Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

9 Responses to “The Second Shiite Merger Attempt and the Unconstitutional Hakim Game Plan”

  1. observer said

    an interesting point of view . The last three paragraphs are quite good in showing how bad the “opinion” issued by the federal court

  2. Jwing said

    Calling for multiple candidates is just a move to try to get rid of Maliki. Since state of law refuses to nominate anyone but Maliki the INA has to come up with some way to get someone else as the candidate for the new Shiite alliance. This is probably also why those stories emerged that the INA, Kurds and Allawi were close to forming a ruling coalition. It was probably spread to pressure state of law by saying that the INA had other alternatives to gain power and therefores state of law needed to let up on pushing Maliki. That didn’t work so now they’re trying something new.

  3. Jason said

    Reidar, I agree with your analysis 100%, but allow us to take some solace from the following:

    First, every time Hakim announces a merger without a PM nominee, and while Maliki continues daily to arrest more of Sadr’s “wanted men,” the announcements become more comical and farcical. Hakim is the ultimate example of the tail trying to wag the dog. I give him an “A” for effort, but so far he is still just the tail.

    Second, I would point out that from now until parliament meets is the point of maximum leverage for Maliki to assert himself as the sole PM nominee for SLA/INA. If INA does not accept him now, there is a possibility that they could be shut out altogether. Maliki would be a fool to agree to Hakim’s proposal right now rather than exercise his leverage to the maximum.

    My third thought is that even if Hakim’s dastardly plan were to be followed, it really doesn’t change anything. A decision still has to be made on a single PM nominee. Otherwise, they won’t even be able to agree on a President to charge anyone to form the govt. So its right back to the same negotiating table anyway.

    Finally, it might not be a bad thing for the entire parliament to meet face to face before everything is decided between SLA and INA. After they have been forced to sit down together for a while, I pray that there is a chance that new dynamics could take hold.

  4. Ali W said

    Jwing, it could also be possible that it would ensure that Adel Abd Al Mehdi gets elected as PM not Maliki, as he is more popular with the Kurds and many in INM.

    By putting them two forward I would assume he would get chosen.

  5. Reidar Visser said

    One of the points raised by Maysun al-Damluji, the Iraqiyya spokesperson, in her comments on the Shiite unification today relates to the interesting lacuna in the legal framework relating to kutla-formation. As previously discussed in this forum, kutlas are not even mentioned in the electoral law, and they are only treated en passant in the parliamentary bylaws dating from 2006.

    Damluji says there really is no proper legal recipient for the missive announced by the new Shiite alliance that will formally declare their merger, and hence no authority that can verify it:

    ومن الناحية القانونية، قالت الدملوجي انه لا توجد جهة دستورية لها صلاحية مصادقة اندماج الكتل النيابية، وان المحكمة الاتحادية ليست مخولة بقبول أو رفض اندماج الكتل، وان باب تسجيل الكتل النيابية في المفوضية العليا المستقلة للانتخابات قد أغلق من زمن طويل

    That is all true. But it does not eliminate the fact that kutlas have been formed and reformed in the 2006-2010 period, even if the procedures are unclear. Had it not been a lot more fruitful if the Iraqiyya leadership could finally realise that it was their beloved conversation partners in ISCI that pressed for the Shiite alliance (Hakim’s “Islamic marriage with no divorce”) as well as de-Baathification (“Maliki is too soft on Baathism”)? Would they really have done this if they had any intention of delivering the premiership to Allawi??

    That realisation, in turn, could lead them to far more meaningful coalition negotiations.

  6. Jwing said


    the SIIC is afraid that state of law and the sadrists will get the premiership again so they are trying to make all kinds of moves to void that.

  7. observer said

    News I got from people in the “know”.

    “The alliance was formed yesterday, after a visit to Baghdad by Qasimi Suleimani.”

    I am sure the US knows about this. Waiting for the counter move, if any.

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Thanks. I am sure the Iranians are overjoyed. What struck me most was how Hakim announced the forthcoming merger with extreme precision just hours after meeting with Sistani, as if there was a green light (or a desire to create the impression of a green light).

    I wouldn’t hold my breath for any US counter-moves. I think that sort of thing is simply not on the agenda anymore.

  9. Jason said

    Yeah, I don’t think the Obama Admin is even paying attention anymore. They are in trouble here at home.

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