Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for June, 2010

Article 140 Returns to the Iraqi Political Agenda

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 30 June 2010 1:34

Amid an increasing number of meetings between State of Law and Iraqiyya, it is interesting that there is increasing debate about the stance of the two sides on an issue that could potentially unite them: Article 140 of the constitution relating to so-called “disputed territories”, including most importantly Kirkuk.

Some of this discussion has reflected continued disappointment among Iraqi nationalists about what was perceived as a “soft” (i.e. pro-Kurdish) stance by the State of Law alliance (SLA) headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki during the debate on the election law last autumn, when their failure to argue for more robust measures against perceived Kurdish heavy-handedness in controlling the elections in Kirkuk was seen as a reversion to the “old politics” of 2005-2007 with Shiites and Kurds united in an ethno-sectarian alliance against Sunnis. However, there are now also growing signs of another – and opposite – trend within State of Law: Attempts to reassure voters that there will be no “sell-out” as far as Kirkuk is concerned, which is pretty much what many Iraqiyya politicians also demand.

One example of this is Sadiq al-Kaabi of State of Law, who recently told reporters that SLA would rather be in the opposition than do a bargain on 140. Kaabi, who currently has a leading position at the new Najaf airport, has an interesting background: Like many in Daawa, he spent long years in exile, but instead of staying in Iran, he completed his education in Cairo and Beirut, thus clearly preferring the environment of the Arab world. In the 1990s he lived in Syria (also like Nuri al-Maliki).

There is nothing new in this. After all, divisions within the old all-Shiite alliance precisely on issues like 140 and Kirkuk were instrumental in bringing about its demise, with Fadila and Sadrists joining Iraqiyya and Hiwar in the 22 July front, and with Maliki adopting many items on the 22 July agenda when he eventually chose to challenge the more pro-Kurdish ISCI in the January 2009 local elections. But it is interesting that these issues should come to the forefront again at this particular time, after de-Baathification had threatened to kill any prospects of the kind of inter-sectarian alliances based on Iraqi nationalism that were seen in 2008 and 2009.

Posted in Iraqi nationalism, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories | 26 Comments »

The Khalilzad-DNO Affair and the Galbraith Parallels

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 24 June 2010 15:14

The recent nomination of the former US ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, to a position on the board of DNO, a Norwegian private company engaged in oil deals in Kurdistan, has already generated big headlines. Part of the reason is that following Peter Galbraith, Khalilzad is the second key US figure involved in constitutional issues during the years 2003–2005 to acquire business interests in Kurdistan. Continued disagreement between the Kurds and Baghdad over supremacy and governance issues in the oil sector makes this kind of dual involvement into a particularly touchy area.

Certain parallels to Peter Galbraith do exist in this case, but the differences also remain considerable. In the first place, the timing of Khalilzad’s involvement with DNO seems somewhat tidier. Khalilzad quit his diplomatic mission in Iraq in 2007 and his involvement with DNO started after that date (and only became formalised recently after he was nominated for the DNO board by the Emirati company RAK, which has a big stake in DNO shares). Conversely, Peter Galbraith continued to advise the Kurds during the constitutional negotiations in August 2005 even after he had started receiving money from DNO and had also acquired his “stake” in the Tawke oil project.

Secondly, to the extent that he is known to have had any direct impact on legal frameworks directly relating to the oil sector, Khalilzad was unsuccessful. Khalilzad failed in his offensive to getting a package of oil legislation passed in early 2007; Galbraith, by way of contrast, was successful in obtaining constitutional accept for many of the principles he authored in late 2003 and early 2004 about regional influence in the oil sector (or at least a sufficient degree of legal ambiguity to create problems for Baghdad). In fact, the parts of the Iraqi constitution with which Khalilzad is most clearly associated are the last-minute amendments that were designed to encourage participation in Sunni Muslim areas in the 15 October 2005 constitutional referendum, including, importantly, the key point about a one-off batch of constitutional revisions with no supermajorities required in parliament (which of course could ultimately reverse everything the Kurds have been dreaming of with respect to regional influence in the oil sector and, in a worst-case scenario for DNO, the business prospects with which Khalilzad has now become associated).

