Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Abd al-Mahdi in Tehran: Who Is Paying for This?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 26 December 2010 14:30

Those who prefer to adopt a jubilant narrative on the wonderful successes of Iraq in the post-2003 period often dwell at the supposed brilliance of the new, free press in the country. Free it may well be, at least to some extent, but competent it surely isn’t.

Take its collective failure when it comes to detecting some of the serious fraud involved in the illegal multiplication of vice-presidents of the country in the past two months. When Jalal Talabani was elected as president on 11 November this year without deputies, his two previous deputies, Adel Abd al-Mahdi of ISCI and Tariq al-Hashemi of Iraqiyya automatically lost their jobs. The reason for this is simple: The transitional presidency that lasted from 2005 and 2010 and the ordinary presidency are two entirely different political institutions: The first was a powerful instrument of consociational democracy that featured significant veto powers; the second is an ornamental institution only with largely ceremonial powers and no right to veto anything. No vice-presidents were elected on 11 November because the law for electing the presidential deputies has yet to be adopted. Unlike the modalities for electing the president – which have been spelt out in the constitution and made it possible to move ahead with the election of Talabani even though this too was legally somewhat dubious since no special law for electing him had been passed – neither the number nor the powers of the vice-presidents (not to speak of the method for their election) have been hammered out in the constitution. A law on the subject is currently snaking its way through parliament, with suggestions that there may be three or four deputies to Talabani in the next cycle. Like Talabani himself they will play a symbolic role only, but as of today the law has yet to be passed.

Despite this situation, Iraqi media keep referring to Adil Abd al-Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashemi as if they were still vice-presidents! For example, in a press release after the recent visit by Abd al-Mahdi to Tehran, Iraqi media covered the event as a visit by an Iraqi vice-president, echoing the tone of the press release from Abd al-Mahdi’s own office.

وقال بيان لمكتب عبد المهدي :” ان نائب رئيس الجمهورية التقى في طهران امس رئيس جمهورية ايران الاسلامية محمود احمدي نجاد ، حيث قدم الرئيس الايراني في بداية اللقاء التهاني والتبريكات بمناسبة تشكيل الحكومة العراقية الجديدة ، معتبرا ذلك خطوة مهمة لتحقيق الامن والاستقرار في العراق والمنطقة عموما “.

Of course, the fact that his office keeps referring to Abd al-Mahdi in this way may simply be down to sheer hubris among his staff. But the failure of the Iraqi press to detect the problem is more serious and relates to a fundamental failure in understanding the nature of the political system in the country. Not least, it begs the question of who paid for the trip! It may well be that Abd al-Mahdi eventually gets elected as (ordinary) vice-president, perhaps already in a few weeks’ time. But right now, unless he has taken the oath as an ordinary deputy of parliament, he is a private citizen. In times of austerity the Iraqi electorate has the right to know whether government funds are being used to finance travel activity on the part of non-existing vice presidents or not.

26 Responses to “Abd al-Mahdi in Tehran: Who Is Paying for This?”

  1. Thaqalain said

    Thanks for focusing on such issues ,
    Iraqis never work so deeply even in any ministry, how can they dedicate the time to know articles of consitution in regards to legalities of VPs?

    Hope you should focus thoughts on other VPs and President himself, who is funding their expenses?
    Lets chase others, too.

  2. Salah said

    Just one quick note the freedom of press and journalism is going backward from 2003. the best evidence for it the number of journalist who killed/ assassinated some few of them survive like Imad Al-Abadi. Day after day more restriction more shutdown of news office like Baghdadiya news agency the recent victim.

  3. Santana said


    Your point that they are no longer VPs per the constitution is based on the Nov 11th election of Talabani which in itself is unconstitutional (not on the agenda that day) so let’s be frank here…since the constitution is being broken “willy nilly” then why stop at the VPsn which is somewhat of a petty issue? Besides….State says there is a strong argument that until the Federal Council is put together they remain VPs with Veto powers as well…..Anyway- I think there are bigger issues that worry me much more than who is paying for Adel’s Jet fuel to Tehran…..there are credible intel reports that the Dawa party is now working closely and covertly with Iran in so many ways that will actually allow Iran to prosper and weather the sanctions…..also lot’s of worrying developments/appointments… -Luaiby -the Oil Minister was not picked haphazardly and Maliki’s opposition to Falah Al-Naqib as MOD is for a reason as well !

