Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The New Realities of the Iraqi Presidency

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 28 November 2010 19:30

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the main victor in the 10 November political agreement that would be first to publicly point out the deeper significance of parliament’s vote on Jalal Talabani on 11 November: The powerful presidency council is now dead.

Of course, everyone who has read the Iraqi constitution will have been aware of this for many months or maybe even years. The tripartite presidency with veto powers was a one-off transitional arrangement stipulated to last for the first parliamentary cycle from 2005 to 2010 only, to be superseded by the more ceremonial “ordinary” presidency, without veto power. Nonetheless, even though the constitution is perfectly clear, there has been some confusion about this subject in the Iraqi press, with some journalists even believing that the two deputies of Talabani in the presidency council remained in office and were still vice presidents beyond 11 November!

Today, however, Husayn al-Asadi of State of Law made this point very publicly in two ways. Firstly, he emphasised that the new presidency has no veto powers. Secondly, he suggested that there would be three deputies to the president going forward, rather than just two. Since the deputies will have less power than the essentially powerless president they are pretty meaningless in the government formation process, even though some players still seem to have an interest in them for unclear reasons. The key point, though, is Asadi’s revolt against the tripartite formula since in his vision there would be four people involved altogether, presumably from the four biggest blocs. This reflects the constitution, which unlike in the case of the presidency council with its explicit three-person formula does not specify the number of deputies for the ordinary president. It just says it should be “one or more”. So it could be three, as per Asadi’s ideas; it might as well be twenty-four since these deputies will not have any power anyway. With the current level of inflation in Iraqi politics, there still seems to be a market for “deputy presidents” and “deputy premiers” for candidates that are necessary to placate and who would normally be given a ministry without portfolio.

It should be added that Talabani’s own election to the ordinary presidency was not one hundred percent constitutional, since the law called for in the constitution for selecting the president has not been passed. Nonetheless, in contrast to the situation for his deputies – which arguably cannot be elected at this point since the constitution also calls for a law for their election and, importantly, a specification of their numbers – the modalities for the president’s election are pretty much spelt out in the constitution anyway. It would be a far greater constitutional infraction to try to hold on to the presidency council, as some Iraqi lawyers such as Muayyad al-Izzi have suggested. In fact, if an attempt were made at this stage to resuscitate the presidency council, it would be necessary to cancel the election of Talabani on 11 November and his subsequent nomination of Maliki for a second term, since he was clearly elected on the basis of the constitutional article 70 (the ordinary presidency) and not 138 (the transitional presidency council).

Of course Izzi was not the only one to misread the constitution. Another one was Joe Biden, who induced the US president to personally make phone calls to the Kurds in a desperate attempt to make them hand over the essentially valueless presidency to Iraqiyya instead. These overtures met with humiliating rejections since Talabani was interested in the presidency personally, even though to Kurdish interests as a whole it was a less rational move and one which might jeopardise their chances of getting hold of something truly important, like the oil ministry. But to other players, the insignificance of the deputy president position should now become clearer, with likely intensification of the competition for the jobs that do matter to follow.

16 Responses to “The New Realities of the Iraqi Presidency”

  1. Kermanshahi said

    The reason Allawi and Talabani both wanted the presidency, although it’s useless, rather than the speakership, eventhough it would not benefit their parties or support base is just their personal egos which are so big.

  2. One of the things which the Shia promised the Kurds was restoring the veto to the presidency on a permanent basis. Of course that depends on the Shia bloc keeping its word, but then again everything in the Kurdish demand document does.

  3. Reidar Visser said

    Maliki might as well have promised the Kurds to divide the seas of the Gulf. As pointed out before, any such promise is predicated on circumstances beyond the control of the executive, including legislative action requiring supermajorities in parliament and most crucially a popular referendum, whose outcome no politician can dictate. In the end both Maliki and Allawi seem to have realised that there was no risk in making promises to the Kurds since only a limited amount of what they were demanding could be implemented by the next government anyway.

