Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Secret Election Manifesto

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 25 February 2010 18:58

We are barely a week away from the 7 March parliamentary elections in Iraq, but the electoral campaign just does not seem to be going anywhere useful.

In line with predictions, the Iraqi National Alliance seems determined to keep the de-Baathification issue on the agenda all the way down to the wire. They keep prodding their allies in the governorates to push the issue, thereby perpetuating a climate of fear where few civil servants may feel safe about their positions. Just today, it was announced that 10 professors at the University of Karbala had been singled out for exclusion in the name of de-Baathification. Earlier, it was reported that the all-important South Oil Company – the keystone of Iraq’s oil-based economy – had similarly been targeted for additional de-Baathification. Large numbers of competent professionals that are vital to maintaining decent output levels in Iraq’s struggling oil industry are at risk because of the insistence of the Iraqi National Alliance to push a fear-oriented agenda that was hatched in exile in Iran and is now being rolled out across Iraq.

The dynamic at work here has the hallmarks of sophisticated political bullying, and creates a quandary for the nationalist and secularist forces that are being targeted. If they seek to simply ignore the de-Baathification hardliners, they run the risk of being seen as passive losers. Conversely, if they engage in criticism, the goal of their opponents to keep the issue on the agenda will ultimately be achieved as well, since the debate will simply continue on the same track. Absent any kind of strong international condemnation, it will be exceedingly difficult for those political entities that have been targeted in the de-Baathification process to bring the whole campaign atmosphere back to a more sensible and constructive level.

In this way, the de-Baathification hardliners are able to use their pet issue as a convenient cover for the lack of more coherent political programmes for how to address the important challenges that Iraq will face in the future. What has yet to receive attention, though, is that despite their current uncommunicativeness on more specific political issues, many of the biggest Iraqi parties have in fact already issued a manifesto about where they want to take the country: The final report of the constitutional review committee was put together last autumn with the support of many of the biggest parties, including the Kurdistan list, the Iraqi National Alliance and Tawafuq. This report represents the minimum that at least the majority of the constitutional review committee (and possibly all the members that took part in the last meetings) could agree on. Back in 2007, the work of the committee had run into difficulties over Shiite–Kurdish disagreement about arrangements for the oil sector; what we currently have is therefore a watered-down version where most controversial issues have simply been left aside. For some time, there were even rumours that a vote on this package would be attempted before the 2010 elections, but with the prolonged debate on the election law that particular ambition seemed to gradually fade away. Nonetheless, for a while the document was promoted quite actively, not least by the chairman of the constitutional review committee, Humam al-Hamudi of the Iraqi National Alliance – the number one “de-Baathification list”.

Much of the revisions are entirely useless. For example, there is a new article 3 which states that the “state should strive to achieve peace and growth”, and that “the peace of the homeland is the responsibility of everyone”. There is even a remark in the margin to the effect that this wonderful innovation is a last-minute addition which requires the consent of the whole committee! Among the few substantial changes to the first part of the constitution is the new article on personal status law (now article 58), which removes any possibility for secular alternatives by unequivocally prescribing the use of religious law in this sphere.

The major new addition is the creation of a second chamber in parliament (starting with article 81). According to the draft, this new institution will consist of two members from each governorate (regardless of whether the governorate is organised in a federal region or not), except that Baghdad will have four representatives – this should mean 38 senators altogether. The members will be elected at the same time as the parliament and the sessions of the two institutions will be concurrent; there will also be 5 additional members to be appointed jointly by the president and the premier on the basis of their “expertise” as well as considerations relating to the representation of the “elements” of the Iraqi people (in this context code for micro-minorities).The powers of the second chamber are not well specified, and appear to add further contradictions to the Iraqi constitutional framework. For example, in article 94 the senate is given the prerogative of initiating legislation that is specifically related to the governorates and the federal regions: This provision seems to be at odds with the basic idea of the existing constitution of residual powers for the governorates and federal regions in everything not specified as the exclusive competence of the central government or a shared area (where presumably the existing parliament legislates). More unequivocally, the senate will review laws passed by the parliament and can send them back for reconsideration within 15 days with a simple majority. However, the parliament can adopt the law as long as it first “considers” the grounds for rejection by the senate. In sum, the proposed second chamber is not a particularly strong body, although it certainly carries the potential for creating further hitches in the Iraqi legislative process. Compared to the presidential council that has existed since 2005 but will expire after 7 March it is nonetheless progressive, both in terms of the basis of its membership (popular election in the governorates; no explicit ethno-sectarian formulas), as well as its more dynamic role (providing criticism instead of a blank veto).

