Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for January, 2011

Maliki and the Kurds: An Apparent Fudge on Oil Exports

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 27 January 2011 15:10

Among the first moves of the new Maliki government has been an agreement with the Kurdistan regional authorities (KRG) to resume oil exports from fields in Kurdistan operated by foreign companies that have cut separate deals with the KRG previously. Exports are supposed to start as early as 1 February.

So far, relatively few details about the agreed arrangements have been revealed. Baghdad has reportedly agreed to lower the minimum export requirement for Kurdistan in the annual budget to 100,000 barrels per day (it was originally 150,000 bpd, which the Kurds found somewhat steep), and unlike the previous attempt at starting export in the summer of 2009, Baghdad will this time pay a “contribution” (musahama) towards covering the expenses of the foreign companies that operate in Kurdistan. So far, the exact size of the payment has not been specified, but according to Asim Jihad of the Iraqi oil ministry it will be paid to the Kurdish regional authorities rather than directly to the foreign companies, and there are certain “barter” elements to the deal as well, including improvements to the refining capacity and electricity supply of Kurdistan plus provision of oil for the local market there.

Thus in legal terms, it seems as if the stalemate regarding the contract status of the foreign companies is continuing as before. The Kurds are reluctant to formally submit the contracts to Baghdad for approval since that would mean not only potential challenges to the contract terms but also cession of what the Kurds believe is their sovereign right to conclude such deals with third parties. Baghdad, for its part, is reluctant to pay the companies that operate in Kurdistan directly according to the contract terms, since that would mean recognising the right of federal authorities to sign deals with foreign companies without coordinating with Baghdad – which in turn would mean that not only federal regions but in fact every governorate across Iraq could do the same thing. Since federal regions and governorates have exactly the same residual rights under article 115 of the constitution, it would be potentially suicidal for the central government to admit a residual power to sign contracts for so-called “future fields” without coordination with Baghdad. Under this kind of permissive scenario, Basra, Maysan and Anbar would suddenly negotiate with foreign companies without reference to Baghdad. It seems far more likely that Baghdad is aiming for a restrictive interpretation of article 112, second, that would require coordination with the oil ministry for all future deals as part of the national “strategic policy” on oil – and instead will opt for for temporary, horse-trading solutions of the kind now agreed with the Kurds in the short term while it is working on boosting its own export capacity, which will still take some years.

Thus unlike what happened in 2009, money will this time be paid from Baghdad to Kurdistan, and presumably the Kurds will then pay the operating companies. The problem for the Kurds is that as long as the contracts are not submitted for review (as opposed to just making them public), Baghdad will continue to pay Arbil with reference to its own assessment of reasonable costs rather than in accordance with the lucrative terms of the contracts. Whether this in the long run is actually good enough for the Kurds – and not least their foreign partners – remains to be seen. Clearly, the foreign companies that operate in Kurdistan are not there in order to do non-profit work forever, and the Kurds will be under pressure to pay them more generously instead of simply compensating them for expenses. Other potential hitches regarding the new arrangements relate to parliamentary oversight: Presumably the compensation payments are to be specified in the annexes to the 2011 budget to be debated in February, and presumably the payments due to be transferred to the Kurdish ministry for natural resources as part of the deal will be subject to parliamentary debate in the Kurdish regional assembly as well, where the PUK and Gorran have a history of asking critical questions about the KDP-led oil policy.

Nonetheless, this deal represents an interesting move for the new Maliki government, where a key question since December 2010 has been whether Maliki will lean more towards the Kurds or Iraqiyya in hammering out his policies. Based on the latest move by Maliki to attach the independent commissions to the government, one can start wondering whether he actually has a viable grand strategy at all. He can afford to alienate either the Kurds or Iraqiyya, but not both at the same time. This holds true for the oil sector as well.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, Oil in Iraq | 6 Comments »

On Lions and Other Mesopotamian Creatures

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 24 January 2011 15:19

It was a pity the Iraqi soccer team, aka “The Lions of Mesopotamia”, lost by an extra-time goal to Australia in this weekend’s quarter-final in the Asian Cup. After a nervous beginning, the Iraqis played a lot better as the match progressed and once more demonstrated that the country has got word-class potential also beyond the oil and energy sector.

The reason the Iraqi football team does so well is utterly simple: It maximises its potential by putting together the nation’s best talents regardless of their ethnic and sectarian backgrounds. Careful investigations based on a Paul Bremer paradigm for understanding Iraq would show that the number of Shiites in the team is disproportionately high compared with the national demographics and there are too few Kurds and Sunni Arabs. But the bigger point is this: No one cares. Most players are known only by their first name and their father’s name, with no family names indicating place or tribe of origin; TV commentators frequently use first names only during matches. During substitutions, Kurds are exchanged for Shiites and vice-versa, but no one is protesting even as the ethno-sectarian balance gets even more distorted during the course of a match: Only talent counts.

