Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Election Law Is Passed: Open Lists, Kirkuk Recognised as a Governorate with “Dubious” Registers

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 8 November 2009 22:06

With 141 votes out of 195, the Iraqi parliament finally passed a revision of the 2005 election law this evening around 8 PM in Baghdad. The broad outline of the revised law has already been known for a long time and contained few surprises as such: Open lists, governorate-level constituencies and minority seats for Christians, Sabaeans, Yazidis and Shabak. In other respects, most features of the 2005 law (including the procedures for allocating compensatory seats, which this time makes up 5%) are kept in place. This also means that the ban on the use of religious symbols – an important step forward in the 2008 provincial elections law that was included in early drafts – has not been included in the revised law for the parliamentary elections.The controversy for the three past weeks has focused on how to hold elections in Kirkuk… Full story here.

33 Responses to “The Election Law Is Passed: Open Lists, Kirkuk Recognised as a Governorate with “Dubious” Registers”

  1. Brent said

    Can you please clarify this for me please?
    “but Iraqi voters will have seen which parties are serious about keeping the city Iraqi and which ones are not so interested”

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Am still in the process of adding links to the article. Here’s the reference:

  3. Pushdaree said

    I echo Brent’s comment. The author is implying that Kurds of Iraq are not Iraqi.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Pushdaree, no that is not what is being said. “Iraqi” in this context simply means a perpetuation of Kirkuk’s links with the central government in Baghdad and thereby its continued role as a symbol of Iraq unity and coexistence – this reflects standard Iraqi usage, i.e. defending the Iraqiness (iraqiyya) of Kirkuk. Iraqis say this is about the Iraqiness versus the Kurdistani-ness of Kirkuk.

    At any rate, were Kirkuk to ever be fully annexed by the Kurdish regional government I think the most likely scenario would be an immediate unilateral secession by the rest of Iraq from the three Kurdish governorates (not least in order to end the oil subsidies) and quite possibly a long war over Kirkuk. Certainly that prospect would seem likely if the central government is one that remains in touch with popular sentiment in the rest of Iraq.

  5. bb said

    Marc Lynch is saying that the law “reportedly” provides for a “multiple district system” as “favored by most American analysts.” What is this about, and is it true?

  6. Reidar Visser said

    It simply means governorate-level constituencies (18 in total) instead of a single electoral constituency. The idea was applauded by many US commentators when it was first introduced in Dec 2005, primarily because it establishes closer ties between deputies and electorate.

  7. bb said

    Thanks for the reassurance. From what Prof Lynch wrote one was led to believe the iraqis might have ageed to splitting up the governorates into multi districts.

    Of course, such a course would be attractive to Americans because it is more like their system – they are accustomed to multi districts and the gerrymanders that result and, being very Amerio-centric the customary gerrymanders are just a natural way of political life and balanced by other factors.

    So for a moment I was worried. But Prof Lynch has not really ever displayed much interest in Iraq apart from prosecuting the standard anti invasion/pro Sunni/arab baath-as-victims line so its not surprising he got this wrong.

    Disappointing imo, because Prof Lynch unusually for a yank academic, speaks/reads Arabic and wrote a very good book about the rise of Arab democracy movement symbolised by Al Jazeera and the new Arab media. But he has shown no interest in commenting into the detail of the Iraqi shia empowerment post 2003 and its implications for the democracy movements in the wider arab world. And once Iraq ceased to become an anti-Bush issue he more or less let it go, as did virtually all the other once-prominent anti-Bush blogs of that period.

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, Marc did not get it wrong, he is just using different words to describe the same reality. Also it is unfair of you to describe him as “uninterested” in Iraqi affairs since he follows the situation there closely and has contributed many thoughtful commentaries on the subject, not least on how all of this correlates with the US policy debate.

  9. Ari said

    Felicitations for the GOOD news!!!

    I am very happy with the good news.

  10. bb said

    Well,the way Marc put it, it was though it were something new “The law reportedly features the “open list” and multiple district system favored by most American analysts.” Reidar, the only western bloggers who bother with Iraq political developments are yourself and Nibras Kazimi, and I don’t think its co-incidental that both of you are extremely knowledgeable about Iraqi shia politics and history.

