Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

7 Responses to “The Neutral, Piecemeal Approach to Kirkuk: How to Unlock the Current Stalemate”

  1. Larijani’s visit is a blatant interference but so is the U.S. and other neighbors. Its time for the U.S. to realize that a stable democracy must be independent and should hand over the role of census and elections to the U.N.

  2. bb said

    “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).”

    Could you clarify? Are you suggesting that, if no solution is found, the whole of the Kirkuk province’s allocation of seats would be allocated as compensatory seats and no election held in the province?

  3. Reidar Visser said

    Feisal, much as I sympathise with your suggestions, based on the muddle-through approach we have seen in Afghanistan recently as well as the American insistence on the importance of sticking to 16 Jan, I have problems seeing where that sort of initiative could come from. At most, it seems, Washington may try to push UNAMI towards acting in a more neutral fashion than it has done so far.

    Bb. Yes, that is the suggestion. The Kurds have apparently already rejected the idea of sub-dividing the Tamim governorate geographically (which would at least ensure representation for areas that are not disputed).

  4. bb said

    Thank you. Could you clarify further? Given confirmation of your suggestion that in the event of no solution there would be no election in Kirkuk and that its 9 seats would be divvied up as part of the compensatory list, on what formula would these seats be allocated in the absence of a PR vote in the province as would apply to all the other provinces?

    Who would be the final authority divvying up these seats and what formula would they use? Would you expect this to be covered by the new election law?

  5. Reidar Visser said

    The size of the cake of compensatory seats would just increase a little bit. This makes sense since there is already a dispute whether it should be 10% or 17% of the total seats, in other words, its size is not set in stone. The rules for distributing the seats would be the same as the general rules for distributing all compensatory seats, as explained earlier, see comment no. 7 at

  6. bb said

    Thanks R! To put it in context, on the allocation of compensatory seats in the last national elections, the Sunni Arab parties got 10 between them (Accord 7, Dialogue 2, Progressive 1); the Kurdish parties got 11 (Islamic Kurds 1 and Talabani/Barzani 10)and the UIA got 19. Allawi’s party got 4.

    Must say I still can’t get my head around how the 9 Kurdish seats could be folded into the compensatory and then be allocated fairly according PR absent a vote in Kirkuk province? I ask myself if this had been done in Dec 2005 wouldn’t the UIA have got one or more of these seats despite having only polled a mingy 3.4% of the vote there? Or Allawi’s List having only polled 2.4%. And there is of course the issue of the voters of Tamim being denied their chance to vote in a national election, having already been denied it in the provincial. I seem to be the only one here concerned about that aspect. Perhaps it is regarded as abstract?

  7. Reidar Visser said

    Not abstract at all, but the problem is that many Iraqis believe that if the vote goes ahead in Kirkuk without extra scrutiny then it will be fraudulent and therefore there is no reason to vote at all.

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