The closest parallel to Galbraith is probably the fact that both he and Khalilzad appear happy to continue to advise US public opinion about the best US policy also after their involvement in Kurdish oil. Galbraith’s penmanship in support of some kind of decentralised solution for Iraq has already generated two books (The End of Iraq and Unintended Consequences), whereas Khalilzad just months ago wrote an op-ed in The Financial Times in which he advocated US support for a coalition government consisting of Iraqiyya, State of Law and the Kurdistan list, with Nuri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi taking turns as premier. This is of course an interesting position, given that in theory, Maliki and Allawi alone actually have a sufficient number of deputies to form a government without the Kurds but that they nevertheless persist in attempts at negotiating with Arbil instead of with each other.

This position by Khalilzad on the issue of government formation is also one which is apparently being viewed with interest by the Obama administration. In a recent interview with BBC Hard Talk, Ambassador Chris Hill was asked whether the next government would include the Sadrists (apparently, this scenario is favoured by BBC reporters as the epitome of tragedy in Iraq). Hill replied by saying something to the effect that this was not necessarily the case. “There are four parties”, he began, apparently thinking of the old four-way formula once favoured by the Bush administration of Daawa-ISCI-Kurds-Sunnis, with Iraqiyya apparently serving as “Sunnis” instead of Tawafuq this time. But then he started with the details, first mentioning just State of Law and Iraqiyya, and pausing to emphasise that those parties alone held “almost” enough seats to form a government (they actually have more than enough, but it is good news that this scenario is now at least being considered in Washington). He then mentioned the Kurds briefly (as per the Khalilzad proposal) and moved on to other issues before ISCI (or the Sadrist-free rump INA) was even mentioned.

In his commentary on Iraqi affairs, Khalilzad has made it clear that he has a far better understanding of what is going on in Iraq south of Kurdistan than Galbraith, who was always on thin ice whenever he ventured to comment on Baghdad politics. But with his recent involvement as a nominee for the DNO board, Khalilzad no longer enjoys any neutrality on the Iraqi scene: He is effectively a proponent of the vision of a strongly decentralised Iraq that is favoured by those who envisage an autonomous Kurdish oil sector.  Any future policy advice on his part about any aspect of US Iraq policy – like the advisability of this or that coalition combination – will be tainted, like that of Galbraith, by business interests that dictate a preference for a weak Baghdad and an oil minister favouring regional interests over national ones.

Posted in Iraq and soft partition, Iraqi constitutional issues, Oil in Iraq | 28 Comments »

The Back Story to the Electricity Protests in the South

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 21 June 2010 17:54

It would be inconsiderate to reduce the recent protests of the Basrawis regarding the electricity situation to politics: From May through September, the weather in the Gulf is often so hot that more basic priorities take precedence. Nonetheless, it is impossible to ignore certain political dimensions to the crisis that can ultimately help explain, among other things, why it is taking so long to form a new government in Baghdad.

In particular, these aspects relate to internal tensions within the newly declared Shiite alliance that so far has yet to agree on anything other than a common desire to be considered the biggest bloc and hence the supplier of the next Iraqi premier – if they could only agree on that someone. And, as ever, they relate to tensions in the relationship between the Daawa party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) headed by Ammar al-Hakim. In Basra during the weekend this came into play as demonstrators against the electricity situation called not only for the sacking of the electricity minister (Karim Wahid) but also the governor Shaltagh Abbud al-Mayyahi who belongs to Maliki’s State of Law alliance (SLA). Conversely, a principal supporter of the demonstrations and the subsequent criticism of the security forces (at least two people were killed in confrontations during the demonstrations) was Ahmad al-Sulayti, ISCI’s chief representative in Basra. He has been seconded in his efforts by prominent Sadrists and representatives of Fadila, the other main forces of the anti-Maliki component of the new Shiite alliance, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA).