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Santana, I agree that the election of Talabani was problematic constitutionally speaking but unless someone has the guts to actually challenge it (and thus invalidate Maliki’s nomination) then nothing is going to happen about it.

    As for the other issue you mention, I have yet to hear anything from the USG other than the point that the original constitutional revision envisaged the continuation of the presidency council until the formation of a Senate. This is however 100% irrelevant since a.) the revision was never finished by parliament and b.) it has yet to be approved in a referendum. To the best of my knowledge, no one on the U.S. side has added anything to that argument.

  5. Reider,

    I agree that there is a significant problem in Iraqi political discourse related to knowledge of their own constitution, or at least the knowledge reflected in their rhetoric. The journalists are certainly without excuse; I’ve found it a bit annoying that so many Iraqi journalists keep referring to Allawi’s 2010 election bloc as the “Iraqi List” instead of its real name, “The Iraqi National Movement,” since the former is an existant subgroup of the latter. I could forgive foreigners for mixing this up since INM leaders use the nickname “Iraqiya” for both, but not Iraqis.

    Outside of journalists, though, I think the sloppy references to the constitution by Iraq’s politicians are only partially due to not having read the document. As an American I would simply note that much older democracies also have this problem of political factions making up constitutional provisions as it suits them. When many Shia officials justified the debaathification decisions by repeatedly declaring that it was a “constitutional” decision, I think most of them knew that Article 7 did not mandate the exclusion of specific individuals, and in fact could be used to exclude Shia Islamists with militia ties. They were just being opportunistic.

    I do take a different view on the constitutionality of Talabani’s election. Granted that there needs to be new legislation for the vice-presidents, but the articles which deal with government formation clearly assume that there will always be a president, and these and other provisions assume he will have certain duties related to government formation, declaring martial law and death penalty cases. Granted the text doesn’t state this explicitly, but I don’t think this is an unreasonable interpretation.

    But even were there to be any doubt about this, and were to there to be a legal challenge, I feel comfortable saying that the liklihood that the Iraqi Supreme Court will nullify the reelection of Talibani and Maliki is somewhere between nil and nothing.

  6. Thaqalain said

    Its to be noted that major decisions, developing, writing the constitution are taken in Washington. Iraqis have other hot issues to focus on.
    Regarding jets, you must have noted how narrow are newly bought jets and who ordered to buy it from Canada? Who got commission?
    Fair journalism demands to expose all and not to target a specific person.
    Should we start knowing who is paying expenses for their green zone palaces, missions?

  7. Reidar Visser said

    Thaqalain, I think that if the USG had enjoyed only a hundreth of the power and influence in Iraq that you attribute to them people in Washington would have felt extremely happy.

  8. Thaqalain said

    So you think Iraq is liberated b/c USG dropped surge to fool Iraqis that forces are leaving Iraq.
    Timeline of events proved that Strategic Decisions of Baghdad, Kabul & Islamabad are taken in Washington.

  9. Reidar Visser said

    Thaqalain, please provide some empirical detail beyond your imaginative timeline. You are blaming Washington at a time when all its power in Iraq is lost and exonerating Iraqi politicians who reproduce the system of ethno-sectarian quotas just for the sake of their own private benefit.That’s also what this article is ultimately about.

  10. Salah said

    Iraqi politicians who reproduce the system of ethno-sectarian quotas just for the sake of their own private benefit.

    Why you are always in denial of US mending in politic in Iraq? Is this the attitude of researcher who care about the element and the real player in politics and the power dynamic inside Iraq as your interest in?

    Anyway you should correct yourself and if excuse me to say the production of ethno-sectarian quotas was a product by American more correctly by Paul Bremer when he created the CPA upon ethno-sectarian quotas, isn’t Reidar? Correct me if we are wrong with this? As for the proxy “ethno-sectarian” folk off course, they follow their master not more not less.

    Please may I pick your attention about the book below and what mentioned in one of its pages, please read this book about US/Iraq and see things how went/planed just refreshing memories if some missing because seven years past:

    Beyond the Iraq War: the promises, pitfalls and perils of external
    By Michael Heazle, Iyanatul Islam

    There is no dynamic now pulling the nation together… all the dynamics are pulling the country apart

    this remark was not made by a liberal columnist, or by disgruntled intelligence analyst, nor did it emerge from 68 member-strong “out of iraq” caucus established by House of democrats.

    the remark was made by a long standing ally of United state: prince Saud Al-Faisal, Foreign Minister of the Kingdome off Saudi Arabia for the last 100 years an son of the late king Fasial.