The obvious contrast to the Iraqi national soccer team is the Iraqi political scene. Here some still believe that ethnic and sectarian affiliations are more important than talent: The distribution of key leadership positions almost invariably replicates a scheme in which ethno-sectarian affiliation, rather than ability, is centre stage. Once a Kurdish president had nominated a Shiite premier, the speaker of parliament “had to be” a Sunni. Once a Sunni had become speaker, his two deputies “had to be” a Shiite and a Kurd. In this setting, there is no dynamism and no meritocracy; hence it is unsurprising that the performance of the Iraqi political institutions is invariably substandard.

The practice of allocating top jobs on the basis of ethno-sectarian criteria is a collaborative enterprise in which incompetent Iraqi politicians collude with ignorant Westerners and strong-minded Iranian strategists in order to hide the fact that they are not really qualified for their jobs. In actual fact, their task is simply to provide the best possible services for the Iraqi citizens; yet their inability to do this makes them resort to ethno-sectarian demagoguery instead of admitting that they are not really qualified to be part of the squad. The question Iraqi voters should ask themselves is why the notion of a “Kurdish” or “Shiite” or “Sunni” quota should be any more legitimate in government than on the soccer pitch.

Posted in Iraqi nationalism, Sectarian master narrative | 21 Comments »

The First Step of the New Maliki Government: Attaching the Independent Electoral Commission to the Executive

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 21 January 2011 14:50

The batch of decisions by the federal supreme court released earlier this week contained another interesting item in addition to the refusal to rule in the parliament replacement debacle. In a lengthy ruling, and probably one of the more innovative pieces of jurisprudence ever produced by the court, it has decided that henceforth the “independent commissions” and in particular the Iraqi election commission (IHEC) are to be “attached” to the executive branch of the government.

This is an extraordinary move since the constitution is crystal clear in article 102 with respect to how IHEC is answerable to the legislative branch of government, i.e. the parliament and not to the the government:

تُعد المفوضة العليا لحقوق الانسان، والمفوضية العليا المستقلة للانتخابات، وهيئة النـزاهة، هيئاتٌ مستقلة، تخضع لرقابة مجلس النواب، وتنظم اعمالها بقانون

But through a lengthy argument and creative thinking, the court in its latest ruling manages to put this unambiguous provision to one side by arguing instead that the nature of the work of IHEC is of the “executive” kind and hence its subordination to the legislative branch of government contradicts the principle of separation of powers, which is also part of the constitution as a general principle!

In other words, the court has detected an “error” in the 2005 constitution, and rules in favour of the government against a clause of the constitution itself. This is interesting firstly because it indicates the amount of pressure that must have been brought to bear on the court from the government. Secondly, it begs the question of why the court is not doing anything to explicitly address a far more glaring “error” in the constitution, i.e. the obvious contradiction between article 115 (which gives residual powers to both federal regions and governorates) and article 122 as well as the whole provincial powers law of 2008 (which subordinate the governorates to Baghdad in a more comprehensive way). In this question the court has increasingly ruled in favour of the central government although clause 115 on the residual powers of the governorates is arguably stronger. Thirdly, the timing is also interesting, since the request from Maliki’s lawyers to make the change is dated 2 December 2010, i.e. at a time when he had not yet had his new cabinet confirmed but evidently had the audacity to enter into such controversial legal territory apparently without any fear of creating scandal. But then again, this latest decision just adds to the impression of a political system that is rotten to the bone. Unlike the Tunisians, however, the Iraqis and the Iraqi press just don’t seem to have the guts to do anything about the situation.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues | 24 Comments »

The Federal Supreme Court Refuses to Intervene in the Parliament Replacement Issue

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 18:01

In a shameful and so far much-overlooked development, the Iraqi federal supreme court today issued a ruling to the effect that it has no jurisdiction in the question of the laws that govern replacement of candidates, leaving it to the politicians themselves to sort out the mess.

This is nonsensical for two reasons. Firstly, in appealing to article 93 regarding its own remit and its supposed inability to touch on issues that relate to interpretation of laws in force (as opposed to constitutional interpretation), the court has shown great inconsistency over the past years. In fact, in one of its landmark rulings in July 2009, the court actually used its interpretation of the law on governorates not organised in a region to overrule the constitution itself regarding parliamentary oversight of the governorate assemblies.

Secondly, and more importantly, the issue at hand is about far more than interpreting the replacement law on candidates from 2006. It is indeed about constitutional issues, since the principle of 1 deputy per 100,000 Iraqis is coming under threat when party leaderships dispose of replacement seats as they see fit and thereby upset the balance between governorates. The court also serves as a court of appeal in cases arising from the application of federal laws.