This situation, in turn, echoes the recent past in two different ways. Firstly, it is noteworthy that the attacks against Karim Wahid have been a constant theme at pro-ISCI websites like Buratha  headed by Jalal al-Din al-Saghir at least since 2008. Who is Karim Wahid? Born in Nasiriyya (Dhi Qar), Karim Wahid Hassan al-Abbudi is one of those independents within the United Iraqi Alliance that were brought into the Maliki government and gradually gravitated towards Maliki personally. Importantly, he is also an example of a Shiite who made a career and had a high-ranking job during the former regime: Having completed his education in Baghdad and Dundee he returned to Baghdad to work for the government in the early 1990s and was a leading electricity technocrat at the time of the fall of the regime in April 2003. In other words, his inclusion in the Maliki government represented the pragmatic Maliki policy of making use of professionals from the pre-2003 era. This clearly proved too much for Mr. Saghir (who, by way of contrast, spent the 1990s in exile), and the Buratha news agency soon came to involve accusations of Baathism in smear stories about the electricity ministry – and just last week in fact attacked Wahid using exactly the same red cross that had previously been used against Salih al-Mutlak in order to exclude him from the political process. Just to illustrate the current  confused atmosphere across the south, Latif Sayhud, the State of Law spokesman in Dhi Qar, today criticised local demonstrators for alleged infiltration by “Baathists” whereas Iraqiyya supported the demonstrations in Basra and in some of the mid-Euphrates governorates! Once more, it seems, Jalal al-Din al-Saghir has managed to make friends with both anti-Baathists and their opponents by attacking Maliki…

Red Lines: The Buratha news agency attacks Karim Wahid (top) and Salih al-Mutlak (bottom)

The second interesting aspect about the demonstrations concerns the parallel to the situation in Basra in early 2008, before the so-called “Charge of the Knights” security operation. Back then, the immediately precipitating event for the government intervention was also a popular demonstration, which similarly targeted an individual loyal to Maliki, General Mohan (who, among other things, had been critical about Iranian influence in the Basra area). ISCI at the time apparently feared that the Sadrists in Basra were becoming too strong, and on this occasion managed to persuade Maliki to intervene, only to see the alliance collapse months later as Maliki discovered Iraqi nationalism and decided to contest the local elections on a separate, non-sectarian ticket – State of Law.

Embattled Maliki allies: Shirwan al-Waeli and Karim Wahid in crisis talks

The latest news is that Maliki has despatched a ministerial delegation to Basra to investigate urgently. Whether he prefers to save his minister this time remains to be seen.

Posted in Basra and southern regionalism, UIA dynamics | 29 Comments »

The Bloc-Formation Soap Opera Drags On

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 20 June 2010 17:24

The exact details of the relevant communications last week between the Iraqi federal supreme court, the election commission (IHEC) and the leadership of the tentative new Shiite alliance (signed by Khalid al-Atiyya) have been slow to emerge,  but a number of secondary sources now seem to confirm the same kind of picture.

What essentially happened was that around the time of the opening of the Iraqi parliament on 14 June, leaders of the Shiite alliance project sent a letter to the federal supreme court “informing it” about the status of the Shiite alliance as the largest bloc in parliament (and hence, supposedly, the rightful supplier of a candidate to head the next Iraqi government). The court refused to even receive the letter, reportedly referring the Shiite leaders to IHEC instead. IHEC in turn replied that it was nothing it could do since the deadline for forming coalitions had expired long ago. The latest twist in the saga is that Khalid Atiyya, a former deputy speaker of parliament and a proponent of the new alliance, has published a lengthy account of his interpretation of the affair on the Iraqi parliament website, as if he were still in office and owned the place!

