical stuff, such as list system, total number of representatives, constituency size, number of representatives per constituency and quotas for women and minorities. This is all relatively uncontroversial and a decision on these issues would enable the IHEC to go ahead with many technical aspects of the preparations for the elections. Additionally, this would serve to eliminate the conspiracy theory to the effect that all the current procrastination in reality is caused by a secret preference on the part of many parliamentarians for a closed list.

There is however one very important caveat, apparently overlooked by the IHEC so far: For this approach to work and to be neutral, it would be absolutely necessary to avoid specifying the number of seats for Kirkuk (and, strictly speaking, their manner of election as well). This is possible since Iraq has a “compensatory seats” system (a quota of “national” seats not tied to any particular governorate, originally aimed at catering for out-of-country voting and enhancing proportionality at the national level), as well as an ongoing debate about what percentage of the total seats (probably between 10 and 17%) will eventually make up those compensatory seats. In other words, there are at least 20 to 30 seats to play with that need not (and indeed should not) be defined at this stage. If a solution for Kirkuk is found, then all well and good, Kirkuk will get its quota and its representatives will be seated. If no solution is found, elections cannot be held in Kirkuk, and the surplus of seats can form part of the general quota of compensatory seats instead (supposing this is easier for the IHEC to handle technically than to change the total number of seats).

Of course, unless this latter caveat is heeded, the whole scheme will be more or less identical to the position of the two Kurdish parties and therefore not suited as a compromise. But by leaving the number of Kirkuk seats unspecified both sides will have an interest in reaching a compromise: Otherwise they will both get fewer representatives in the national assembly! IHEC will get to know most of what it needs to know to prepare for 16 January 2010, and must be expected to be able to deal with Kirkuk on a more ad hoc basis.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories | 7 Comments »