Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Chalabi and Lami Also Control the “Independent” Elections Commission

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 9 February 2010 18:10

One of the many remarkable aspects of the continuing de-Baathification saga has been the apparent willingness of the Iraqi elections commission (IHEC) to more or less mechanically follow the recommendations of the accountability and justice board and its two leading figures, Ahmad Chalabi and Ali Faysal al-Lami. Nonetheless, until now the IHEC has at least maintained a semblance of formal independence in its decision-making by providing its own “independent” consideration of the advice from the justice and accountability board before implementing it. This was the procedure that was followed for example in the recent exclusion of 511 candidates for the 7 March parliamentary elections.

However, with the release of the minutes from one of the latest meetings of the IHEC, both its independence and the distinction between the elections commission and the accountability and justice board are thrown into question in a serious way. Recently, on top of the ban of 500 plus candidates, the IHEC also moved to cancel the approval of nine political entities. The logic that was followed was apparently that when an entity leader was subject to de-Baathification the entire list should have its approval annulled; however the sole legal justification offered was a reference to an order issued by Paul Bremer in 2004 (CPA order 97) which gave the predecessor of the IHEC the right to basically cancel any political entity it wished to cancel – probably reflecting the absence of more plausible, precise and up-to-date legal justifications for establishing links between entity heads and their electoral lists in terms of de-Baathification. Importantly, when the IHEC first issued its decision, one did get the sense that the elections commission had come up with the idea itself, which would have been the most natural procedure since the CPA order relates to the election law that was in use in 2004 and 2005 and since it is the commission itself that is empowered by the CPA reference. But the newly released minutes reveal that the specific idea of reverting to a sweeping CPA edict in order to ban unwanted political entities came not from the IHEC but directly from the accountability and justice board!

In other words, the accountability and justice board is not merely influencing the IHEC. Rather, at times the board is capable of acting as the guardian of the “independent” commission, thinking on its behalf and supplying the very arguments that are being marshalled to defend its supposedly autonomous position. In this case, the brief summary of the relevant meeting on 18 January reveals in an unambiguous way the origin of the idea to use CPA order 97: “The assembly [of the IHEC] discussed letter 231 from the accountability and justice board dated 18 January, entitled ‘ban on participation’ and referring to section five of law number 97 on elections and political parties from 2004, and accordingly decided…” When this was later issued as a decision it looked like something that had been agreed by the IHEC. In reality, it was an accountability and justice board decision in everything but the name.

The shocking part of this is not that the IHEC is politicised; that is an open secret recognised by most Iraqis. The new element is that one particular political bloc – the Iraqi National Alliance – seems capable of pushing through its own view at the expense of others, thereby crushing any idea of a neutralising balance of power in this important body that is  incidentally also charged with counting the votes after the 7 March elections. The exact timing of the response to the decision by the appellate court last week is particularly interesting in this respect. Around 5 PM local time on Wedsnesday, the IHEC through its spokesman Khalid al-Shami had essentially set out its argument about the appeals court interfering in the prerogatives of the IHEC. Still at 7:30 PM, Hamdiyya al-Husayni of the IHEC (who is close to the Daawa), seemed to signal acceptance of the decision. But at 9:45 the Iraqi National Alliance issued its condemnation, which was followed later in the evening by a statement by one of its allies in the IHEC, Qasim al-Abbudi, to the effect that the commission had not even received the decision by the appeals court and that the apparent approval by Husayni merely reflected her “personal opinion”. Soon thereafter, the Daawa followed suit with its own condemnation, thereby once more effectively succumbing to the Iraqi National Alliance and its goal of having de-Baathification at the top of the political agenda ahead of the elections. The next day, the IHEC asked the supreme federal court for a clarification but this was superseded by a meeting of the “four presidencies”.

