Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for July 26th, 2010

Lost in the Blind Alleys of Arbil?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 26 July 2010 15:15

As expected, the much-anticipated “summit” of Iraqi leaders in Arbil over the weekend turned out with poorer attendance than some had hoped for, and also failed to produce any immediate clarification of the government-formation question. What it did do, however, was to consolidate a questionable and potentially distracting trend among the opponents of Nuri al-Maliki towards focusing more on weakening Maliki than on building a new viable government for Iraq.

The contradiction in the approach followed by the secular Iraqiyya and their somewhat strange bedfellows in the Shiite Islamist Iraqi National Alliance (INA) was highlighted in a public statement by Iraqiyya leader Abd al-Karim al-Samarraie subsequent to a meeting with the Kurds, where he dwelled on the supposed unconstitutionality of the current situation of a government not checked by an elected assembly. Samarraie exemplifies the general trend towards a proposal to formally vote out the Maliki government as the best course for immediate action:

وقال القيادي في القائمة عبد الكريم السامرائي خلال مؤتمر صحافي عقده بمبنى مجلس النواب وحضرته السومرية نيوز”، إن “الحكومة الحالية لا زالت تمارس صلاحيات كاملة من خلال إصدار التعليمات والأوامر والنقل والإحالة على التقاعد وغيرها وهذا يعتبر مخالفة دستورية”، مؤكدا أن “الحكومة بعد السادس عشر من آذار كان يجب أن تكون حكومة تصريف أعمال، وهناك نداءات داخلية وخارجية تطالب بهذا الشئ”.

The argument by Samarraie is not totally convincing, even if it does touch on some contradictions in the Iraqi constitutional framework and the practical situation that evolved after the 7 March elections. Basically, the Iraqi constitution does not explicitly change the status of the government pending the formation of a new one, it just stipulates a timeline for getting a new government installed. And so the only valid point made by Samarraie (later in the interview) relates to the fact that Maliki refrained from taking the constitutional oath for parliamentarians when parliament first convened last month in order not to be a MP and prime minister at the same time. However, if pressed really hard on this, Maliki could in theory opt to give up his status as member of parliament and still continue constitutionally as prime minister until a new one has been successfully installed. Also, one wonders, does not the same problem apply to several of the INA and even some Iraqiyya members that are currently still in government technically speaking? Whereas Adel Abd al-Mahdi is known to have been critical of the quick-fix solution adopted at the first meeting, he and several INA and Iraqiyya members (Rafi al-Eisawi, Tareq al-Hashemi and Bayan Jabr, to mention a few) would all be subject to the same kind of criticism as that presented by Samarraie since they reportedly refrained from taking the oath.

More importantly, of course, is that while the characterisation of Maliki’s status in this particular case as “unconstitutional” seems dubious, the behaviour of the Iraqi parliament at large clearly fits this description! It is they who have the responsibility for replacing the existing government by adhering to the timeline for installing a new one and this they are not doing. Instead, it seems there will be another attempt to redefine the existing government as a “caretaker government” with fewer powers or even to formally withdraw confidence from it. Whereas the former solution is not even demarcated in the constitution, the second is and would involve “a maximum 30 days” of caretaker government status “until a new government is formed”. That formation process, in turn, would be according to the same procedures that have so far failed to produce a prime minister, and the net result would thus be a return to square one.

No doubt, some are hoping that the resignation of government might clear the air, but is it not likely to prove a distraction and create added bitterness instead? If the parties that criticise Maliki make constitutional steps towards creating a new government – with or without Maliki and his list – then nothing can prevent them from doing so. But what happens if they instead opt for a vote of no confidence, the 30 days pass by and there is no new government? Isn’t there a prospect for further complications with attempts to involve an increasingly politicised judiciary that could ultimately postpone the government-formation process even further? Another problem is of course that the constitution does not provide any clear definition of the distinction between a caretaker government and an ordinary one; indeed the caretaker government is supposed to continue its “everyday business”.

What this all boils down to is the continued unwillingness of the would-be partner of Iraqiyya, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), to endorse Ayad Allawi as premier candidate. As long as that does not happen, Iraqiyya is pursuing a dangerous game by continuing to play according to INA’s rules. INA has already once suggested an unconstitutional “roundtable” for solving the premiership issue, which in practice means circumventing the majoritarian imperative of the Iraqi constitution that gives the premiership to the biggest parliamentary bloc. (INA as a bloc came third in the elections and cannot hope to obtain the premiership constitutionally so they want to impose a “compromise” candidate from their own ranks). It is particularly painful to see Iraqiyya call for UNAMI to induce adherence to the Iraqi constitution on this since UNAMI has been one of the most enthusiastic defenders of ISCI’s unconstitutional proposals!

The latest idea by INA is to elect some kind of “neutral” speaker of parliament to get the process going (in some versions it is presented merely as a “temporary” solution), with seemingly innocuous proposals about a “Christian” or other minority representative filling this post, or maybe someone from a small party like Tawafuq (such as the current speaker, Ayad al-Samarraie). Hopefully, Iraqiyya is aware of what some of the Shiite Islamist parties have already pointed out publicly: That once that is done, the threshold for electing the president is much lower since it only requires a simple plurality and not an absolute majority (the two-thirds absolute-majority requirement mentioned in the constitution being purely aspirational; the real modalities are outlined in the subsequent paragraph relating to the run-off vote). This in turn means that it is possible to elect the president – whose job it is to nominate  the premier candidate – with less than 163 votes, and the whole spectre of the Shiite alliance (theoretically 159 deputies) automatically comes on the agenda again since at least some State of Law representatives have signalled their preparedness to defect from Maliki to join INA in a sectarian alliance. Does it not matter to Iraqiyya that INA keeps talking about figures like Bayan Jabr al-Solagh and Ahmed Chalabi as the next premier?

Then the next step is an alliance with the Kurds, who some weeks ago announced that local elections would be postponed to 2011 (in the rest of Iraq they went ahead in January 2009) and alongside their usual demands regarding Kirkuk and oil recently reiterated the idea of a “Kurdish president” for Iraq as a constitutional demand (the constitution says nothing of the kind ). All of this because Iraqiyya finds negotiations with Maliki so difficult! The big question, of course, is whether the Iraqiyya-INA-Kurdish scheme is truly viable beyond being capable of unseating Maliki, and whether Iraqiyya is being distracted from the big picture by its obsession with labelling the Maliki government as a “caretaker” cabinet, which began last autumn.

A parliamentary session on Tuesday is supposed to bring greater clarity.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues, UIA dynamics | 20 Comments »