    On the new elections law: the most telling factor was the dumping of allocating seats, even as a symbolic gesture? In the end three-fourths of the COR, in a broad cross party vote, came down against creating a precedent for discriminating against an individual governorate or party/s and underlined this by applying the same “dubious voter registers” rule to everybody, not just the Kurds. Must say it wasn’t an outcome I was expecting as it seemed anti-Kurd sentiment ran much higher.

    What was also impressive -on the face of it – was the amount of time and attention the Iraqis gave to examining all the arguments, options and compromise proposals until a broad and decisive consensus was reached. It took a long time – but not as long as Obama’s healthcare reform is taking going through Congress!

  11. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, that will have to be 51% (141 of 275): I think at least some of the absenteeism was caused by disillusion with the process. The growing anti-Kurdish sentiment you refer to is certainly real, some of it getting rather ugly, but is more in evidence outside parliament. Remember that what we are seeing these days in many ways are the last gasps of a parliament that was elected in a very different political climate back in 2005. Both Sadrists and Daawa are certain to face challenges in their own constituencies for not having secured more robust guarantees for Kirkuk. That said, both sides found something in the deal of symbolic value and are now doing their best to sell it to their supporters.

  12. bb said

    Blimey … would have thought 195 out of 275 was a v good turnout for the COR, possibly even an all time record?! Don’t half of them spend most of their time swanning around out of the country….

  13. Zahra said

    Passing an election law is only the first step. Iraq is cursed by its corrupt leadership! The only way for things to get better there is to elect a new leadership with the track record of standing up to Iran and fighting corruption. I’ve been following Ayad Jamal Aldin’s campaign and he gives me hope that Iraq will finally become stable and that we can finally bring our troops home!

  14. Alexno said

    Reidar, I was interested in your remark:

    The growing anti-Kurdish sentiment you refer to is certainly real, some of it getting rather ugly, but is more in evidence outside parliament.

    Any chance of expanding on that?

    Maliki has been quite anti-Kurdish. So I was surprised that the parliament seems to have folded on the Kirkuk issue. There’s a contradiction here. Maliki’s support is increasingly anti-Kurdish, if I understand correctly. Yet Maliki was not willing to fight to the end on the issue. Although he depended on his support base to fight Bush on the SOFA, and won. There’s something here that I don’t understand.

  15. Brent said

    Thanks for the clarification Reidar. Can anybody tell me if the deadline has passed for forming coalitons or has it been extended again?
    If it has passed what would the next govt possibly look like hypothetically speaking. And how well would it function compared to the present one?
    Reidar what do you make of Masoud Barzani comments today?

  16. Reidar Visser said

    Alex, my sense is that some of the Daawa base still remains rather anti-Kurdish. What I was referring to were newspapers and websites close to Maliki publishing various anti-Kurdish slander whose relevance to the political process is not always clear (for example the story that Talabani’s son is married to an American of Jewish origins whose family supposedly has ties to the Israel lobby etc.) Some of Maliki’s detractors claim he has recently cut a tactical deal with the Kurds in order to protect his deputy speaker in parliament, Khalid al-Atiyya (who lately has been under pressure to resign, mainly from the anti-Maliki faction of the old UIA). It is however unclear how viable this is, since another of Maliki’s allies, the oil minister, is still engaged in a very polarising conflict with the Kurds about control of the oil sector. The Sadrists, too, have previously mobilised strongly on central government control over Kirkuk.

    Brent, the deadline for coalitions (and candidates) was extended again today, reportedly until 16 November. As for Barzani’s statement, the first part relates to what we already know, i.e. the foreign oil companies in Kurdistan are selling their oil at the local market (and thereby earn a lot less than they would have gained from exports) pending a political solution on the validity of the foreign contracts. (Exports started a few months again, but since Baghdad does not recognise the contracts of the foreign oil companies, it collected all the money and redistributed a 17% share to Kurdistan whereas the foreign companies got nothing.) The second part of the report sounds potentially more radical, since it would apparently imply taking control of the export itself – hitherto an exclusive SOMO preserve – and as such would be seen as a red flag by Baghdad, where it had been hoped that Barham Salih would usher in a period of more moderate Kurdish policies. Note, however, that there is not a direct quote in the report for this, and that the quote itself speaks about accounting arrangements while keeping the overall Kurdistan quota at 17% of Iraq’s total revenues (with the quota apparently recognised as such). As far as I can see, the comment that “the income would not be shared” is the journalist’s interpretation. Anyway, at a pro-KDP website there is a different statement today which instead is highlighting among other things the potential income from oil industry by-products:

  17. Alexno said

    All this reminds me of a remark that a (Shi’a) Iraqi student of mine made a couple of years ago (in a 2006 context), that he didn’t much care whether the Kurds took Kirkuk, as the oil production was little (10%) compared with the south. Perhaps it is this thought that is affecting the parliament.