    Moreover, here another story to refresh the minds.
    Saudi Warns U.S. Iraq May Face Disintegration

  11. Thaqalain said

    I think you must dedicate sometime to know the validity or expiry term of SOFA. Where does Iraq stands in that regard?
    Iraq’s overall position in the middle east, how can it sustain stability when middle east, GCC countries are home to tens of thousands of US Forces, which are a mniute away to send any lethal warfare mission.

    Moreover , you as being a very knowledgeable jouro , help us to bring realties of where the rest of Middle East stands in terms of democracy.

    We are cautiously analyzing all of your articles and need an effort to bring something about GULF ANALYSIS (other then IRAQ).

  12. Lowly US capacity builder said

    Thaqalain, not to gang up on you, but as a person working on the ground in Baghdad, the USG has very little power other than to advise and offer instruction on comparitive law as certain issues might inspire. Perhaps your opinion was correct in 2006, but in the current environment, the USG view is one of many that the Iraqi government considers as it makes its decisions.

    The Iraqi Constitution has a few holes in it, but the Iraqis know this and will address it when there is some political space to do so. Many of the ambiguities present–in my opinion–were necessary in order to get it enough approval for it in 2005. As to the argument regarding the Article 138 veto, the Presidency Council and the existance of the Federation Council, it is known among Iraqi executive branch officials that there is some disconnect here; some of them believe that the veto does not go away with the presidency council at all (an interpretation which is supported somewhat by the inference behind the use of the term “ratify” when speaking about the President’s role vis a vis laws enacted by the CoR in Article 73).

    As the security and stability improve, the real test of the political will of the new government will be the fervor with which they attack the many needed laws called for in the Constitution, and the pragmatism with which they address the ambiguities.

  13. Reidar Visser said

    Salah and Thaqalain, there is no shortage of criticism in my writings of how the USG has manipulated the situation in Iraq in the wrong direction, and mostly to its own disadvantage (and to the benefit of Iran). I have previously criticised Washington in these columns for doing so through public diplomacy focused on an ethno-sectarian paradigm for Iraqi politics. In fact that is the main theme of my latest book. But the key events are not the ones you refer to. True, Bremer set the tone, but Iraq could have changed course again if Bush and Obama had changed policies – or if its own politicians had been more capable. (For example Thaqalain you say the 2005 constitution was written by the Americans which is simply untrue; Salah previously argued the same thing and could not back it up empirically.) The point is more subtle than that: Each time the USG reproduces the ethno-sectarian paradigm for Iraq, i.e. calling Iraqiyya “Sunni” or continuing to insist on the necessity of “including the Kurds” in government, they lose a little leverage and make Iran the dominant power broker. We are now at the point where the SOFA will expire at the end of the 2011, showing that there is no American master plan of the kind you refer to at all.

  14. Reidar Visser said

    US Capacity Builder,
    The constitution also says that if the president fails to ratify laws and treaties within 15 days after they arrive on his desk then they are automatically considered ratified, i.e. the outcome is the same whatever he chooses to do. That’s about as “symbolic” as it gets.

    Tariq Harb, considered close to Maliki, repeated this point in the Iraqi media just hours ago-

  15. Salah said

    and mostly to its own disadvantage (and to the benefit of Iran) </b.
    Disagreed, there is no need to rocket science to understand what US gaining in Iraq and why putting all things on Iran side? The mouthpieces of the far right will sling any mud they can to brand and frighten us from Iran more than US /UK with others been in “Walkcake”. The corporate-owned media are not going to fight it. Whatever kind of muck and lies is going to make the headlines as "news."

    Each time the USG reproduces the ethno-sectarian paradigm for Iraq, i.e. calling Iraqiyya “Sunni” or continuing to insist on the necessity of “including the Kurds”
    Of course, these are the way of missing up and make others to believe in. “Sunni, Shiites and Kurds, do anyone asked himself what Sunni or Shiites have to do with Kurds?
    Kurds are ethnic group then what they have to do with Sunni or Shiites. Do you know Kurds they are constitute Sunni and Shiites faction? But this the way of what I mentioned in my previous comment to”all the dynamics are pulling the country apart will serve well their mouthpieces.

    We are now at the point where the SOFA will expire at the end of the 2011, showing that there is no American master plan of the kind you refer to at all.