Another interesting change is the rules for adopting a law for the federal supreme court, outlined in the new article 125. The new procedure places the initiative for nominating candidates to the court with the premier and the president (again, jointly), and, importantly, removes the supermajority requirement for the passage of a law implementing these provisions (it used to be two-thirds; it is now a simple majority). Also, the law unequivocally provides for constitutional review of laws and constitutions passed by federal regions and governorates, thereby making them explicitly subject to the constitutional requirement for conformity with Islamic law.

Optimists had expected that the meatiest changes in the revision process would come in the definition of the powers of the central government, but it is noteworthy that in this draft hardly anything has changed from the exceedingly weak status accorded to Baghdad in 2005. Rather obvious areas like civil aviation are now formally a central-government prerogative, as are the environment and migration issues. But nothing has changed with respect to key questions concerning the administration of the oil sector.

Instead, article 188 provides the clearest expression of the mindset of the drafters of the revised constitution. In it, the three-man, ethno-sectarian presidency council that will expire in a few weeks is given an extended period of life, stipulated to last until the first senate has been elected (although not more than one parliamentary cycle). In other words, under these arrangements, Iraqis would get at least four more years of formal muhasasa or ethno-sectarian power-sharing, with the concomitant potential of legislative deadlock caused by disagreement between the powerful members of the presidency council. It is perfectly conceivable that this kind of arrangement could lead to further postponement on key legislative projects like those related to the oil sector.

In sum, the parties behind this proposal wanted to strengthen religious law in Iraq, keep Baghdad weak, and perpetuate the Bremerian model of government of oversized governments of national unity and strong presidential vetoes at least until 2015. Today, when everyone talks about “unity” and being a “nationalist”, the draft for a revised constitution may serve as a more faithful manifesto of where parties like the Kurdistan alliance, the Iraqi National Alliance and Tawafuq really want to go. The interesting thing is the position of two of the minority parties on the constitutional committee that are today considered among the strongest candidates for providing the next premier of Iraq: Daawa and Iraqiyya. In terms of getting the political debate back on track, perhaps issues like these could be a useful vantage point for Iraqiyya, which traditionally has had a firm nationalist position on constitutional issues. And what about the Daawa, whose centralism and resistance to power-sharing has sometimes put them at odds with fellow Shiite Islamists? Recent reports from Iraq say that the accountability and justice board is now attacking high-level security officials that have ties to Maliki, possibly with the aim of marginalising him as a future premier; is this the point where Maliki might finally wake up and reverse his position on the de-Baathification disaster?

21 Responses to “The Secret Election Manifesto”

  1. “The dynamic at work here has the hallmarks of sophisticated political bullying”

    If Iraq were a true democracy then sophisticated political bullying should not lead to quandary but to opportunity for the opposition. It looks like the ruling regime is acting presidential, these people (legislators?) are not worried about losing their job. This is not what democracy is all about, yet we have a US administration that doesn’t see the writing on the wall.

  2. Joel Wing said

    You almost completely left Maliki and the State of Law off the hook for the provinces’ new anti-Baath campaign. Baghdad was the first province to call for their own A&J committee and that was done by the governor and head of the provincial council, both of which are from the State of Law.