  18. Pushdaree said

    “Pushdaree, no that is not what is being said. “Iraqi” in this context simply means a perpetuation of Kirkuk’s links with the central government in Baghdad and thereby its continued role as a symbol of Iraq unity and coexistence – this reflects standard Iraqi usage, i.e. defending the Iraqiness (iraqiyya) of Kirkuk. Iraqis say this is about the Iraqiness versus the Kurdistani-ness of Kirkuk.”

    If you ask any of so called Iraqi nationalist, is Erbil,Dohok or Sulaimanyieh “iraqiyya” he/she would say yes, it is. So your argument makes no sense. The code word “iraqiyya” when it comes to Kirkuk refer to control of the city by 3rabs. May I remind you that wellayate Mousel had Kurdish majority prior to the creation of now-day Iraq.

    As to your assertion that once Kurds “annex” Kirkuk, rest of Iraq will separate from KRG, you obviously lack the knowledge of the Kurdish short to midterm policy. Kirkuk is important to the Kurds because that is the place where Iraqi Kingdom commenced to implement demographic engineering of the Iraq in order to make it a real state. And as consequence of such policy which evolved to ethnic cleansing, Iraq is now divided. There will not be a war for Kirkuk as soon as the sunnie 3rabs find out that there is no more oil left to extract form the area. Shi’its 3rabs are more interested in securing fresh water than Kirkuk’s oil.

  19. Salah said

    The only way for things to get better there is to elect a new leadership

    Sarah, is there any possibility Iraqis can get a new faces? who is in control of selecting (allowing) new faces to stand up?

    What about the threats by assassinations/ killing by militia parties.

    I’ve been following Ayad Jamal Aldin’s campaign and he gives me hope

    I don’t see that although this guy panting himself liberal but let not forgot he also Iran’s lover/ midwife.
    Sarah keep in mind, Mullahs have very well spoken tongs

  20. Reidar Visser said

    Pushdaree, I am simply reflecting terms that are being used in a debate in Iraq. I did a study on Iraqi attitudes to federalism back in 2004 as expressed in the local press, and found that the idea of full Kurdish autonomy in the three governorates was generally well accepted. As for the historical argument and the Mosul vilayet, please note that its 1914 configuration was just 30 years old, that its population was mixed, of course with a large Kurdish element. More importantly in this context, the city of Kirkuk’s connections historically were with the plains and Baghdad, as explained here: (Please note that there are 40 comments there and as indicated only genuinely new arguments based on well-documented information are entertained on this topic!) In brief, if we look at the past five centuries or so, my impression is that it seems to be really hard to find a convincing historical argument for the inclusion of Kirkuk in Kurdistan, which leaves us with the ethno-racial argument based on the growing demographic presence of Kurds in the last part of the twentieth century.

    Alex, you will see that the argument of your student dovetails with that of Pushdaree above concerning water, but I nevertheless get the impression that due to the historical ties, Iraqis generally (excepting the now rather unrepresentative 2005 parliament) feel a much stronger attachment to Kirkuk than to Kurdistan. As for the water issues, I’m certainly not an expert on matters of hydrogeology, but it strikes me as plausible that in the long run the water will have to go somewhere anyway (otherwise Kurdistan would get pretty wet) and this brings us back to the standard argument that in a long-time perspective it would probably be prudent of the Kurds to pursue policies that emphasise cooperation and not conflict with all its neighbours both north and south, something which in turn would also make it easier for Kurdistan to prosper from the oil in the region.

  21. bb said

    Surely, Kurdistan has been able to develop the oilfields in al-Tamim because it was not nearly as affected by the sunni-arab-led insurgency sabotage as the southern oilfields were? Reason being, Kurdistan policy and the effectiveness in those days of the Pershmerga in keeping insurgency out of the areas tasked to them.

    The chief issue for development of oilfields in Iraq – as it is anywhere in the world – is, and will always be, the security for the workers and oil company personnel ergo: security of supply. Otherwise they put their investment somewhere safer.

