Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Bid Round for the Next Iraqi Government: Why Don’t They Just Get On With It?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 24 October 2010 13:03

In a small triumph for Iraqi democracy, the country’s federal supreme court today ruled that parliament had to end its “open session” and get on with the election of a proper speaker, “within 14 days” according to some reports, so that parliament could resume its supervisory functions in keeping with the principle of democratic separation of powers. The challenge had been mounted against the temporary speaker of parliament, Fuad Masum of the Kurdistan Alliance, by a non-governmental organisation.

It is however unclear whether the ruling will actually prompt any fast response by Iraqi parliamentarians. It should be stressed that what the main factions are currently doing, i.e. postponing the election of a parliament speaker until the architecture of a more comprehensive deal including prime minister and president is ready, is not in line with the constitution. However, since all the big parties have major stakes in finishing a comprehensive deal, only small parties, like Tawafuq, have so far shown an interest in the idea of an early election of a speaker.

But even when it comes to the bigger parties, it is really hard to understand why there should not be at least a premier nominee within a week or two. This is so because the current phase of the government-formation process, “the Kurdish drama”, is playing out in a slightly different way than expected after the surprisingly large anti-Maliki defections from the putative all-Shiite National Alliance left the Kurds with a kingmaker role they otherwise would not have had. Due to this development, the two competing formations of parties – i.e. the rump NA headed by Maliki, and Iraqiyya in a tactical alliance with ISCI and with Adil Abd al-Mahdi as premier candidate – have opted to take an uncritical approach to the Kurdish list of 19 demands, to the point where it seems clear that they are promising a lot more than they can ever deliver. Right now, the only potential problem seems to be that there could be some kind of draw whereby both Maliki and Allawi/Abd al-Mahdi promise to implement all of the 19 points! In that case personality and trust issues will necessarily come to the fore, and the Kurdish ranking seems to be 1. Abd al-Madhi; 2. Allawi; 3. Maliki; certainly as far a Masud Barzani is concerned. Still, Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader closest to Maliki, seems to be weakening the strong Kurdish position somewhat by his insistence on keeping the presidency for himself.

Again, the idea that the 19 Kurdish points will ever be implemented seems totally unrealistic. This is why any premier nomination is likely to be followed by a period of confusion as the impossibility of implementing many of the Kurdish demands will necessarily dawn upon key players as soon as a premier has been nominated. In particular, once settled in his spacious new office, the new president will discover that he has no power and can get no power except through a special vote in parliament followed by a popular referendum. Even a conservative estimate would indicate May 2011 as a realistic timeline for a process involving a vote in parliament, a referendum law, the referendum itself and certification of the result. And that assumes a Yes vote to the required constitutional change.

But again, as long as the fiction of the feasibility of implementing the Kurdish point remains, there is nothing that should prevent the Kurds from picking a winner within a week or so. One possible delaying factor could be the United States, which probably may still hold some leverage over the KRG president, Masud Barzani. It is conceivable that Washington is creating delays by either not answering the telephone due to the distractions of the 2 November midterm election, or by insisting on continued attempts to get all four major factions inside the next government, which means higher thresholds for finding agreement.

At any rate, more meetings between the Kurds and the two competing formations of parties have been scheduled for this week; all in all there simply is no longer any excuse for not getting on with it.

16 Responses to “The Bid Round for the Next Iraqi Government: Why Don’t They Just Get On With It?”

  1. Since the NA “officially” selected Maliki as their candidate the roles of speeding the process are reversed: Iran wants fast, the US wants slow. The latest federal supreme court’s decision is another example of Iranian initiative in adopting a short and arbitrary deadline.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    I was wondering about that. As you know, I have been critical about the independence of the court since last winter. However, Tariq Harb who is close to Maliki didn’t seem overjoyed in this article today:
    He speaks in favour of a deal between the Kurds and NA but says it is for the parties, rather than the court, to decide the speed of the process.

    Still, with the sudden upsurge in travel activity by Maliki, you could get the impression that he wants to clinch a deal before Washington comes up with a counter-strategy.

  3. Kermanshahi said

    The main Kurdish demands can easily be implemented. Any Prime Minister/Government can easily just, not un-constitutionally refuse to allow a democratic and lawfull process to take place for Kerkuk (like Maliki is doing right now), give Talabani the Presidency and sign a new oil deal.
    The second one can be implemented immedietly, for the other 2 the Kurds will undoubtedly give the government some time, but if it becomes clear that have been double-crossed again, they will leave the government and possibility of civil war cannot be excluded.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    But you’re not getting my point, Kermanshahi. Without a change in the constitution Talabani will have no power. Perhaps it doesn’t matter to him, but it does matter to another main contender for that post, Ayad Allawi.

    No changes to the symbolic power of the president are possible without a referendum, period.

  5. Kermanshahi said

    The President getting more power is not on the top of the Kurds’ agenda even if they get that position. If an amendment is tried, but fails, or even if it isn’t tried at all, it won’t create much trouble. Talabani wants the Presidency for symbolic reasons (Barzani is President of Kurdistan, after 85 years of opression having a Kurdish head of state, on international stage President is more relevant than Speaker of Parliament), he would prefer to have it’s powers extended, but if they do not manage it won’t matter, besides the man is over 70 and has even been talking of retirement before, having the Presidency post is nothing compared to the main issue, the thing where this is all about: Kerkuk.

