Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Another Artificial Deadline for the Iraqi Parliament

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 12 July 2010 14:23

The decision by Iraqi politial leaders, announced today, to postpone for two weeks the resumption of the first meeting of parliament (which started on 14 June and which technically remains ongoing), is in reality something of a non-story.

This is so for several reasons. Most importantly, tomorrow’s “deadline” for electing a president was in technical terms artificial and even incorrect. That is the case because according to the constitution, the 30 days timeline for electing the president is counted from the end of the first meeting. And since the first meeting has not ended yet, the counting process hasn’t really started; the “deadline” was just hype, even though both the media, politicians and Iraqi judicial experts made their contributions to it.

The real culprit in all of this is of course the device of the “open-ended session”: Parliamentary meetings that can continue for weeks and months even though the parliamentary chamber itself is deserted. The precedent consists primarily of the government-formation process in March and April 2006 (when an “initial” meeting technically lasted for more than 40 days), and, importantly in this context, also the counting rules used later in 2006 when legislation for forming federal regions was adopted. Counting from the beginning of the first meeting of parliament in mid-March, the 6-month constitutional deadline for adopting legislation on region-formation would have been mid-September; however at the time it was agreed that the first “open meeting” of parliament had lasted until the end of what was physically the second meeting on 22 April and hence the deadline for passing federalism legislation was similarly extended to late October (that deadline, in turn, was actually met).

For these reasons, one should perhaps not make too much of the promise by the Iraqi politicians today to meet again in two weeks’ time with an agreed package of candidates for parliamentary speaker, president and prime minister. Meanwhile, as a reminder of where we stand in terms of the coalition­ landscape, today’s meeting of the blocs (yes that is kutal, the plural of kutla, as per the relevant constitutional language for identifying the biggest parliamentary entity) apparently did not produce any unified representation by the would-be Shiite bloc. However, for Iraqiyya, today’s postponement should serve as a clear indication that the Kurds and the Iraqi National Alliance are not prepared to back an Allawi government – otherwise a deal should have been possible by now. On the other hand, Maliki will be under considerable pressure from Iran to step down and allow a unified all-Shiite alliance of INA and SLA – it is noteworthy that some of the more sectarian leaders of the Daawa have been in the forefront of criticising their own party’s dialogue with Allawi, including people who advocated union with INA back in the summer of 2009. INA, in turn, is simply waiting for the marginalisation of Maliki (and not for the emergence of Allawi as a premier candidate, which they could have had today if they truly wanted it). For these reasons, generosity by Iraqiyya towards SLA may be their best bet for securing a pre-eminent role in the next Iraqi government.

35 Responses to “Another Artificial Deadline for the Iraqi Parliament”

  1. Reidar,
    “Maliki will be under considerable pressure from Iran to step down”
    Is the main pressure coming from Iran or from the Sadrists?
    It seems to me that Iran would tolerate Maliki over Allawi (if only for a while) and maybe the Sadrists are standing in the way of Iran’s immediate more pragmatic wishes.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Faisal, so far they have tended to support Ibrahim al-Jaafari as their alternative candidate (or Jaafar al-Sadr as a non-candidate). That does not strike me as a very anti-Iranian position.

    Also, I am aware that there are some in Iraqiyya who are hoping that the nationalist Sadrists will rise like Sphinxes within INA and throw Hakim and Badr to Hell etc., but again in the real world the indications are that the Sadrists primarily are in the business of denying both Allawi and Maliki the premiership. That in turn seems to be a position with which Iran is happy. I used to be optimistic about the Iraqi nationalism of the Sadrists, but after Muqtada was forced into exile they have gradually become more susceptible to Iranian influence it seems.

  3. Ali Rashid said

    Hi Reidar,
    Any more info on the Daawa members who have been critical of talks with Allawi?

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, the names that keep getting mentioned in press reports are Hasan al-Sunayd, Khalid al-Assadi and Ali al-Adib. Those were also the ones pressing for merger with INA back last summer/autumn. They say there is only one Shiite alliance. However, the SLA/Iraqiyya dialogue is real enough to prompt an increasing number of complaints by INA members, who say the bilateral SLA/INM talks are outside what was agreed by the putative Shiite alliance.

  5. Jason said

    My impression is that the Sadrists are nationalists only if they can have it on their own terms, with free reign for the Mahdi Army. Otherwise, they will continue to accept Iranian backing. Therefore, Allawi is no more acceptable than Maliki. Only a weakling would be acceptable.