This remarkable sequence of events speaks volumes about the immature state of the Iraqi political process. In the first place, it was childish of the Shiite leaders to send a letter to the federal supreme court, since no legal certification procedure for political entities involving that court exists. Their request really had the character of a confused player desperately seeking some kind of almighty intervention: with no direct access to divine power, the federal supreme court apparently came across as a second best option. But the court, for its part, committed a mistake too. By reportedly directing the Shiite leaders to IHEC, they ignored the fact that parliamentary blocs (kutal) is simply a commodity in which IHEC does not do business. IHEC deals with electoral lists (qawa’im) and electoral coalitions (ittilafat) but the term “bloc” does not appear in its laws and regulations and vocabulary more generally, and its negative reply should have been anticipated both by the politicians and the judges.

This chaos in turn relates to the fact that bloc formation simply is not covered by any existing piece of legislation beyond the reference in article 76 of the constitution. In particular, its absence in the parliamentary bylaws adopted in 2006 is a striking omission: Here it is only mentioned en passant, although it is established that a bloc at least requires a leader or ra’is.

In fact, all we have to go by with respect to blocs is past practice in the period 2006-2010. So, just to recap, the original line-up of the Iraqi parliament as it convened in March 2006 consisted of 12 electoral lists that all transformed themselves into parliamentary blocs: UIA (128), KA (53), Tawafuq (44), Iraqiyya (25), Hiwar (11), Islamic Kurdistan (5), Musaliha wa Hiwar (3), Risaliyun (2), Mithal Alusi (1), Turkmen Front (1), Rafidayn (1) and Yazidis (1). When the parliamentary term expired four years later in February 2010, the map of blocs had changed considerably, with the total number now increased to 16: UIA (85), KA (53), Tawafuq (40), Sadrists (28), Iraqiyya (19), Fadila (15), Hiwar (9), Arab Independent Bloc (8), Islamic Kurdistan (5), Independents (4), Risaliyun (2), ICP (2), Alusi (1), Turkmen Front (1), Yazidis (1), Rafidayn (1).

The key point with regard to bloc formation precedents is that this process of disintegration (which has been the more common) and agglutination (seen more infrequently, for example in the case of the Arab Independent Bloc) has taken place without any reference to any law or authorising bodies whatsoever. So, when Iraqiyya leaders like Aliya Nusayf claim that in view of the latest communications from the federal supreme court and IHEC the door has now been “closed” for the Shiite coalition in legal terms, that is really besides the point. There is no legal mechanism for “certifying” the biggest bloc, period. At the end of the day, this is a question of interpretation and the only way to win the debate is for a bloc to obtain parliamentary support for a presidential candidate willing to declare it to be the biggest. With that president will ultimately rest the greater responsibility to the Iraqi electorate in terms of interpreting the result of the 7 March elections in a manner that does justice to the concept of democracy in Iraq.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 8 Comments »

A Remarkable Case of Judicial Activism, in Iraq!

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 17 June 2010 20:20

The recent decision by the Iraqi federal supreme court to declare unconstitutional an amendment to the 2005 election law that was passed last autumn is clearly something of a surprise and a departure from a previous practice of only reluctantly departing from the letter of the constitution. Details of the decision still remain somewhat sketchy; what follows is largely based on press reports.

The decision concerns the distribution in the amendment passed last autumn of the so-called “surplus” seats:  The seats that remain in each governorate after the initial allocation based on the electoral divider (typically 2 to 4 seats in a medium-sized governorate). In the new version of the law, these are simply distributed proportionally to winning lists only, so that they may win extra seats even if they have less surplus votes than a party that failed to win any seats under the initial allocation. And whereas the previous iteration of the election law comprised a mechanism whereby parties that failed to win governorate seats could be eligible for national compensation seats – thereby potentially aiding the cause of small parties with a nationwide following – no such mechanism exists in the 2009 version of the law, where the “compensation” seats are simply allotted to the winning parties, thereby further reducing proportionality instead of enhancing it (unsurprisingly, it the small Communist party was a leading force behind the complaint to the court).