The discussion about the “independence” of the IHEC is of crucial importance to the next stage in the de-Baathification process for a number of reasons. Firstly, it has to be remembered that the rationale for the protest by the accountability and justice board and the Shiite Islamist parties against the appeals court was that the latter had supposedly “infringed” on the prerogatives of the IHEC by going as far as “permitting” participation instead of dealing with de-Baathification status only. It should now be perfectly clear that the accountability and justice board itself is guilty in this respect, not only of carrying out such infringement but moreover of doing it in a way that clearly serves the political ends of its leaders, who are affiliated with the main Shiite alliance. Secondly, this point will assume renewed importance when the appeals court issues its final decision over the coming two days – this time probably limited to the question of whether individual candidates are subject to de-Baathification or not. Already, there is divergence of opinion as to the consequences of a ruling by the appeals court. On the one hand, Ali al-Lami and others in the accountability and justice board have repeated their view that it is the job of the IHEC to make the final decision, and that the commission does not necessarily need to follow the appeals court ruling to the letter. Expressing the opposite point of view, Iraqiyya representatives say the ruling is binding upon the elections commission.

In view of what has now emerged with respect to the ability of the accountability and justice board to dictate the decisions of the IHEC on some occasions, it becomes more important than ever that the IHEC should follow the recommendation of the appeals court one hundred per cent. If not then the whole Iraqi process would become utterly farcical: What is the point of an appeals institution if the court that was overturned has the power to reinstate its original decision in the end by using its “independent” proxies? Under that kind of scenario, the new democracy in Iraq would become about as interesting and competitive as parliamentary elections are in Syria and Egypt.

16 Responses to “Chalabi and Lami Also Control the “Independent” Elections Commission”

  1. amagi said

    To what extent does the average Iraqi-on-the-street appear to understand what is transpiring?

  2. Reidar Visser said

    The legal aspects of this are certainly not top of the agenda in the Iraqi press, which mostly contents itself with quoting Iraqi politicians who compete in demanding an unspecified “constitutional” solution… Instead, other things are taking precedent, probably to the satisfaction of the de-Baathification crowd. Across Iraq, vigilante de-Baathification is reportedly on the rise, mostly led by Sadrists and the Iraqi National Alliance, but also with Maliki allies such as the governor of Baghdad joining the game and demanding “revenge for the past”… Recent developments mean we will have at least one more week of this nonsense, and probably more. It all serves to deflect attention from the failure of many of the leading parties to come up with convincing political agendas that relate to the real world and the future.

  3. amagi said

    I can’t believe this ploy has any chance of working, it just seems so incredibly blatant. How does Iraqiyya seem to be handling this, strategically speaking?

  4. Reidar Visser said

    I think Iraqiyya is doing well, clearly trying to rise above this witch hunt. But it must be difficult. Every day there is a new rumour about possible additional de-Baathification cases, and the way Baha al-Aaraji has taken the lead in going after Tareq al-Hashemi just tells you that these guys will stop at nothing. The challenge will be the next stage; particularly the question of whether the secular and nationalist parties will be able to get the debate back into meaningful politics. The Iraqi National Alliance clearly wants the de-Baathification hysteria to go as long as possible and preferrably until election day. Basically, apart from their common Shiite Islamist orientation, this is the only other issue that is keeping their list unified.

  5. Joe said


    Thanks for all the great updates.

    Following up on Amagi’s question, what feeling do you get for Iraqi Shia majority’s support (or lack thereof) for a nationalist government vis-a-vis the De-Baathification uproar? Is support (that we thought we saw a few weeks ago) for nationalist government among the populace waning?

  6. Reidar Visser said

    Joe, thanks for that, my sense is that an Iraqi nationalist attitude certainly survives among the Shiites at the popular level. But the parties that returned from exile after 2003 have been very succesful in establishing a kind of hegemony for the squeaky clean anti-Baathist message. The Sadrists accepted this even though many of their own had ties to the Baath in the past. Only Fadila for a while resisted and talked of national reconciliation in a more comprehensive way. However, since their dismal performance in the last local elections they too appear to be gravitating towards ISCI and Iran, their erstwhile enemies. So it is hard for many Shiites to stand up against this kind of pressure at the rhetorical level, even though hundreds of thousands of Shiites did work with the Baath. What we are seeing today in the south is that de-Baathification is being employed ad hoc to settle scores. I saw the education director somewhere, I think in Dhi Qar was abruptly de-Baathified the other day! I think the “silent” segment of the Shiite vote is very interesting – will they get intimidated by what is going on or will they participate and vote for parties like Iraqiyya and Unity of Iraq? The anti-Baathist demonstrations that we see today and that take up lots of space in the media are what the Shiite Islamist parties always wanted to see – a replay of 2005. I am still not convinced it is what the people want.