  6. SK said

    Are we to conclude from all of this that Iran’s influence and leverage in Iraq is significantly greater than the US’s, Syria’s and Saudi Arabia’s combined, yet not enough to budge Al-Maliki out of the way?

    Also, is Sistani saying anything about all of this?


  7. Reidar Visser said

    SK, I think that’s more or less how it is looking right now. There are plenty of rumours about Sistani, but nothing substantial so far. For what it is worth, one of his chief wakils, Abd al-Mahdi al-Karbalai, was reported as meeting with Ahmed Chalabi the other day, although this may conceivably have been a more personal visit related to the recent death of one of Chalabi’s in-laws.

  8. Jason said

    SK, I am not as expert as others here, but I would answer your question in the affirmative. That’s good, because it means that Iraqis are holding their own against too much foreign influence.

  9. SK,
    My take is slightly different.
    I think Iran will be happy with your interpretation because she does not like to show her intentions. I think Iran will weigh in to support Maliki as the INA’s nominee at the 11th hour, only then everybody will say the whole thing was an Iranian plan. I am saying it now.

  10. Mohammed said

    Dear All:

    I am amazed at how cohesive each individual political list is. In practice, Maliki does not need all of ISCI or the Sadr group to support him. If he only obtained 3 or more MPs join a kutla with him, that would be enough for him to have more support than Allawi. Are the MPs that principled that they could not be bought off?

    If all of this is really about self-benefit, then what are the final political equations that will govern this outcome? I cannot see how Maliki would be any better off in terms of power if he were to join with Iraqiya and let Allawi be the premier. What could Allawi offer Maliki that would give Maliki more influence than he would get with INA?

  11. Reidar Visser said

    Mohammed, that is an interesting question. Specifically, I have been wondering why SLA has not co-opted Unity of Iraq, which has 4 seats (and thus would give SLA 93), and with whom there was a lot of negotiations last September.

    I think the answer has to do with fear of the domino reaction. Maliki probably remembers the struggle about the budget last January, when everyone joined forces against him to deny him the confirmation of a large number of positions in the public sector. If he goes solo on a merger project, he has no guarantee that the Kurds and INA might not do something similar and the whole thing would snowball. And even if that may sound somewhat unlikely, what this all comes back to is the fact that the constitutional procedure is in doubt and to prevail you need to be able to elect a loyal president who can be trusted to charge you with forming the government.

    Once that process gets going, the dynamic will change, since specific offers of influence and ministries will be on the table. This is also where Allawi can offer Maliki/SLA more than INA, since the INA scenario would also involve the Kurds and some kind of token Sunni representation and hence less cake and overall policy influence for everyone. And Maliki must know that INA are particularly interested in marginalising him personally.

  12. shadow said

    “That is the case because according to the constitution, the 30 days timeline for electing the president is counted from the end of the first meeting.”

    I guess my reading of Art. 72 is lacking–it seems a stretch to apply “the end of” to “the meeting of the new Council of Representatives”. Is the Arabic version more clear on this point? Or is this interpretation based in law or court decision?

  13. Reidar Visser said

    Shadow, it is the precedent set by handling of the regions law in 2006 that is analogous. Both the relevant articles i.e. 72 and 118 refer to the date (tarikh) of the first meeting. In 2006, that date was reckoned as the “end date” of the first meeting (22 April, even if it started on 15 March). I should perhaps stress that I am not commending the Iraqis for stretching the law this way; I’m just pointing out that it is the idea of a session “remaining open” that is the real problem.

    At any rate, it looks as if the federal supreme court will get the pleasure of having a look at this since Talabani has asked for an interpretation of the same paragraph which also stipulates that the powers of the president (for which substitute “presidency council”) will lapse when the new parliament convenes, which arguably cannot be so easily circumvented by the “open-session” concept:

    يستمر رئيس الجمهورية بممارسة مهماته الى ما بعد انتهاء انتخابات مجلس النواب الجديد واجتماعه، على ان يتم انتخاب رئيسٍ جديدٍ للجمهورية خلال ثلاثين يوماً من تاريخ أول انعقادٍ للمجلس.

    Though it could be argued that the element “on the condition that the new president is elected within 30 days” annuls this altogether since it clearly has not been fulfilled.

  14. Salah said

    Iran’s influence and leverage in Iraq is significantly greater than the US’s,

    First most Iraqis don’t see there is intersection between the two. First each side befits on his own ways and secondly, but both looks like “companions” when it comes to Iraq.

    Let see what’s new now on the street of Baghdad note the politics of Iraq.