Many will probably conclude that the decision by the court to attack the clause that reduces proportionality is a good move towards a more fair distribution of seats in the Iraqi parliamentary system. However, the wider implications of the ruling could create a quandary for the court. Reportedly, the verdict of “unconstitutionality” was reached with reference to clauses in the constitution that no law should contradict “democratic principles” and the principle that all Iraqis are equal before the law. And to move from those very general principles towards striking down a particular variant of an electoral system is in many ways a far stretch. In practice the court seems to have settled for “proportional representation” as the most “just” and “democratic” electoral system available, but in that case, how can the court prevent a reversion to the old system of a single constituencythat was in use in January 2005 (instead of 18 governorate-based ones), which arguably is “more just” since it would better approximate the principle of one person, one vote? Of course, the 2005 system was abandoned because perfect proportionality has disadvantages in terms of distance between voters and representatives, but once the 2009 amendment has been declared unconstitutional, it is difficult to see how the court can resist future challenges to the principle of governorate constituencies.

The court has added that the decision will not have any retroactive effect and so there is no suggestion that the seats in the new parliament be redistributed according to a principle of greater proportionality. This is in fact a similar approach to what was adopted when the previous election law was declared unconstitutional for using registered voters rather than total population as basis for seat distribution. The more profound implications of the ruling is that the court now has decided to touch one element of the dual veto that was included in the constitution in 2005 to satisfy the Shiite Islamists and the Kurds – no laws can contradict the basic tenets of Islam or the principles of democracy – and potentially could be prompted to rule on similar issues in the future, including the question of the Islamic nature of laws passed. This in turn, inevitably, will bring focus on the fact that the current court is not formed according to the constitution with a mix of secular and Islamic judges, again as per the constitutional requirement. After a period in which the court seemed intimidated and almost silenced by political pressures during the de-Baathification process, this latest move, while bold, might potentially insert the court in ever greater controversy over the coming period.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues | 10 Comments »

The Iraqi Parliament Opens, and Stays Open

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 14 June 2010 14:01

A good indication of the state of affairs of Iraqi politics is the absence of a single, official list of the 325 deputies that were supposed to be present at today’s opening of the second Iraqi parliament after the adoption of the new constitution in 2005. True, there is a list of new deputies at the parliament website, but it is not the updated list after all the changes to the certification of candidates that took place in April and May. Rather, these are just copies of the provisional results released by the Iraqi election commission (IHEC) in late March, and as such they contain several errors. Most notably, they erroneously list two Iraqiyya deputies in Diyala, Abdallah al-Jibburi and Najm al-Harbi, who have been disqualified for legal reasons (criminal cases) and replaced by others from their list (reportedly Muhammad Uthman al-Khalidi and Hassan Sulayman al-Bayati of the Nujayfi bloc and the Turkmen front within Iraqiyya respectively)… Full story here.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 13 Comments »

The Fourteen Wise Men

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 12 June 2010 15:45

It is being reported that the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) has now nominated its 7 representatives to the so-called committee of wise men charged with selecting a premier candidate for the would-be Shiite alliance referred to as “The National Alliance”. The full list  is supposed to be as follows, with party affiliations added:

SLA representatives

1. Tareq al-Najm (Daawa)

2. Abd al-Halim al-Zuhayri (Daawa)

3. Hassan al-Sunayd (Daawa)

4. Ali al-Adib (Daawa)

5. Khudayr al-Khuzai (Daawa/Tanzim al-Iraq)

6. Khalid al-Atiyya (Independent bloc)

7. Hussein al-Shahristani (Independent bloc)

INA representatives

1. Nassar al-Rubayie (Sadrist)

2. Amir al-Kinani (Sadrist)

3. Bahaa al-Aaraji (Sadrist)

4. Humam Hamudi (ISCI)

5. Hamid Muala (ISCI)

6. Falih al-Fayyad (Islah/Jaafari)

7. Hassan al-Shammari (Fadila)

The list shows striking similarities with the previous list of 10 men, in particular as far as the SLA contingent is concerned. There is continuity among the strong Daawa group, with additions of two representatives of the numerically insignificant (6 deputies in parliament in total) group of independents. Within INA, the Sadrists are now better represented whereas INC (Chalabi) has been excluded.

