Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Iskandar Witwit Reinstated in Babel; Most Others Still Excluded

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 13 February 2010 21:30

Rather than publishing the names of the hundreds of candidates that in the end were excluded with reference to de-Baathification, the Iraqi elections commission (IHEC) today contented itself with releasing a list of 26 politicians whose appeals were successful and who have been reinstated as candidates.

Perhaps the most prominent of these is Iskandar Witwit, an Iraqiyya candidate in Babel where he already serves as deputy governor. While his reinstatement in itself is perhaps a small piece of good news, the complexities of his case just add to the worrying picture of a situation in Iraq where the rule of law no longer exists. To start with, no one knows why the de-Baathification committee tried to exclude Witwit in the first place, since it generally does not publish the reasons for its decisions. According to information that is in the public domain, Witwit was a general in the Iraqi army before 2003 and a low-ranking Baath member  of the ‘udw ‘amil category – this is often (correctly) translated to English as “active member” but it should be noted that the expression refers to a particular category of (low-ranking) membership and does not in itself connote a high level of activity in (or affection for) the Baath party. Given his low rank and his apparent affiliation with the ordinary army rather than with any of the special security services it seems unclear why he should be even considered for de-Baathification under the accountability and justice law of January 2008 (although the combination of low-ranking Baath membership and a job in the security forces would have made him subject to de-Baathification under Paul Bremer’s CPA order no. 1 from 2003).

So we don’t know why an attempt was made to de-Baathify Witwit, nor do we know why his appeal, unlike that of most others, was successful. What we do know, however, is that pending the decision by the appeals court, friends of Nuri al-Maliki in the provincial administration in Babel went ahead and de-Baathified him anyway! Last week he was summarily relieved of his duty as deputy governor and orders issued by him were annulled.  The remarkable thing is that these actions were reportedly justified with a reference to a government decision that members on his (junior) level would henceforth be prevented from working in high positions in the local administration. Not only would this abrupt dismissal by the local executive represent a blatant breach of the principles of due process and the separation of the powers. It would also specifically contradict the new principles of de-Baathification that were adopted in January 2008.

The number of successful appeals – 26 – is the same as that reported by Iraqi media last Thursday night (28) when the outcome of the appeals first broke in the shape of an announcement concerning the fate of two specific candidates – in itself a rather extraordinary kind of procedure. But other than that, everything appears to be in flux. Earlier in the week, in a much-overlooked statement, Khalid al-Shami of the accountability and justice board said only 37 appeals would be upheld at most, since the rest had been submitted according to the wrong procedure. This in itself would be rather scandalous, since the IHEC itself violates the regulation to which the procedures he referred to applies (by using the special de-Baathification appeals court instead of the prescribed legal body for elections issues). Another fascinating aspect concerns the fate of entire lists. The IHEC has earlier announced a ban on 9 lists with reference to CPA order 97. Today, all of a sudden, some members of the accountability and justice committee in parliament said the lists remained banned; others in the legal committee claimed the bans were now “personal” and the lists had been unbanned. So did the IHEC all of a sudden change its position?

15 Responses to “Iskandar Witwit Reinstated in Babel; Most Others Still Excluded”

  1. Joe said


    It’s incredibly impressive how well you are able to keep track of all of the competing regulations, and how the A&J Board and IHEC have selectively applied different clauses from different regulations. As you have laid out in no lack of detail, the A&J Board and IHEC seem to have abused their own legal framework. My understanding is greatly enhanced by your work.

    At what point do those of us watching this process stop applying external evaluations and simply say, “It’s the Iraqi system, and ultimately it is the Iraqis who have to define it and live in it?”

    This is not to discount the “miscarriage of justice” that you write about in your previous post (and this one). I agree with you, and fear for the day when another despot’s rise to power is enabled by the current dubious legal interpretations, which can become a vehicle for usurpation of power (in fact perhaps that is what is already happening).

    Am just trying to offer the counterpoint, which is this: since the current Iraqi constitution was written and passed under external influence, it stands to reason that at some point, for the Iraqi democratic experiment to stand on its own, it will have to interpret and apply this constitution on its own, and perhaps that is what we are seeing now.