  7. amagi said

    What are the /real/ numbers of those demonstrators (I hear “hundreds” which is hardly a massive amount), and is it an organic spontaneous phenomenon or do you suspect they are just dupes getting bussed in or what have you?

    Sorry for all the questions. It seems as though there is practically no English language news coverage of the situation.

  8. Reidar,

    As always, thank you for keeping us informed.

    I think your question is a very good one: where will the “silent” Shiite vote fall?

    Gorrilla’s Guides points to an article by Fatih Abdulsalam published in Al-Zaman’s English edition with the following quote:

    “Not every member of the Baath party was loyal to Saddam Hussein or his policies. There is a big difference between “Saddamists” and “Baathists”. The commission is treating both the same way.

    This blunder has made every Baathist a Saddamist whether they like it or not. And who was not a member of the Baath party. Without registering in the Baath party, there was no possibility for getting a job. And the government was almost the sole employer.”

    My guess is that this awareness – and the concomitant recognition of the destructive potential of these politics – may be a stunt too far for the Islamist parties.

    There was also a very interesting quote from the NYT’s coverage of the recent Karbala bombings (assigned by western commentators as the work of Sunni terrorists, of course):

    ““The explosions are just for the elections so they can say that this party or that party failed to protect the people,” said one pilgrim, Abbas Nasser. “We know the game.””

    Interesting thinking.

  9. Reidar,
    Thank you for being at the cutting edge of Iraq’s political developments.
    You recently cited Eric Lynch’s coverage of Hashemi’s visit in which the telling punchline was:
    “One area where (the U.S.) absolutely should not waver is in its clear commitment to the SOFA and the withdrawal timeline”
    Such a rigid withdrawal deadline means virtually guaranteed legitimacy for the Iraqi government at the time, no matter how bad is the election. To my mind this position sets the bar of rejecting the elections very high for the U.S.
    What is your feeling, when will we reach the threshold for action?

  10. Joel Wing said

    Joe and Reidar,

    I think voting turnout will be low this year. The Shiite vote already dropped from 2005 to 2009. I think the Sunni vote in Anbar at least might also take a hit. I think the general reaction will be that the politicians that took power in the provincial elections last year haven’t done much, and now everyone is talking about this nonsense of Baathists, and the affect will be voter dissatisfaction with fewer going out to the polls. The nationalist vote will also be split amongst State of Law, Allawi, and Bolani’s list. Whatever government emerges will probably be a lot like the one in 2005 with a Shiite alliance, and the Kurds, and some token Sunnis. The twist will be whether Maliki will be able to hold on or whether he’ll get the boot.

  11. Reidar Visser said

    Amagi, I am not sure if the demos are particularly big, but they are certainly being used to good effect. I was watching Iraqiyya the other day and they were played over and over again, punctuated by reports from pilgrims returning from the “succesful” Arbain. So you get a sense of what sort of atmosphere is created…

    Almost all of the reports that I have seen seem to include some kind of role for the Shiite Islamist parties in organising these demonstrations. I am also concerned about reports of further ad hoc acts of de-Baathification in the local bureaucracy in Wasit and some mid-Euphrates governorates. Often these are made with references to the constitution that are simply lies, like this one from Amara:

    الدستور نص في احدى مواده وبشكل صريح بعدم عودة البعثيين لتبوء مناصب في الحكومة الجديدة

    The idea that Baathists “cannot have jobs in the new government” is nonsense. If that was the case, why is there an exceptional clause for the presidency council that its members should not have been Baath members in the period 1993-2003? Clearly, the intention was to enable Baathists to have other jobs at the top level of the new government.

    Steve, I agree that the distinction between Saddamists and Baathists seems to have currency among many Iraqis. The problem is that the AJ act of Jan 2008 does not distinguish between the two. This comes on top of the more fundamental problem that the AJ board violates the AJ act, by interpreting its remit to include de-Baathification beyond the membership ranks and position specified in clause 6 of the AJ act to also include more shadowy forms of support for the regime that are even harder to document, as well as allegations about revivalism.

    With respect to the conspiracy theory of the bombings, there was at least one report in the Washington Post the other day that a US military official suggested Iran might be behind them. The idea of Iran orchestrating attacks against Shiites for election purposes is dismissed by many American analysts (who also dismiss the idea that Iran can ever cooperate with AQ), so this was an interesting interpretation along lines that of course have beeen suggested earlier by many Iraqi nationalists, especially at the time of the August bombings (when Shahwani, the sacked intelligence chief, claimed that Iranian rather than Syrian hands were involved.)