It is hard to see how the committee can agree on anything, in particular with the ingenuous requirement that 80% (11.2 representatives!) consensus be achieved! Apparently a clear message to the Iraqi electorate that this group intends to torment the country with indecision for some considerable time to come… In a first round, all the SLA members will be required to support Maliki, whereas the Sadrists and Islah (4 members) will probably vote for Jaafari, leaving Adel Abd al-Mahdi with a maximum of three supporters (two from ISCI and, conceivably, Shammari of Fadila.)

It is not very surprising therefore, that a second unconstitutional solution to the premier question – on top of the one already proposed by Ammar al-Hakim – is being discussed in these circles: A scheme in which three deputies would share the premiership! This is of course just as illegal and constitutionally subversive as the Hakim scheme in that they both attack one of the few remaining majoritarian features of the otherwise highly consociational Iraqi constitution – article 76.

The committee of wise men is supposed to meet tonight, but so are, reportedly, also Nuri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi!

Posted in UIA dynamics | 13 Comments »

The Second Shiite Merger Attempt and the Unconstitutional Hakim Game Plan

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 11 June 2010 12:24

Yesterday’s “merger” between the two main Shiite-led lists in Iraq, State of Law (SLA) and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) was in itself not terribly interesting. After all, exactly the same thing took place some weeks ago, except that it did not quite work out and the parties continued to quarrel about key issues – most importantly the question of who should be the premier candidate of the resultant super-bloc.

The only difference this time is that there is a new name: The National Alliance. The name is about as uninspiring as one can get it, since 9 out of 10 Iraqi parties already call themselves something similar. It is noteworthy though that the innovation of the “State of Law” concept lost out in the process, highlighting the return to sectarian politics in which issues count for nothing and where everyone makes tongue-in-cheek appeals to the idea of nationalism. So far, the only thing the new Shiite bloc seem able to agree on is the fact that they consider themselves “the biggest”.

More important is probably the small print. In particular, some of the ideas highlighted by ISCI leader Ammar al-Hakim after his meeting with Sistani yesterday (and previously also articulated by Bahaa al-Aaraji, the Sadrist leader) are of interest. Hakim said the new alliance was considering the possibility of entering parliament with “more than one premier candidate” and obtain the views of the rest of the parliament in order to decide the candidate of the alliance:

نتدارس فكرة طرح أكثر من مرشح واحد من الائتلافين، ونذهب بهم إلى الساحة الوطنية، وكل من يحظى بالقبول والغالبية من بين أصوات النواب سيكون هو المرشح الرسمي الذي ينبغي أن ينسحب لصالحه بقية المرشحين

Some will perhaps think this sounds sweet, but it is in fact deeply unconstitutional. No matter what one thinks of the part of article 76 of the constitution that deals with specifying the biggest bloc (and where there is some real ambiguity), the requirement for “one candidate” in the singular is 100 per cent unequivocal. If the new Shiite alliance cannot agree on a single candidate then they cannot fulfil the constitutional requirement and hence cannot come into consideration as the biggest bloc, no matter how many deputies they are. A kutla without a single premier candidate is not a kutla in the Iraqi definition of the right to form the government, period.

This latest move follows previous attempts by ISCI to circumvent article 76 altogether. Their reasons for doing so are obvious: With 70 seats (most of which are actually occupied by Sadrists) INA can never hope to be the biggest bloc alone, and although they have been pressing for the alliance with SLA to get round that problem, they seem to face chronic difficulties with getting rid of Nuri al-Maliki as the premier candidate for the new alliance. Their first strategy was to call for a “roundtable” to discuss the next government, where all the winning blocs would take part. This played well with the international community but it is of course a blatant attempt by a medium-sized bloc to dilute article 76 of the constitution which establishes priority for the biggest bloc. And now there is this second attempt which effectively involves dismantling article 76 even further, since the rest of the parliament is not supposed to have a say in the selection of the premier candidate at all.