    شهدت مناطق الكاظمية والحرية والشعلة بجانب الكرخ في بغداد، انتشار ملصقات وفيلكسات بحجم كبير، تدعو الى تصحيح وتهذيب الحجاب، وتحمل توقيع مؤسسة النشاط المدني في الكاظمية، التي يعتقد انها واجهة لمنظمات التيار الصدري.

    الملصقات التي تزيد عن الحجم الطبيعي للمرأة استخدمت فيها ايات قرانية، لاسيما الاية “ولا تضربن بارجلكن ليعلم ما تخفين من زينتكن”، وتحتها صورة لامرأة ترتدي العباءة الاسلامية، واخرى ترتدي الشادور الايراني على انه حجاب شرعي وفي ملصقات اخرى ترتدي العباءة العراقية التقليدية.

    وفيما رفضت اي من نائبات التيار الصدري اللواتي اتصلت بهن وكالة (اور) او كتب اليهن رسائل الكترونية الرد على تساؤلات او التعليق على هذه الحملة واسباب توقيتها، رأى محلل سياسي، طلب هو الاخر عدم ذكر اسمه لاسباب قال انها امنية، ان الحملة خطوة باتجاه (ايرنة) المجتمعات الشيعية الفقيرة او متوسطة الدخل، وقال ان الملاحظ في المناطق التي استهدفتها الحملة انتشار الشادور الايراني، الذي يباع في الاسواق بمبلغ 25 الف دينار، بينما تتراوح قيمة قماش العباءة العراقية بين 50- 100 الف دينار، يضاف اليها مبلغ خياطتها الذي يبلغ نحو عشرة الاف دينار، وبالتالي فان الشادور الايراني سيكون ارخص ثمناً وبالتالي سينتشر على نطاق واسع في هذه المناطق.

  15. observer said

    why is it that you assumed that Maliki can get a few seats and thus get the larger bloc and do not allow for the same ability to Allawi? What is good for the goose is good for the gander – no? Further, let me be clear to all. No government is going to be formed that doe not include Sadrists or Kurds. Maliki and Da3wa can jump up and down all they want. The bottom line is that everybody that knows anything knows that Da3wa’s stance on Iraqiasim and “independence from Iran” is tactical more than anything else. What Da3wa fears most is retribution on the corruption investigations (recalls what they did to allwi’s cabinet in 05/06). You may raise your eye brows, but trust me, that is the motivation for much of the horse trading. Da3wa’s reign on power is over – they know it, and they are desperate to limit the damage.

    Did anybody else note that declaration of Barzani after the meeting with Allawi a couple of days ago? “this meeting is a meeting between friends and political partners”. FOod for thought and remember what Barzani stated in regards to the rights of Allawi to the PM office…

  16. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, I guess the reason Allawi has refrained from expanding his bloc until now is that he would shoot himself in the foot and kill his own “ahaqiya” argument if he did that.

    Why isn’t Allawi making faster progress with the Sadrists if that is his best bet?

  17. Mohammed said


    you raise an interesting point. I certainly am not trying to imply that only Maliki can try to break off some MPs here and there. If Allawi can do it, he is free to try.

    As of yet, Allawi has been unable to get a majority to suppport him. I think the negotiations with state of law are really a game of political brinkmanship. Maliki is trying to show INA that unless they do business with him, he will get in bed with Allawi. In the end, I cannot see how SOL + Iraqiya will come to fruition because I go back to my original question: “what can Allawi offer Maliki that INA would not be willing to offer him?”

    Some have said that Iraqiya and SOL have similar centrist, nationalist views on paper. However, Observer, you seem to be implying that Maliki only cares about preventing corruption charges. Is he the only official who cares about this? How much money have ISCI and Sadrists officials peddled to their supporters from Iraq’s public funds? Why isnt Hakim worried about Maliki cracking down on ISCI?

    If this is really all about preventing corruption charges, I am sure that Allawi would have no problem promising protection to Maliki. Allawi’s buddies in Saudi Arabia in fact dont even hide the fact that they are corrupt! That doesnt prevent Allawi from being buddies with the Saudis. If this was just about corruption, I dont think Allawi, Kurds, ISCI or Sadrists would have a problem of protecting Maliki in return for him to step down.

    I think this struggle is really about who will be the PM and hold the reigns of power, and enjoy the spoils of Iraq’s billions, not about looking at past corruption.

  18. Jason said

    Iranian terror groups ramping up for American drawdown.

