Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for June 11th, 2010

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.

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