  22. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, there are several issues here. Firstly, the Kirkuk oilfields are managed not by the Kurds but by the Northern Oil Company (NOC) which is controlled by the oil ministry in Baghdad. This is because Kirkuk is an “existing” field and therefore within the domain of the central government as per the constitution (and also because Kirkuk is not part of Kurdistan as per the TAL definition of 2004). The oilfields that are administered by the Kurds themselves are mainly in the Dahuk and Arbil governorates.

    Second, where did you get those statistics on attacks from? The main problem in the south has been a failure to improve the technical infrastructure, which is an issue between the Southern Oil Company (SOC) and the oil ministry.

    Thirdly, please remember the scale involved here. The south produces more than 1,5 million barrels per day whereas the Kurdistan fields last summer reported exports of around 40,000 to 60,000 bpd before they stopped exporting.

  23. Joel Wing said

    bb said:

    “Reidar, the only western bloggers who bother with Iraq political developments are yourself and Nibras Kazimi,”

    Cough COUGH! Uh there are a few others out there. 1st Kazimi said he’s probably going to stop blogging soon and hasn’t posted anything new for quite a few weeks now.

    My site:

    Tries to keep up with everything Iraqi.

    There’s also Iraqi Mojo:

    And the Majlis, who although is more about the entire Middle East does its fair share of posts about Iraqi politics as well:

  24. Salah said

    Joel Wing

    More like other neocon who see from his comfort that US doing a noble job in Iraq with complete denials any US fiddling in Iraqi politics with her proxy gangs

    Iraqi Mojo:
    He looks more Iranian heart and mind calling himself Iraqi borne living in US…..

  25. bb said

    R – as to the first issue, I did indeed misread the Reuters report and your follow up comment. Realise now it was referring to the Taq Taq oilfield near Erbil.

    However my point remains the same: the oilfields in non Kurdish Iraq have not been able to be developed because of the security situation caused by the insurgency’s multi year successful operations blowing up the oil pipelines and then continually sabotaging any attempts at repair. Along with coercing, intimidating or killing Iraqi security guards attempting to protect them. Ditto the electricity and rail infrastructure. The endeavours and effectiveness of the insurgency in this regard have been well documented in countless books on the war. As for statistics, the best I can do is cite the Brookings Iraq Index which demonstrates that oil production and export have only reached or exceeded pre April 2003 levels this year – 6 years later.

    In addition the Iraq Oil Ministry has still not been able to get oil legislation passed through the COR. In contrast because their area was secure and free of insurgency, the Kurds signed PSA agreements for Taq Taq as long ago as 2005, I believe?.

    Joel! What a terrible thing to forget Motown’s Musings! Which is simply the best Iraq research source website for westerners going. My apols.

    Nibras is going to be a loss, but it appears the Arab media is much more interested in his proudly-held neo con democracy message than it used to be. Not surprising he wants to concentrate on spreading the word to his fellow Aras. But how things have changed since 2007.

  26. Reidar Visser said

    BB, firstly, I’m still curious as to exactly when the latest severe disruption to oil export from the south took place as a result of the insurgency? Also, the main reason there is no oil law is that the Kurds insist on the right for regional governments to cut deals with foreign companies, such as those signed in 2004 in a constitutional vacuum. The reason it took longer to bring in foreign companies in the south is, firstly, that the central government has a slightly better understanding of popular sentiment in the country and knows that lucrative PSAs of the kind awarded to foreign companies (and Peter Galbraith) in Kurdistan would never have a chance of passing in the Iraqi parliament and more generally would cause loud protest across the country. Secondly, the major oil companies have a sufficiently acute understanding of this fact as well as of the hydrocarbon map of Iraq to realise that the truly big money is in the south (it is only smaller oil companies that are involved in the north).

  27. bb said

    When was the last time? The damage done to the infrastructure was not going to be fixed miraculously overnight! Iraq has only been been able to demonstrate security for oil companies since Maliki finally brought the mahdis under control in 2008 – ie about 15 months ago. As a result oil contracts are finally being signed. But because they were free of insurgency the Kurds have had a four year head start.

    Am curious it is the Kurds who are to blame for the failure to pass the oil law? I thought they only had 58 votes in the COR? It wasn’t the Kurds demand for regional rights that got the vast majority of coverage in the controversy over the oil laws – it was the proposal for PSAs. The Kurds had no qualms about PSAs, as you say, and that’s why Taq Taq is coming online today.