  19. observer said

    muhammad and Reider –
    I would say that Allawi is in fact negotiating to create a bloc of 163, which is the largest bloc needed for a PM position. All the maneuvering that you see is not about who will get to be appointed PM – after all, being selected as PM is only the first step. This is why the 180 solution has not been possible as SLA wants to have the PM even thought they are the smaller of the two!!!

    And Muhammad – yes, SLA fears that what they did to others back in 05/06 will come back and be done to them (i.e prosecute only those who are outside the 163 bloc, and leave the “in” blocs go free). If Maliki and other SLA members are only MP’s their constitutional protections can be lifted (remember that weapon was already used by SLA). But if SLA has a position with a Veto power, they can prevent the others from doing onto SLA what SLA did to others.

    REider, INA still has not given up on wining the largest bloc argument inside the parliament, and the easiest way to circumvent that is to form a 163 bloc with Iraqiyya leadership (it does not have to be Allawi at the head!). That is the current state of play.

    In the end, I think that a “national unity” government will be formed (as happened in 05/06). Except the role of the Kurds is not going to be as strong as it was before, and the Islamists not being as strong either, but strong enough. The US likes the 180 solution, but I think they are not very tuned on the inner tensions. They were not saavy enough to understand that SLA negotiations with Iraqiyya were mostly intended to pressure the Sadirsts to back off 0f their objections to Maliki. ALlawi was to adroit at maneuvering to be out flanked with such a maneuver and kept his options and channels of communications open with the Kurds, Sadrists and other sub-blocs.

  20. observer said

    The article is quite right in stating that iran has many options in “turning up the heat”. Thus JAM is the least (or at least one of the least) of worries of the next PM. It is important to bring the Sadrists in the government but that does not guarantee that the streets would be stable. However, given the large number of supporters to the Sadri bloc in Iraq, I would say that they can be used to at least reduce the effectiveness of the terror groups that Iran controls. Part of my problem with the 180 solution is that it marginalizes the Sadris who are a bigger potential threat to the stability.

    By the way, 22 terrorists/Militia members were captured yesterday in Basra after they shot at Basra Airport. I was in basra for a week a month ago and it was very calm. I am told that it is beginning to get tense again. Time for a visit 🙂 .

  21. observer said

    The reason why SLA and Iraqyya have not gotten it together is due to Allawi not wanting to leave the Kurds behind or Sadrists either as he is thinking of the day after. it is not what he can give to SLA that INA can not give to Maliki. And by the way, what Iraqiyya can give to SLA that others can’t is a chance for predominance over the “she3a Islamic voters”. If SLA is the only She3a party (notice I used a sectarian label as I do not believe their claims of secular/law tactical re-direction) then there is power and positions to give to their supporters while the others would be left out on their behinds. This is not small thing – as we go into the future.

  22. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, just to be clear, are you suggesting that Allawi believes INA will drop out en masse from the putative Shiite alliance to join with the Kurds in supporting Allawi as a premier candidate (circa 220 seats)? Or that he is expecting the Sadrists as a faction to drop out of the would-be Shiite coalition to join Iraqiyya and the Kurds to support Allawi (circa 190 seats)??

    The last I heard was that INA was still trying to impose various compromise PM candidates for the all-Shiite faction, including Ahmad Chalabi and Bayan Jabr…

  23. observer said

    you asked before as to what is the nature of relationship between Allawi and Hakim.. there is a couple of nuggets hidden in the article above. Iraqi politics are personal to the limit. It is amazing to me – frankly. it makes for the strangest partners but there you go. I know he secret of the relationship between Barzani and Allawi. I still do not know the secrete of the trust between Hakim and Allawi (or if there is trust) .

    On Paper, Irqiyya and SLA have more in common than any other bloc. But yet the practice is different.

    In response to your direct question – I think where Sadrists want to go is where Hakim will go. The Sadrists (under instruction from Muqtada) are not pushing for a PM from their bloc, but they are the stopping bloc for Maliki. Hakim is not that adamant against Maliki and Da3wa though he would like to limit their increasing influence on the Islamic “voters”.

  24. Reidar Visser said

    Well that alleged letter suggesting the president and speaker for INA and SLA is not going to endear Allawi to the Kurds, is it?

  25. observer said

    speaker of parliament and president can be split between them. I do not think INA or Kurds are expecting Maliki to just accept the position of MP!! So they are not going to be too “insulted”. The nugget I was referring to is Hakim being kept up to date on the SLA/Iraqiyaa negotiation by Allawi! That I was not expecting- I am telling you not enough credit is given to Allawi for his adroit maneuvering. He is an interesting mix of statesmanship and political-“hackiness”.