    Some other provincial councils that have taken actions against alleged Baathists are:
    Basra – Governor and head of council – State of Law
    Najaf – Governor and head of council – State of Law
    Karbala – Governor -State of Law
    Qadisiyah – Governor and head of council – State of Law
    Dhi Qar – Governor – State of Law

    The others like Muthanna and Babil are run by members of the National Alliance.

  3. bb said

    Are the Kurds represented on the constitutional committee?

  4. haider said

    dear reidar,

    what happened to the referendum that was due to be held with the elections on us troops withdrawal, its disappeared from the news

  5. Reidar Visser said

    First, apologies for the slow moderation; I have been travelling.

    Joel, just to clarify, I have been criticising State of Law for their actions in the provinces for several weeks, for example a couple of weeks ago here:

    and before that in the comments section.

    Anyway, maybe what you refer to is my singling out of INA as the number one de-Baath party. I stand by that; based mainly on the sequencing of all of this. Briefly, March 2009, Daawa-Mutlak rapprochement; ISCI/Iran immediately starts attacking Maliki for being soft on Baathists. Similarly, last January, the initiative came from Chalabi/Lami/INA; Maliki followed after. On the day the first appeals ruling (the postponement) was published, SOL was many hours after INA with condemning it and it looked as if they were having a hard time making up their mind. Of course, some of Maliki’s people are all-out hardliners and the Baghdad governor is certainly one of them. But note that only a year ago, the governor of Babel, with the support of Maliki, nominated Witwit as deputy governor; ISCI stormed out of the assembly. Finally, many of the mid-Euphrates governors are technically speaking independents whose allegiances have switched between INA and SOL over the past year. Maliki is still seen by many Iraqis as far more pragmatic than INA and I wanted to highlight the contradiction between these pragmatic tendencies and the almost hysterical position adopted by some Daawa leaders on the de-Baathification more recently.

    Bb, of course the Kurds are amply (and proportionally!) represented on the CRC.

    Haider, as you say, the SOAS referendum just “disappeared”. I suspect all the established parties reckoned it would only give the Sadrists an extra boost to have the referendum…

  6. Jason Gluck said

    Reidar, I think there is a far less cynical explanation for the modest proposals in the final CRC package than a conspiracy to perpetuate an impotent central state based on confessionalism. In the first place, the CRC tried to make significant additions to the powers of the federal government (including paramountcy of federal law over regional law in matters of oil) but these changes were rejected by the KRG and if included in the final recommendations would guarantee rejection of the entire package of amendments. (The package of amendments must be given one “yes/no” vote in Parliament and then again via referendum, which fails if it does not pass by 2/3rd majority in 3 or more provinces, like the 2005 Constitution, thus giving Kurdistan an effective veto). Though it’s unfortunate the “political kitchen” did not make a greater effort to reach a compromise on these central issues (they still could), it is understandable that the CRC did not make the perfect the enemy of the good and decided to press on with the more modest proposals — many of which, as you point out, are still significant improvements over the status quo. One more note — I’m surprised you characterized the disagreements over oil as “Shiite-Kurdish” when they are more correctly described as “Arab-Kurdish.” The meeting of the minds of Sunni and Shia over oil (and a stronger central government!) as articulated in the first draft proposal submitted by the CRC to the CoR in May 2007 (and drafted in Humam al-Hamudi’s office) is one of the most significant political developments of the past 3 years. Again, I simply don’t see the multi-party conspiracy against Baghdad.

    As for the continuation of the Presidency Council — at this early stage in its political development Iraq stills needs a space for the major constituencies to come together, discuss key issues, and reach agreement. The Presidency Council has served this function admirably — even if at times it comes at the cost of political gridlock. The Federation Council might someday serve this function on a geographic basis — but not now and not soon. The irony is that it while the stalled CRC amendments means the Federation Council won’t be formed in time for the next parliamentary term, so too does it mean there can be no formal extension of the Presidency Council. As you’ve noted in a recent post — Iraq is about to find out the nature of majoritarian politics without the safety net of a Presidency Council veto.