    Faisal, I tend to agree with you on this. During the 2008 presidential campaign, there was some discussion in Democratic circles in the US to the effect that only genocidal tendencies could reverse the withdrawal. I see no reason why they should not add “massively fraudulent elections” to that set of conditions, which in turn would enhance US leverage. The de-Baathification scandal offers a plausible rationale for making that sort of change.

    Joel, only point I would like to add is that there seems to have been a tendency of Iraqiyya and Unity of Iraq closing ranks during the de-Baathification debate, and the Kurds have been more publicly ambivalent on this than on many other issues, suggesting that at least some of them may have second thoughts about the heavy Iranian influence that we are currently witnessing in the political process.

  12. Joel Wing said


    I read that the Basra and Baghdad protests were organized by the Dawa party. There was another march in Dhi Qar that was set up by the provincial Accountability and Justice Commission. The big parties are obviously behind these.


    the Kurds aren’t jumping on the Baathist bandwagon but that doesn’t mean they won’t join with te Shiite parties to run the govt. The nationalist forces are not going to get the votes to put together a government. The Kurds want power and influence in Baghdad which means they’re going to go with whoever has the votes. Plus Hakim And Maliki are both couring thr Kurds and talking about joining with them in another national unity government.

    As for the Kurds and Iran, they don’t mind their money. They have huge trade ties with Tehran.

  13. Reidar,
    The U.S. perhaps sees the coupling between Iraq and Afghanistan because an Iraqi troop withdrawal leads to Afghanistan re-deployment. IMHO The stronger coupling is between Iraq and Iran and there is more regional US policy action in the near future which will need re-consideration based on the Iraqi elections. What you and I are calling for is no more than a neutral position of precaution; a UN Rapporteur and a promise of status review have no commitment to changing withdrawal timelines, it simply re-affirms the role of the US as a trustee. If the US cannot make this affirmation then this will be interpreted as a resignation.

  14. Salah said

    What are the /real/ numbers of those demonstrators (I hear “hundreds” which is hardly a massive amount)

    Basra and Baghdad protests were organized by the Dawa party. There was another march in Dhi Qar

    Let read this about these demonstrators and how they organised, although the numbers doubted been big “thousands?

    يوم الأحد خرجت لنا وسائل الإعلام وهي تعلن عن مظاهرات حاشدة في البصرة ضد قرارات المحكمة التمييزية البعض اعلن عن وجود العشرات والأخر المئات وبعضها الآلاف وقد وصفها محافظ البصرة الدعوجي شلتاغ الشلتوغي بالمليونية وإذ تبادر إلى الأذهان في هذه المظاهرة الدعوجية إنها تشبه تماما التظاهرات التي كان ينفذها حزب البعث المقبور وبنفس الوسائل والأساليب حيث تم إجبار الموظفين العاملين في ديوان محافظة البصرة وفي مجلس المحافظة على المشاركة الإجبارية مع التوقيع على هذا الحضور الإجباري ومن يتخلف يتعرض إلى عقوبات الفصل وقد حدثت مناوشات عديدة بين مسؤولي الأمن بالمحافظة مع الكثير من الموظفين الذين انتقدوا هذا الأمر ووصفوه بعودة البعثية من جديد وقد شاهدنا خروج اغلب الموظفين الذين لم يتسلموا راتبهم لحد الآن للمشاركة قسرا في التظاهرة رغم إن لاناقة لهم ولا جمل

  15. Salah said

    they’re going to go with whoever has the votes.

    Yap, that’s why Hakim have arranged with Kurds to ” Steal” more votes, puting Jalal Al-Saqer as a candidates in Dohok and other Kurds majority cities! which very uncommon to get more votes from Kurds area.

    anyway the rigging highly expating in next election wait and you be informed then.

  16. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, just a minor point: Saghir is not in Dahuk in order to win votes, but to win a seat – a compensation seat. Compensation seats are allotted to the party leaderships who in turn give them to their friends, so you can become an MP with zero votes. Some of the current ISCI deputies received no more than a couple of hundred votes in 2005 (Rida Jawad Taqi, I think in Anbar, for example.)

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