    Of course much will be explained by the March 7 election and subsequent seating of government. Either way your observations and analysis do much to further overall understanding. Thanks again.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Joe, thanks, and your points are well taken. I would say the international community should resign when Iraq has had just one – 1 – truly democratic contest that can be described as fully free and fair. Back in 2005, the forces that had abruptly risen to power in the chaotic post-2003 situation still held too much power (and influenced the process too much through their design of the election system and the government structures) to call the elections truly democratic. Even the frequently-held contention that “80% of the Iraqi people approved the constitution” has proved itself to be meaningless. Sistani said he had reservations concerning the constitution back then (even as he gave the green light for a “Yes” vote) and people like Nuri al-Maliki last year admitted that the constitution had been adopted in a chaotic atmosphere and needed to get fixed.

    I see these upcoming elections as the last chance for the international community to send some signals that fraudulent elections (including continued machinations by the AJ board) will not be accepted; if not then things are going to look rather similar to the “elections” that we saw next door in Iran in 2009.

  3. Reidar,
    The enemies of democracy in Iraq are masters of flying under the radar, your comments are a welcome light to expose shady practices.
    So what if the Iraqi elections were a re-run of the Iranian elections in 2009? There is so much desire to keep the withdrawal timeline on the American side that whatever we say would seem like sensationalism, so I will only say that an Iranian style election re-play will make nonsense out of the intended sanctions against Iran. There may also be turmoil and more anti-Americanism in Iraq but this could be classified under Joe’s description “It’s the Iraqi system”.

  4. bb said

    Faisal Kadri

    The Iranian election was an election for its president, not for its parliament. The Iranian presidential electoral system is very easy to defraud if the incumbent regime has the mind to.

    Iraq has a parliamentary system, the same as Canada and UK. It’s elections are for the parliament. Furthermore its PR electoral system is very hard to rig, which is why it is the UN preferred model.

    Why do you persist in comparing the two?

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, again I wonder whether you may be paying too much attention to the technical differences between the two election systems. To my mind, the truly big picture has to do with the increasing similarities between Iraq and Iran at the regime level, especially in terms of arbitrary use of the judicial system and other parts of the state apparatus to exclude political opponents.

  6. Bb,
    I think it is naive to assert that the Iraqi PR system is very hard to rig.

  7. bb said

    R – my point is not to do with your “big picture” – which is another issue entirely and on which, btw, I recognise your concerns but believe you are exaggerating.

    my concern is that comparing presidential elections in Iran and Afghanistan with parliamentary Iraq is not comparing like with like. If the Iraqi “regime” as you call it, decided to commit widespread ballot fraud a la Iran they would find it very difficult (a) because it is an election for the full parliament (b) ballot fraud on a decisive scale is hard to do under Iraq’s electoral system because of the large numbers of votes (100000s) that would have to appear or disappear or both and (c) logic. Why would the “regime” actually flood Anbar, Saluhhudin and Ninewah with fake ballots for the sake of a few extra seats?

    when the Iraqi “regime” throws out the parliamentary system and PR and returns to a presidency like in the Ba’ath days, that’s when I’ll start getting worried.

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Well Bb, once more you seem to bring in another and quite separate factor which is the relative strength of the president within the executive. Again, a presidential system is not the “opposite” of one that happens to use a PR distribution formula for its parliamentary elections. Presidential systems vary with respect to the power of the president. They also have parliamentary elections which may or may not follow a PR fomula, France being an example of a country with a strong president and at the same time experiments with PR in the parliamentary elections at times in its history.

    In other words, a PR system cannot immunise against shifts in the balance of power within the executive, nor can it guarantee the absence of fraud. Pre-WW II Costa Rica is an example that comes to mind, and if I remember correctly I think I have seen similar accounts concerning Chile.

