Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

8 Responses to “The Bloc-Formation Soap Opera Drags On”

  1. Joe said


    Commendable work. I particularly appreciate your delineation of the differences between the Arabic terms for list, coalition, and bloc…that clarifies things nicely as to why an official declaration of the “largest bloc” is such a legal and political hot potato at this juncture.

    And I think you hit the nail on the head when you say, “this is a question of interpretation and the only way to win the debate is for a bloc to obtain support for a presidential candidate willing to declare it to be the biggest”.

    If you take that one step farther, one could assume that no bloc will obtain support for a presidential candiate willing to declare it to be the biggest without the question of PM, speaker and the influential ministries already decided, which implies a sort of pre-engineered ‘super-deal’, if you will.

    I guess my concern at this point is this: it does no good for INM to simply demand the “right” to form the government, because the President who will ask for that government formation to begin hasn’t been elected yet…do you agree? Better to get on with the business of power-sharing and parliamentary deal-making, that way they can better ensure that the President identifies a “largest bloc” that they are truly a part of.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Joe, thanks, I agree that Iraqiyya’s focus on establishing priority to form the government (as an abstract principle) could be counter-productive and even suicidal if it takes precedent to the efforts to find partners in the real world. Sometimes you get the impression that they talk more about this right of priority (ahaqiya) than about building actual alliances.

  3. Thaqalain said

    Reidar I have few simple questions:

    If Shi`iete led newly formed alliance have majority, why they can’t take initiative and vote for their agreed name. Why they are waiting to certify the coalition of necessity? Are not new MPs are allowed to vote to whom they are being asked to vote by their proposed Ra`is?
    What are they getting out of deadlock? Is there any law, how long this deadlock will continue? Is there any law which will bound Al-Maliki to handover power?(better called: “Client Regime Dictator” as he is ruling without any mandate)
    Does judiciary have any responsibility to broke this deadlock? I think Americans will be happy to see DEADlock and continued chaos to prolong their continued interests?
    What will happen to signed OIL DEALS & CONTRACTS? Are they still effective and enforceable under the banner of DEADLOCK Cabinet?

    It seems Judicial/Courts are going to be focal point of power game soon and it will be led by some powerful Kutlas as in present day Client Regime Of ISLAMabad!!

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Thaqalain, the Shiite “bloc” does not agree on a single PM candidate, which is why they are at present not the “biggest bloc” under any kind of definition of the term.

    The constitution does not change the status of the government pending the formation of a new one, it only stipulates a timeline for parliament to install the next premier. If parliament fails to adhere to that timeline, the current government remains in office by default, with unchanged powers. The only way to dismiss Maliki would be to have a vote of no confidence in him personally with at least 163 votes, in which case his cabinet would be transformed into a caretaker government that would expire after thirty days. Still, the next government would be formed according to article 76 and everything would be back to square one.

  5. Justin said

    Great analysis as ever Reidar. What do you and others make of the fact that the first of the constitutional deadlines – electing the speaker within 15 days of the certification of the election results – has already been missed?

  6. Reidar Visser said

    Justin, I think there is now a realisation that the device of the “session remaining open” could override those deadlines. In 2006, the first session lasted more than forty days…

  7. Jason said

    I agree completely. Before any grouping negotiates enough votes to elect a President, it will have to first agree on a PM nominee as part of the package, who should then have enough support to also form a govt. I would go further and say that said person will logically deserve first shot at forming govt, and that the dealmaking will actually render the kutla interpretation issue a moot point.

  8. Justin said

    I put the question to Christopher Hill at Chatham House (on the record) today and he said precedents were developing around the interpretation of the Constitution. It is unfortunately that 2006 is indeed being taken as a precedent, which clearly violates the reasonable attempt in the constitutional to put time limits on government formation. It is unclear how long a “session” can be kept open, but someone suggested to me that 4 months might be possible.

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