  4. Santana said


    You mention in so many words how weak or worthless the new Presidency and even more so the VP positions and I agree with you but I think there MUST be more to it or at least something we don’t know if everyone is fighting over it.
    For example Hashimi and Mutlaq were both offered (by Iraqiya) either the Foreign Affairs Ministry or the Vice Presidency and they BOTH prefer the Vice Presidency over the Foreign Ministry!!! which I cannot explain givin how much more powerful the Foreign Ministry position is ??……so that left me wondering what’s so great about the VP Position that these guys are competing for it within Iraqiya and prefering it over FM !!?? I mean can it be because none of them want to report to Maliki ? (an ego thing…..or loss of pride especially after Iraqiya won in the elections?

  5. Reidar Visser said

    But Santana, have you noticed the latest trend of offering these positions as symbolic minority spoils? Like Barzani’s desire to give deputy positions to Turkmens, Christians and Yazidis… Probably means they are not going to have a lot of influence!

  6. Santana said

    Yeah- I agree….Barzani has a bunch of worthless lollipops too pass around that will keep the recipients happy….but I still think we are missing something as far as the VP position goes…..I mean it has points tied to it?? so it must carry some weight right??
    Anybody know ??

  7. Phil said

    The reason why everyone is vying for a VP position is because there are no job responsibilities, it allows that person to focus his time campaigning for the next election, and it reportedly has a salary of $600,000 USD. Sounds like a job any Iraqi would want.

  8. I am not sure but I think a VP can “sponsor” projects to benefit his constituency and himself.

  9. Mohammed said

    Hi All:

    Can a minister dedide how his budget is appropriated? Does a minister have discretionary power over certain slush funds. Does the presidency or VP position come with a budget and slush funds as well? I imagine that one of the big perks of being president or VP is that it allows you to meet with foreign heads of state and network and build contacts (I am sure that al-Hashemi loves to be invited to the White House or King Abdullah’s palaces in Saudi Arabia as the president of Iraq).

    People always talk about how under al-Maliki, there is no real power sharing, but from a constitutional perspective, what power does the PM have over a ministry (besides being commander in chief of the armed forces, and thus having effective control over the defense department). If there was a kurdish oil minister, can Al-Maliki veto his or her policy if he feels it is giving away too much to the Kurds?

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Just to be clear about the vice-presidencies, since there are no laws governing them or even their numbers, there is obviously far less in the way of a definition of their prerogatives, if any. The same goes for the vice-premierships, which are apparently gaining in popularity. The constitution itself is pretty thin on the workings of the government and the adoption of some kind of bylaws was a key problem in the negotiations.

  11. Kermanshahi said

    Maybe these people want the Vice Presidency because they are thinking that the Presidency council is coming back

  12. Reidar Visser said

    It may well be what they’re believing, but the presidency council cannot come back by itself, just like that!

  13. Kermanshahi said

    If all 4 blos agree, let’s violate the constitution, than they’ll definetly do it. We know by now that al-Maliki is prepared to violate the constitution whenever it suits him, now what if they agree to the INA and Iraqiyya having the two VP posts (Kurds already having the President post), than they will put pressure on al-Maliki to agree to a Presidency council to put a check on him. If he agrees to this so that he can get mroe backing here and there or to keep unity in the newly formed government, than it will happen no matter what the constitution says. And remember, when it comes to referendums, al-Maliki has a history of burrying them, he’ll have no second thoughts on burrying another one.

  14. Reidar Visser said

    I think you underestimate the extent to which Maliki wants to get away from the presidency council. It was a State of Law deputy who made the point, after all.

  15. Joe said

    Al Sharqiya TV reports today that ‘a spokesman’ for Iraqiyya said ‘appointing three vice presidents is baseless…vice presidents will not have powers they can use, nor veto on important issues, because the Constitution originally doesn’t give the president broad powers.’

    The spokesman also ‘stressed on the need to adjust the powers of the president before even talking about how many vice presidents there should be.’

    A statement based in constitutional truth, it would seem. Assuming the source is credible, it will be interesting to see where this goes.

  16. Reidar Visser said

    That squares with a headline I saw earlier today, attributed to Hani Ashur:
    هاني عاشور : استحداث ثلاثة نواب لرئيس الجمهورية عبارة عن شكل بلا مضمون كونهم بلا صلاحيات

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