  9. Yehya said

    I just like to add something to the controversial decision made by the AJC in DeBaathifiying Iskandar Wit Wit, Back in 1991 when the Iraqi Army withdrew from Kuwait and the people in the southern provinces started the insurgency against the regime, Iskandar Wit Wit and because he was an officer in the army at those days, he was one of the main who led the insurgency, after it was put down and the Iraqi Special forces took control of the situation he (Iskandar Wit Wit) managed to leave the country to Iran and then to an unknown destination!!!
    I think this incedent alone should make him not only Deputy of the governor but the governor himself.

  10. Salah said

    “started the insurgency against the regime”
    Humm, “insurgency” killing Iraqi Army officer who flee the war zone in a disarrange withdraw back from Kuwait, in many cites and districts burning land authority offices, burning Supper markets ( الاسواق المركزية) or burning Public hospitals, looting official offices assets all that some coming here and calling these unlawful acts a “insurgency against the regime” !! Which regime you talking about?
    Are these acts having any lawful value? Those are looters and terrorists.
    managed to leave the country to Iran and then to an unknown destination!!!
    7 years past and your friend still not telling where he hiding? Why and why could you explain to us?
    Why he worry to say the truth about his past and his “to an unknown destination”?

  11. Salah said

    Yehya, Check Sheikh Muhammad story

  12. bb said

    Be fair. I always cite the parliamentary system as opposed to presidential so how can it be said am introducing something new.

    As you well know Iran, Afgha had elections for presidents, not parliaments, with very limited number of candidates which made vote fraud very easy. In Afgha’s case the fraud was the appearance of thousands of votes in areas where the voters hadn’t turned out much at all due to security issues; in Iran it is quite possible that the regime simply fabricated the results. As such neither can be compared to the far more complex Iraq PR parliamentary election next month, after which the Prime Minister and Cabinet must command the support of the COR before he/it can govern.

    “nor can it (PR) guarantee the absence of fraud.”

    Of course it doesn’t guarantee. Have never said that. But PR makes it much more difficult because of the massive number of votes that have to be fabricated and/or made to disappear in order to substantially alter the proportions. Again, that is one of the reasons it is the UN’s preferred model.

    Pre WW2 Costa Rica? Chile – is this pre 1973? In any case, Costa Rica and Chile have presidential systems, not parliamentary.

    fwiw: I prefer the parliamentary system for Iraq and indeed for other middle eastern countries because it breaks the “strong man” paradigm whih so often has led to dictatorship and autocracy.

  13. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, you said: “In any case, Costa Rica and Chile have presidential systems, not parliamentary.”

    That is where the mix-up of political regime type and elections system becomes problematic. So those systems can be labelled as presidential ones because of the strong presidential executive; nonetheless they evidently have both parliaments and parliamentary elections, and happen to use (or have used) proportional representation. Moreover, we know that there has been a problem of fraud in those proportional elections.

    Now , it would be a bit of a stretch to contend that it is the strong executive that enabled fraud to take place in those cases. After all, the architecture and strength of the executive is a separate variable that may look different even within the same system over time. Typically, in parliamentary systems, there are complaints when prime ministers are beginning to look “too presidential”, which was indeed a charge used against Nuri al-Maliki in relation to the proposal of a law on electoral behaviour late last year. If such temporal fluctuations are sufficient to raise the probability of fraud in a country then the insulation offered by the PR system really isn’t particularly robust.

    My whole point is that we would do great disservice to the vision of democracy in Iraq if we failed to diagnose potential problems that are not immediately identifiable with reference to the crude PR/majoritarian and presidential/parliamentary dichotomies.

  14. bb said

    Am having difficulty in finding information about widespread PR electoral fraud in pre-WW2 Costa Ric and pre-1973 Chile? Can you provide more detail, or better still provide more recent examples eg post 1990?

  15. Reidar Visser said

    This blog emphatically does not aim to be a main provider of info on examples of widespread PR electoral fraud in pre-WW2 Costa Rica or indeed anywhere in the Americas. You will tend to get quicker and fuller answers if you ask Google instead. But as a one-off: For Costa Rica, try Lehoucq/Jimenez: Stuffing the Ballot Box: Fraud, Electoral Reform and Democratization in Costa Rica (2002).

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