    Well could you tell us those more than hundred military bases inside Iraq will be empty from a single US soldiers? Do you have any grantee and real evidences for you claims after 2011?

    Can you tell why US hiring more contractors to work in Iraq (Most of them formally from security, intelligence, military folks who works previously with US military)?
    Let wait and see then we will talk then, remember to keep this in mind please.

    Salah previously argued the same thing and could not back it up empirically.)

    The problem not Salah here the problem your denial of course.

    Let not go far from Noah Feldman star raised for his involvement with Iraqi constitution, himself and other news agencies give more attentions as a brainer of Islam and democracy… as if he is the only one knew Islam better that thousands of Muslims candidates have more understanding and knowledgable of Islam and its course. He is just as his folk Peter Galbraith acted as an advisor to the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq.

    Let’s pick some of Noah Constitution:

    الدستور العراقي
    الدستور العراقي، والمسودة الأولى وضعها مستشار وخبير أمريكي يدعى نوح فيلدمان، وهو أستاذ جامعي، لديه ميول صهيونية، في جامعة هارفرد الأمريكية. وفي 6 تشرين الأول/أكتوبر الماضي. قبل شهر ونصف الشهر من الآن، جريدة الـ’نيويورك تايمز’ نشرت مقالة عن دور شخص يدعى بيتر و.غالبريث، الذي كان مستشاراً للأكراد، وهو شريك في الشركة النرويجية (Norwegian Oil Company DNO) التي أخذت امتيازات النفط في كردستان، وعن دوره في الأشياء التي وضعها في الدستور لصالح الأكراد. هذا الدستور، بشكله الحالي، غير موجود مثله في العالم، في كل دولة فيدرالية ـ اتحادية يقول هذا الدستور: إذا تعارضت قوانين الحكومة المركزية أو الدولة المركزية الاتحادية مع قوانين الإقليم، فقوانين الإقليم هي المرجحة.

    Finally, I think this not new in matter of blaming the Victims for their miserable life and unfortunate tragedy, isn’t Reidar?

    One last note I would like to pick your attentions, after seven years of invasion and occupation of their country Iraqis having electricity for 3-hour a day…. Is it as same as the case of the power in Green zoon? OR with those hundreds of US Military Bases were the news telling Billions and billions spent for the reconstructions of Iraq.

    I guess I can hear ……..this is Iraqis fault!

    The Iraqi Constitution has a few holes in it,

    Yep, full of holes but the problem there process to close holes it very hard to close them according to Noah’s Constitution

  16. Lowly US capacity builder said

    Not to start a Constitutional interpretaion debate, but one standard maxim of interpretation is to interpret Constitutions so as to give power to words if possible(and not render them superfluous). With this in mind, the argument is that to “ratify” must also mean that he can choose to not ratify (i.e. veto) the law. If the default path is that the law is ratified after 15 days, than the inclusion of the provision allowing the president to ratify it would be superfluous unless it also means the president can nullify it. The provision providing for automatic ratification after 15 days could be viewed as only preventing a pocket veto (or veto by inaction).

  17. Reidar Visser said

    There is not one iota of wiggle room or ambiguity re any presidential veto in the constitution. The ultimate proof of this is the elaborate veto procedure specified for the transitional (2005-2010) presidential council. Had there been any default presidential veto no such stipulation would have been required.

    Salah, your ideas about Feldman as the author of the Iraqi constitution has been rejected by myself and others on this blog several times before. See for example the comments section on the following:

    People who worked with the UN say even his role on the TAL in 2004, which is the source of the confusion in the article in Al-Quds al-Arabi that you quote, was very limited. Galbraith is a different matter, as I have covered in detail here previously. Please let’s get back to the original subject of this post.

  18. bks said

    BAGHDAD—Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ruled out the presence of any U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of 2011, saying his new government and the country’s security forces were capable of confronting any remaining threats to Iraq’s security, sovereignty and unity.


  19. Lowly US capacity builder said

    I am not arguing one way or the other re the Office of President, Federation Council, and transitional provisions of Article 138; just saying that the arguments do exist and are more nuanced than you are acknowledging. If Maliki needed some form of Kurdish support, then he would probably argue that the veto exists.

    By the same logic, the text of Article 78 would seem to also contain not one iota of wiggle room for Alawi to share power with the PM regarding issues of National Policy and control of the Armed forces; but that is exactly what Alawi believes he will be given with the creation of the National Council for Higher Policy.