Alas, this kind of unconstitutional move is likely to meet with an enthusiastic reception in the international community – and mainly in the UN agency in Baghdad (UNAMI) and the Obama administration (which is concerned primarily with timetables and also doesn’t dislike the idea of a premiership by Adel Abd al-Mahdi of ISCI). During his recent visit to Washington, Ad Melkert of UNAMI in fact specifically encouraged this kind of approach, disregarding procedure and looking at the end goal instead (and also openly suggesting that agreeing on a political programme was secondary to solving the puzzle of who should be in the government!) But it is high time Iraqiyya realises that through this move their “friends” and supposed “partners” in INA intend to deprive both Iraqiyya and SLA of the premiership and thereby reduce them to partners in a weak and oversized government where every party is invited to colonise a couple of ministries each to keep for their personal enjoyment.

It is deeply ironic that all of this should coincide with the first real, high-level meeting between Iraqiyya and State of Law, which also went ahead at the Daawa headquarters in Baghdad yesterday. The people involved were pretty senior: Sunayd, Saadi, Askari, Atiyya and Rikabi from State of Law; Eisawi, Nujayfi, Muhammad Allawi, Shaalan and others from Iraqiyya. One wonders whether it ever occurred to the two sides that if they could just make friends with each other, they have the numbers to rule Iraq independently of Tehran and Washington, and with no need to placate Sadr, the Hakims, the Barzanis and the Talabanis.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 9 Comments »

The Hamudi Files and Article 76

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 10 June 2010 15:05

On the eve of the first meeting of the Iraqi parliament (scheduled for next Monday) and amid frantic attempts by some Shiite leaders to unify their two blocs more effectively, the interpretation of article 76 of the constitution on the selection of the premier candidate has assumed renewed relevance. In particular, after having been confined to rumours and contradictive press reports since the middle of May, pieces of evidence relating to the constitutional drafting process in 2005 have recently been circulated in the shape of a video snip from the fourteenth meeting of the constitutional committee on 25 July 2005, and some of this material has been published by the television station Al-Sharqiya.

The brief video snip shows an altercation during a meeting in the constitutional committee mainly between Sami al-Askari (of Daawa) and Humam Hamudi (of ISCI, the committee chairman). There is also a third person involved mostly outside the view of the camera, possibly Nadim al-Jabiri (of Fadila) who appears at the very end of the snip. Most significantly with respect to the debate about the interpretation of article 76, there is reference to a report of a previous meeting which according to two of the three men states that the right to form the next government should be “according to the electoral achievements” (hasab al-istihqaq al-intikhabi), which would confirm the interpretation favoured by Iraqiyya of disallowing post-election super-alliances of electoral blocs for the purpose of supplying the premier candidate. Hamudi protests, but not very effectively at first. He interjects and says, “hasab al-istihqaq al-intikhabi al-niyabi” or “according to the electoral parliamentary achievements”. Seen in isolation this does not mean a big difference and would just refer to the distinction between percentages of the vote and the percentage of seats actually achieved, and as such also in conformity with the current Iraqiyya position. However, Hamudi muddles the situation by referring to the existence of “two views” on defining the right to form the government (alas the Nokia tune corrupts his attempt at clarifying this!), and also mentions the term “parliamentary bloc” (kutla niyabiyya), which is indeed the language that ended up being used in the constitution. The video ends without any conclusion to the debate.