    And if Ayad Allawi does become President and he wants to expand his powers, the Kurds won’t care if this fails or succeeds, all they’ll be looking at is if his government will finally allow the constitution (article 140) to be implemented, rather than violating the constitution like al-Maliki.

  6. Reidar,
    I read a number of independent leaning statements from Tareq Harb. I don’t know the guy, but I know that there are many judges with lower caliber than him, I am sure that if all he wanted is to please Maliki then he could have had better paying jobs.. I wonder how long it will take him to fall in with Maliki.

  7. Santana said


    I firmly believe that this move is instigated by Maliki in response to Wikileaks hoopla.

    Maliki went from dragging his feet on gov formation,to “Let’s get this done ASAP” mostly as a diversionary tactic – a genuine fear that the Wikileaks release is aimed motly at him- and he fears that the stink may lead to dire consequences…… so before it gets too bad he wants to go for it now.

    “Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.” Abraham Lincoln

  8. Reidar Visser said

    It is true there was a statement later yesterday in which State of Law stressed the need for everyone to conform with the ruling. On the other hand, though, whatever one may think about Maliki or Wikileaks, there is no excuse for any side not to move forward towards forming a government after nearly 8 months. For Iraqiyya to get engrossed in Wikileaks documents instead of making effective steps towards forming a new government would be a major mistake.

  9. observer said

    On Maliki’s abuse of human rights,
    There will be an international investigation… Shades of Harriri commission.

    Chapter 7 is still on the books and will remain so as long as Iran has control over Iraq.. Of course that is until Iran gets its own Chapter 7 rulings…

    On government formation, again this ruling is good to have on the books for the prospects of democracy in Iraq in the long term. Not possible to have long and elaborate negotiations AFTER elections no more. All those deals have to be cut BEFORE the elections. Given that the mood of the majority of Iraqis is pro-secular, future “national coalitions” will have to be, by definition, National and no fig leaf figures.

    Regardless of the “tactical” use of Maliki of the constitutional court, the general direction is GOOD.

  10. Reidar Visser said

    One possible scenario to be aware of, I think, is that of parliament electing a speaker (from Tawafuq or Unity of Iraq?) to comply with the ruling but without forming a government. That would mean that the de facto caretaker govt (which is not a caretaker govt in the legal sense, as some claim) once more becomes a totally ordinary Iraqi government with full powers until there is a decisive move to form a new one. Or another court ruling, but note that it was the nonfunctioning of parliament, rather than the failure to adhere to the government-formation timeline, that was addressed in this latest ruling.

  11. Alan said

    Kermanshahi – what is the “democratic and lawful” process Maliki or Allawi can deliver over Kirkuk?

  12. Kermanshahi said

    Alan, that is the referendum, which according to Iraqi constitution, has to be held in Kerkuk to determine it’s status.
    See, the Kurds can settle this problem through military means, but according to article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, it should be sovled peacefully and democraticly through a referendum. The Kurdish parties agree to solving the problem this way, they agree to let the people of Kerkuk decide, al-Maliki however kept postponing the referendum (violating the constitution and breaking his word) until a point where he sais “it’s been so long, let’s just not hold it at all,” instead al-Maliki and many of the neo-Ba’athist politicians in Iraqiyya are calling for the problem to be solved by the Kurds giving up, pulling out their forces and handing over their capital to the Arabs just for nothing, which seems pretty unrealistic and it’s unconstitutional, but as if al-Maliki ever cared about that… To me this looks like the scenario for a new war, but thankfully the CKL has become kingmaker and the problem can now hopefully be solved, through Iraqiyya accepting their demands.

  13. Santana said

    I hope nobody gets their hopes up too high…If things stay the way they are now then the turnout for this session may not even reach 50% …I heard today from a State Dept official that the U.S State Dept is slowly starting to accept/consider re-elections if this latest move is a flop as well or the Barzani roundtable fails.
    Maliki is supposed to submit a list of compromises to Iraqiya this week regarding the sticking points that SoL has with Iraqiya ……..but Maliki is playing games again.

    “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable”

  14. Alan said

    Kermanshahi – thanks for reply. Having looked at Article 140 of the constitution and Article 58 of the TAL, it is hard to imagine something more full of holes.

    So I guess I can understand why it is so important to the Kurds to get some kind of undertaking from Maliki or Allawi. If it was a concrete constitutional issue, they wouldn’t need to would they? Wouldn’t it simply be a legal issue?

    But even with that undertaking, does the PM have the power to deliver? Couldn’t he agree to it, knowing he’s likely to get knocked back by the wider system?

  15. Reidar Visser said

    Santana, the thing is, if 163 deputies do show up, then it doesn’t really matter what the State Dept thinking on this issue is.

  16. Santana said


    That’s true….but again..if things are as they are now (no comprehensive deal) the chances for 163 showing up are nil…. Tawafuq and some independents….that’s about it bud..

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