  20. Reidar Visser said

    Capacity Builder, that is exactly why the council will never come into force in the shape originally visioned by Iraqiyya. The draft law by Iraqiyya has already been rejected and reportedly watered down by the NA. Like your presidency argument, it was based on entirely implausible readings of the constitution.

  21. Jason said

    Unfortunately (depending on your view I guess), constitutional language is often corrupted in the interpretation and application, depending on what the supreme court decides to permit. Witness the Constitutional limitations on the power of the American federal government vis a vis the state governments which has been almost completely papered over.

  22. The problem of US foreign policy is epystemological. When the US adopts the fear strategy of its allies it abandons its own sense of reality and adopts their’s. The US perceives its own influence in Iraq as nil, in reality this is more dangerous but not true, it is a reflection of its allies’ perception, Israel and Kurdistan. This is compounded by the cost calculations of the Obama administration: The fear of losing more money in Iraq. The effect is fear paralysis, like a panicked deer staring in the light of an approaching truck.

  23. Lowly US capacity builder said


    The point I am trying to make is not that one argument is better or worse than the other regarding what the Constitution says; instead the only thing that all sides agree on is that the Constitution (which was written in piecemeal by no fewer than 3 Iraqi-born legal scholars and then integrated into one document) has holes and oversights that need to be addressed. Your views are well-informed and well-reasoned no doubt, but thier accuracy depends on who you ask. For example see the debate below regarding the National Council of Higher Policy.

  24. Reidar Visser said

    I’m afraid your article just proves my point. Having given up obtaining any substantial power in the council, Iraqiyya is focusing instead on the legal status (and possibly the salary) of its would-be president, Allawi! Exactly the same thing happened with de-Baathification, which was once an important issue, but ended up with an amnesty for three lucky leaders. The key piece of news regarding the council draft is of course the demand that its decisions be made with an impossible 80% majority in order to have executive force, making it all an utterly theoretical institution exactly as the NA wants it.

    I do not mean to be positivistic on legal issues, but I take the opportunity to voice an opinion when leaders of the most powerful nation in the world are wasting their time propagating what are patently absurd readings of the Iraqi constitution. As Santana has explained earlier, State Dept and NSC types keep pushing these unrealistic ideas in DC. There are many problems in the Iraqi charter but lack of clarity regarding the status of the president versus the PM and the parliament just isn’t one of them.

  25. Lowly US capacity builder said

    haha. I assure you I am not a leader, or even a State Department employee.

    Your point is well made that there have been some absurd readings of the Constitution, but many have been put forth by Iraqis to further thier own political agendas. One of which is that the Presidency Council and its powers do not go away until the formation of the Federation Council. True the Constitution does not say this outright, but many Iraqi legal scholars/lawyers will tell you that was the intent, and its absence is a mistake that needs (or needed) to be cured. Which brings forth a second point, which is that there is a large school of Iraqis who view the Constitution more as a guiding document and not binding by its exact letter. This is not a US idea. This is an Arab solution to dealing with a difficult situation where perhaps politics (and not the letter of the law) should carry more weight. How else would you square a Constitution that gives “The Legislative Power” only to the CoR, but the Supreme Court denies the CoR the power to draft its own legislation (they were drafting and passing poorly-written laws, see Federal Supreme Court decisions 43 & 44 of 2010)?

    I will give you the last word on this. I appreciate the effort you put into maintaining this dialog each month.

  26. Reidar Visser said

    Just to be clear: With “leaders” I referred to a constant message that has been pumped out of influential circles in DC since at least September about the supposed practicability of perpetuating the presidency council just like that. I heard it myself in September; Santana confirmed that it was still circulating earlier this month. I usually don’t second-guess the identity or status of the commenters here unless they choose to advertise it themselves.

    It is possible to be relativistic about everything in Iraq, of course; I’m just trying to sound an alarm clock in cases where it is clear to everyone except those intimately involved that disproportionate amounts of energy are being spent pursuing blind alleys that will eventually lead to disappointment. Clearly, had there been any residual veto power in the ordinary presidency held by Talabani the Kurds would not have demanded the perpetuation of the collective presidency council instead. As I have explained many times before, the idea that the presidency council should remain until the senate comes into force is just that: an idea. You would get dizzy if you began listening to all the ideas that are floating around in Iraqi political circles. The facts of the matter are that the constitutional revision where this idea was floated was never adopted and to fix the constitution you need a referendum first.

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