  7. bb said

    Thanks! Correct proportions I hope.

    Is my impression correct that the Kurds aren’t on the accountability and justice commission or on the parliamentary committee that oversees it? My interest is in ascertaining how much interest the Kurds have in those issues.

    btw – I like the development of an Iraqi senate, but of course first past the post voting is very easy to corrupt!

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, I can certainly sympathise with the general idea of having some kind of stabilising supermajority arrangements in a transitional period; I’m just not sure whether the presidency council is right for this, and whether it can be credited with having played such a positive role during its short history. For example, with its strong veto powers, it has certainly played a certain role (if not an exclusive role) in making the passage of an oil law all the less likely. Similarly, back in February 2008 it was transformed into an instrument of raw party interests, when Talabani and Abd al-Mahdi tried to use it to postpone local elections indefinitely – I know you know, but I think it needs mention in this context! In fact, had it not been for Dick Cheney, they probably would have gone ahead with the veto and there would have been no local elections in January 2009. (For an old article on those developments, see )

    Arab-Kurdish, absolutely, I just used the words “Shiite–Kurdish conflict” simply to create a contrast since 2007 was in many other respects very much about “Shiite-Kurdish cooperation”.

    Finally, for sure, KRG opposition was and remains important for the delay of the whole project, but in my view the conspiracy was to press ahead nevertheless with these mostly cosmetic changes and call it the constitutional reform. After all, article 142 is a one-shot thing with a lowered threshold for passage in the chamber (instead of the usual supermajority required for constitutional changes) and with the theoretical possibility of having a stab at all and any articles in the charter for 2005 (some of them enjoy a higher level of protection under ordinary constitutional-review rules). True, there is a Kurdish veto at the level of a referendum, but I am not a second in doubt that if a revised bill were to be rejected in three Kurdish governorates then the rest of Iraq would start seriously reconsidering the usefulness of holding on to the Kurdish connection any longer.

  9. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, very briefly, I cannot name the Kurds on the AJ board although I am sure there are some; there is a PUK guy if I remember correctly among the top three positions in the AJ parliamentary committee and he also sits on the three-man special parliamentary sub-committee devoted to de-Baathification affairs. On the whole, it is my very general impression (for I know almost nothing about internal Kurdish politics!) that they have taken a somewhat more pragmatic approach to de-Baathification, certainly in their own ranks, but have ultimately fallen into line with the AJ board in recent months.

  10. Jason Gluck said

    Agreed that the Presidency Council has been a mixed bag. But, to take your point about the obstructed oil law, for certain existential matters (like oil) I’d rather the safeguard of forced consensus than a majority passed law that backslides Iraq into civil war — especially while Iraq is so politically fragile. Reasonable minds can disagree on this.

    Whether a failed referendum would be the catalyst for the rest of Iraq to write off Kurdistan — with all its geopolitical and economic ramifications — is a topic I’d love you to explore in greater depth.

  11. bb said

    “I’d rather the safeguard of forced consensus than a majority passed law that backslides Iraq into civil war ”

    Holds true for all the laws not just oil imo, and has been the raison d’etre behind the whole apparatus, going back to the TAL.

  12. Joel Wing said


    I don’t know about Kurdish representation on the A&J Commission, or the committee in parliament, but the Kurds have basically come out in support of the bannings. Early on a Kurdish Alliance member in parliament said that it was right to ban Baathists and that the Al-Hadbaa party in Ninewa should be included. On Feb. 13 the Kurdish Alliance also came out in support of the A&J Committee and said all the other parties in parliament should do the same.

  13. bb said

    On the English version of the Alsamuria website there is a video of an Allawi election speech which is captioned “Iraqi Former Prime Minister and Al Iraqiya List leader Iyad Allawi warned of hard sanctions against his political allies who prove to be involved in Iraqi killings.”
    What is this referring to?