    But if the northern oilfields are small potatoes, what on earth is the fuss about?

  28. Salah said

    Arab media is much more interested in his proudly-held neo con democracy message than it used to be.

    Hummm really bb….

    It’s very interesting some for self-serving convenience put blames on others for their behaviours just like what you do and others.

    From when and where you see ARAB interested in his proudly-held neo con democracy, you can call it democracy its not that US favour tailored politics called “ democracy” serving their goals, its all fake and failures…

    Its not a democracy bb, which type of democracy that building constitutions of ethnics, religious and minorities dividends while stating all people equal under the law no matter of their colour and religion or ethnics?

    Are African-Americans having quota in their senators’ sets or Congress sets or stating specifically in the US constitution?

    Is this in your Ausi constitution bb?
    Are Australian Aborigines having their set in your parliament bb? Why?

    There is an Iraqi proverb stating:

    أكعــد اعــوج واحجــي عــدل

    Go figure what it means to people like you or Motown’s Musings and others!.

  29. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, we are straying from the original subject of the post here, but, briefly, the primary reason the govt was slower to bring in IOCs in the south was that most Iraqis think there is a need for careful planning and finding the right balance between Iraqi and external forces before flooding the country with foreign investors. You may criticise the oil ministry for having failed in its initial attempt at ramping up production, but it was a legitimate attempt at least at putting Iraqis in the lead. They also wanted to approve a legal framework. As you know, no bill gets out of the government before it is approved by consensus and accordingly the Kurdish proportion of MPs doesn’t mean anything in the context of the Maliki government and the current parliamentary cycle since we are talking about a hyper-consensual democracy with checks and what is supposed to be balances everywhere, including in the cabinet and again in the presidency council just to be on the safe side.

  30. bb said

    R – imo Mr oil minister has earned his salary getting contracts signed at all.

    Of course, have no problems whatever with the Iraqi parliament taking as long as it takes to get a consensus on an issue it deems as controversial (providing the speaker is not permitting ambushes like secret ballots and the like). What would I know about PSAs?

    We HAVE strayed from your original subject, but it has been an interesting byway. The thing is, imo, it shouldn’t be treated as polemical simply to state that the Kurds got their oil development going in 2005 because they didn’t have an insurgency/security issue or the lawlessness that existed on the south until mid 2008. And also that the Iraqi parliament’s not reaching consensus on oil legislation probably delayed it further – but my goodness, how much more injurious than that would be a railroading winner-take-all?

  31. bb said

    Salah …

    Australian democracy was established as federation of 6 states in 1901. These 6 six states ceded very circumscribed powers to the central government, (like the Iraq constitution) and retained most powers for themselves (again, like the Iraq constituion). Even with this circumscription on central power, the six states further insisted there be an Upper House called the Senate, based on equal nos from each state, that would have the power to bring down the govt in the HOR (your COR) by denying Supply – ie the government’s Budget – which cuts off the govt’s money and forces it to an electopn.

    Also, our Senate is elected by proportinal representation, like Iraq, which gives a chance of represntation to minority communities here like our aboriginals.

    On the other hand, our House of Representivess (the same status as your COR) is not elected by proportional representation as Iraq’s adopted system. but districts, which notoriously have been gerrymandered in Oz politial history.

    Mitigating against this, we do have a system called “preferential voting”, unusual in other democracies, wich basically means every voter can list who they would prefer if their first choice doesn’t get a majority, which means a candidate who doesn’t get 50% of the vote can only win after the distribution of the voters 2nd, 3rd and so on prefences. So it is a kind of PR in a uniquely Australian way.

    We also make voting compulsory not voluntary, which is also pretty much unique in the world.

    It is true we do not have quotas for minorities. This might come in the future. However by our PR system for our Senate we do have opportunity for minorities to gain election according to their support from the voters, and since our Senate does have real powers they have something to vote for.

  32. Salah said


    Bb, you minorities calculated on religious ground?

    Or your minorities calculated on ethnics ground?

    I believe in both cases this oppose the meaning of the basic democracy pillar, correct me if I am wrong?

  33. bb said

    No we don’t have quotas, nor do we discriminate on ethnic or sectarian basis.

    What I was saying is, the system of PR voting for our senate gives any individual or group the chance to win representation if they contest the election. Theoretically this means if our aboriginals so wanted to organise themselve into a political party they could.

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