    Regardless, the 180 solution is not to be because of history of SLA/Da3wa and the importance of inclusion of the Kurds and Sadris in the political process. We all need to think of the day after.

  26. observer said

    PS – you know that Allawi keeps Barzani informed as well – no?

  27. Reidar Visser said

    I think the single most dangerous thing Iraqiyya could do would be to give the presidency (or worse, both the presidency and the speakership) to people even remotely sympathetic to Iran and the concept of a Shiite alliance (and this includes Talabani). Once elected, that person could easily change his mind and all of a sudden discover a very big kutla in parliament called the “National Alliance”…

  28. Henk said

    Hi Reidar,
    I (still) tend to agree with the expectation of Observer that some kind ‘national unity’ will be the outcome of all this:
    * that Talabani will stay on as President (many in the KRG have mixed feelings on his potential return to Suleimaiya)
    * that al-Maliki will stay on as PM, but with less power in the security sector (given the fear of many Iraqi politicians of an all-powerfull PM, as al-Maliki has built up his personal power)
    * that Allawi will be some kind of ‘super’ dep PM, maybe with extensive powers in the security sector

  29. Reidar Visser said

    Henk, thanks, but how is that going to work out constitutionally? If Talabani is elected and charges Maliki with forming the govt on basis of the biggest bloc then Allawi will be offended and will withdraw… And the deputy pm isn’t even mentioned in the constitution outside the transitional arrangements I think.

  30. Reidar,
    If Talabani is elected and charges Maliki with forming the govt on basis of the biggest bloc then Maliki will not need to make any compromises. I think Talabani will charge Allawi even if Maliki becomes the INA nominee, then Henk’s scenario could more realistically materialize. I would add shortened mandate for PM and UN supervision over census and elections to the scenario.

  31. Salah said

    speaking of INA and SLA, Iraqi politicians have to go now and then to Sistani to get his blessings for their political movements. do you forgot here or not.

  32. observer said

    Never say Never.. so the saying goes. The parliament is not going to meet until the entire deal is made. The president changing the deal is possible theoretically but such a move would have uncomputable repercussion – chapter 7, UN/US, Iran, Hammas and Hizba Allah, etc. I suppose that is why personal relations and trust are important in Iraqi politics, especially given the lack of precedence and the lax attitude in interpreting the word and the spirit of law.

    Henk – there will be no tears shed in Hawler if Talabani returns to Suli, though I would expect that Barzani would rather have Talabani in Baghdad than in Suli, if he can have it, but he is not going to play his best cards to make it so. But most of all, I would be willing to bet donuts to dollars that Maliki is not going to be anywhere close to a PM. If that were possible, a deal would have been struck already – though it would be rather undemocratic that the single largest vote getter would end up toothless. If I were a da3wa strategist, I would use that factoid in the next elections to my advantage. Hence, the idea of giving Maliki the Presidency.

    As for allawi controlling the security council – I would say that would have been a possible solution if Iraqiyaa did not get the largest number of total seats. I would say that since the security council is not in the constitution, there is nothing that would prevent Maliki (if he is to retain the PM position with reduced powers as per your scenario) from undermining the security council with “advisors” and other extra-constitutional measures (as he did with his 400+ advisors in the current government. Hence, Allawi would not be inclined to accept such a “compromise”…

  33. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, not sure if Henk was thinking specifically of the national security council as much as of introducing a strong deputy pm, but at any rate, I saw that story the other day and thought it was laughable. Anyone who accepts any role in the national security council as some kind of concession would be mad. As you point out, it is not in the constitutition and is one of those complete concoctions that are emblematic of the 2006-2010 period.

  34. Salah said

    Let see who voices Option 180?

    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Washington was increasingly concerned about the deadlock as a major withdrawal of U.S. forces looms and said Iraqi politicians need to put national interests ahead of personal ones and assemble a government quickly.

    There is a “critical need for Iraq’s political leaders to continue the hard work necessary to form a proportionate and inclusive government that represents the voices of Iraq’s diverse communities and can deliver on the promise of democracy,Clinton told reporters at the State Department after meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

    “More is needed from everyone involved,” she said. “The United States expresses no preference in the outcome in the government formation but we share a sense of urgency. The people of Iraq deserve to have a government that is ready to meet their needs and we hope that that occurs soon.”

  35. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, lest there be any doubt about this, Clinton is supporting the *opposite* of the “180 option”, i.e. she prefers the Iranian vision of an oversized government defined in ethno-sectarian terms with permanent Shiite Islamist dominance.

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