  14. Reidar Visser said

    Probably just the statement by the AJ committee that they want to prosecute Mutlak for alleged criminal offenses. In general, many of the English-language sections of Iraq news sites are just Google-based automatic translations and can often create more confusion than information.

  15. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, my personal view is that it is better that there is an open, public debate on these issues instead of four more years of backroom dealing within the presidency council. After all, this is basically about the question of whether Iraq should be a confederation or a federation. The Kurds want the former, with the only role of the central government to send them a pay-check with revenue from the Basra oilfields every month. Most other Iraqis generally accept the idea of Kurdish autonomy but think that at least in the oil sector there should be a role for the central government – otherwise there would be no glue to hold the federation together since Baghdad would have no other role vis-à-vis the Kurds than sending them money. The presidency council allows the Kurds to go on with their contradictive position of demanding confederation (and threatening with secession) even though they know that even the most optimistic geological estimates will leave them as the junior partner in terms of oil reserves. An open debate in relation to the constitutional revision or in the next government (without the presidency council serving as an obstacle) would call the Kurdish bluff, bring these aspects into the open and I think generate realism on all sides.

  16. Joe said

    Reidar, you make a salient point (and have several times) regarding the lack of international condemnation for the de-Ba’athification process. But in the international community’s defense, what kind of condemnation can we reasonably expect to hear that wouldn’t come across to the Iraqi electorate as implicit or explicit support of the Ba’ath Party? There must be a way, but at the same time the international comminity may deem it wiser (and probably has) to ‘take the high road’ on this one and not risk angering the Iraqi electorate more. Additionally, what is your take on Maliki’s re-instatement of some 20,000 former regime military members? Struck me as an attempt to counterbalance some of the negative attention SOL has recieved (from the Sunni constituency mainly) due to the de-Ba’athification process.

  17. “what kind of condemnation can we reasonably expect to hear that wouldn’t come across to the Iraqi electorate as implicit or explicit support of the Ba’ath Party?”
    Joe, I would like to support your argument, I believe condemnation by the international community of de-Baathification per se is risky the way you described. I expected international encouragement for wider participation by focusing on the possibility of fraud, by answering the question: What will the US and the international community do if massive fraud is confirmed?
    Right now, many Iraqis don’t see a clear international position, therefore they assume that the perpetrators of de-Baathification will get away with fraud like they got away with de-Baathification, and many will decide not vote.

  18. Reidar Visser said

    Joe, my view is that it would have been unproblematic to criticise the de-Baathification process if the focus had been on the purely legal aspect instead of trying to approach it as a problem of the exclusion of a particular sect or political current. The key question should be how can exclusions be made under article 7 of the constitution when there is no law implementing that article? Period. But instead the US response degenerated into muttering about the Iranian ties of Lami and Chalabi, which in isolation does come across as both somewhat impotent (when, as Faisal says, they do not use leverage to establish links between the democratic quality of these elections and future US support) as well as reductionist (after all, most of INA is linked to Iran). Washington has been unable to convey the message that this is about due process rather than being pro or anti Mutlak.

    I agree that the latest move by Maliki could make sense in the perspective you mention, except that I have the feeling that it may be too late to repair the damage caused by statements & actions by other Daawa figures over the past few weeks.

  19. bb said

    Going by the candidates lists, how have ISCI/Sadrists and Chalabi’s INC proportionately divvied up the seats between themselves?

  20. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, I wrote an article about that back in January, see

  21. Salah said

    Another way for rigging next election….

    حذرت منظمات مدنية و شخصيات مستقلة من ما وصفوه بالصفقة المبرمة بين الحكومة و المفوضية العليا المستقلة للانتخابات في العراق، بعد استحداث مراكز انتخابية غير المراكز المتعارف عليها أطلق على تسميتها “مراكز الحركة السكانية”.

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