The context in which this information emerged is in itself interesting. Sami al-Askari raised the question in relation to the scenario of a second premier candidate, in case of the failure of the first. There is discussion whether the second candidate should come from the same bloc that was given the first attempt, or another one – obviously this is where the point about clarifying “electoral achievements” becomes particularly important. Again, though, and often overlooked,  the final version of the constitution in fact remains mute on this question and really places all power for selecting the second candidate with the president. The only requirement, actually, is that he should be a “different” candidate from the first, i.e. he could be any eligible Iraqi (same requiements as for president except a minimum age set at 35 years and a college degree etc.), and strictly speaking does not even have to belong to any of the parties in parliament. Nonetheless, some Iraqi politicians today still seem to believe that the right to be the second premier candidate belongs to the second biggest bloc in parliament.

On the whole, the video provides an important indication that these issues had been thought about in 2005, and that many Shiite Islamist members of the constitutional committee advocated the view that is now being promoted by Iraqiyya, to the point where this at one point was reflected in a written report. Clearly, it would be helpful if a copy of that report were put in the public domain too. On the other hand, though, it has to be remembered that many of the most catastrophic parts of the constitution were not really authored until the subsequent month of August (this was when the Kurds brought in people like Peter Galbraith to consult on matters relating to federalism). Against that backdrop, the video of the 25 July meeting is primarily a testament to an ongoing dispute at an early point of the constitutional drafting process rather than a definitive and unequivocal account of the true “intentions of the framers”.

Some of the arguments by Iraqiyya leaders these days for a “democratic” right for the biggest bloc to form the next government are persuasive, and in particular the fact that few Iraqi voters were informed that the two Shiite blocs planned a merger. On the other hand, though, the argument that the “biggest electoral bloc” logic is applied universally across the world of democracy is incorrect. It is used in many democracies but not everywhere; for example in the UK one possible scenario after the recent election was that of the second biggest bloc (Labour) outperforming the Conservatives in negotiations with the Liberals and thereby staying in power. In the kind of confused situation Iraq is facing today, probably the best thing for Iraqiyya to do in coming days and weeks  is to focus their energies on actual attempts at coalition building first and foremost.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues | 18 Comments »

Sectarianism Rears Its Head in Nasiriyya

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 7 June 2010 20:01

In his latest Friday prayer in Nasiriyya, Muhammad Mahdi al-Nasiri, a seat winner for State of Law (SLA) in the parliamentary election in Dhi Qar, gave some indication about troublesome tendencies of sectarianism inside a bloc that at times has attempted to portray itself as more national than the other Shiite-led coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA).

In his talk, Nasiri warns against repeating the “British policy of appointing a premier from the biggest component (mukawwin) but giving real power to a different component.” He goes on to clarify that this biggest component is different from those of the other Arab countries, who maybe don’t like that it has power in Iraq because it would be difficult to dominate it, given its strong ties to its religious leadership. As examples of the continuation of the British policy, Nasiri enumerates two examples of what he calls “figurehead” Shiites who held premierships during the Saddam Hussein era, Hamza al-Zubaydi and Sadun Humadi! Nasiri now fears the United States is supporting a repeat of the alleged “British” policy. He also reiterates his previous demand for a census that would keep track of sectarian identities (it has been expected that the next census will not sub-classify the various Muslim and Christian denominations), though without necessarily applying this information to identity cards…

The speech is a clear attempt at delegitimizing a premiership by Ayad Allawi, who is Shiite but comes from a different party than Nasiri, the secular Iraqiyya. It is also deeply flawed in terms of its claims to historical knowledge. It is true that the British were reluctant about giving power to Shiite ministers in the 1920s, when in long periods only the education minister was Shiite. However, direct British influence had declined considerably when in the 1940s Shiite premiers began emerging, and it would be highly reductionist to see the appointment of men like Salih Jabr, Muhammad al-Sadr, Fadel al-Jamali and Abd al-Wahhab Mirjan as mere reflections of British diktats.

Even more of a far stretch is of course the suggestion about continuity from the British policy of the 1920s to that of Saddam Hussein in the 1990s. But then again, it seems that both the law and history are cheerfully being ignored in today’s Iraq, and without any effective protest being heard.

Posted in Iraqi nationalism, Sectarian master narrative | 35 Comments »