At any rate, by referring to a clause in the constitution that establishes a procedure for parliament to make decisions regarding the status of its own members by a two-thirds majority (which in turn can lead to an appeal to the federal supreme court), the court kicks the can a little further down the road and envisages possible involvement at a later stage. But it is totally unnecessary for the court to be so timid about the issue. Iraq needs a functioning parliament now, but instead of deciding on heads of parliamentary committees and its own bylaws, the assembly today declared another holiday which will last until 30 January, after the Shiite religious holiday of Arbain. Those waiting for a budget, security ministers, vice presidents or strategic councils will probably need to wait much longer than that.

Posted in Iraq parliament membership, Iraqi constitutional issues | Comments Off on The Federal Supreme Court Refuses to Intervene in the Parliament Replacement Issue

Parliament Agrees on Committees, But Not on Their Leaders

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 17 January 2011 16:11

The Iraqi parliament today decided the membership of 26 parliamentary committees. Except that due to disagreements among party leaders they could not decide on who should head the committees, meaning they will probably remain inoperative or at least unable to make major decisions for yet some time. So on top of the partial government without security ministries, vice presidents that aren’t really vice presidents, and a parliament without updated bylaws and with a handful of deputies that clearly violate the constitutional requirements, we today get two dozen headless committees. Bravo!

As for the composition of the committees, a few tendencies can be glanced from the lists of members. For example, there is a clear distinction between prestigious committees and the less sought-after ones. Almost all the frontbench politicians have chosen the committees for foreign affairs, security and defence, legal affairs, integrity, finance, and oil, though with some interesting variations between the parties in terms of how they have staked their bets.

The foreign affairs committee in particular includes several high-ranking individuals, with Sadiq al-Rikabi, Sami al-Askari and Yasin Majid from State of Law listed alongside Khudayr al-Khuzai, tipped as a possible vice president. Humam Hammudi of ISCI is also in this committee and has been rumoured as a possible committee head; however whether he will get this position probably depends on whether ISCI definitively chooses to define itself as part of the all-Shiite National Alliance after all. From Iraqiyya, Salman al-Jamili and Arkan Arshad are the most prominent members.

State of Law has also deputised key party members to the security and defence committee, including Hasan al-Sunayd, Abbas al-Bayati and Adnan al-Shahmani. Ammar Tuma from Fadila and Hakim al-Zamili, a Sadrist, complete the National Alliance contingent in this committee. Iraqiyya has got people like Hamid al-Mutlak, Falah Zaydan and Iskandar Witwit, himself a former army commander.

The legal committee is arguably the most important one since it does the final checking of key legislation, and there are reports that the battle for its leadership – between Iraqiyya and the Kurds – has been particularly intense and one of the reasons for the delay of settling the question of the committee heads. Amir al-Kinani, a Sadrist, and Jaafar al-Sadr, the son of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, represent the National Alliance, whereas Iraqiyya have included people with Kirkuk connections like Umar al-Jibburi and Arshad al-Salihi in this key committee. They will probably be closely watched by some of the most prominent Kurdish politicians that have also been given membership, like Khalid Shwani, Muhsin al-Saadun and Latif Mustafa.

The composition of the integrity commission does not bode particularly well for those looking for a quiet shelving of the de-Baathification question (though there appears to be no de-Baathification committee as such). No prizes for getting that the Sadrist Bahaa al-Aaraji is on it, alongside other vocal National Alliance politicians like Kamal al-Saadi of the Daawa, Jaafar al-Musawi (Fadila) and Hussein al-Assadi from Basra. Sabah al-Saadi, an increasingly outspoken politician who used to be with Fadila but is now independent, managed to secure re-election to this committee (he famously tried to scotch the formation of Nuri al-Maliki’s second government in December 2010 on procedural grounds).

The finance committee includes Haydar al-Abbadi, a prominent Daawa candidate who was once considered a potential PM, and Ibrahim al-Mutlak, the brother of the new deputy PM from Iraqiyya. Jawad al-Bulani is also there, but like Salim al-Jibburi from Tawafuq who is represented on several committees, he is likely to lose his seat when the federal supreme court rules on the replacement of parliamentary deputies who became ministers.

Education and higher education have also attracted some top politicians, especially from the National Alliance and ISCI (Khalid Atiyya, Maha al-Duri, a prominent female Sadrist, Walid al-Hilli of the Daawa and previously a candidate to head the de-Baathification committee, and Aziz Alwan, the former ISCI governor of Dhi Qar). One can perhaps understand that Iraqiyya does not pay so much attention to the education committee since it controls the ministry; however when it comes to the oil committee the absence of prominent Iraqiyya deputies is somewhat more remarkable. The National Alliance has appropriately sent three representatives from Basra to this committee, although they are all less than 35 years of age, with ties to Fadila, Daawa/Tanzim al-Iraq and the Sadrists respectively. Furat al-Sharaa of Badr/ISCI is also from Basra. On the other hand, Iraqiyya has only got Adnan al-Jannabi, a veteran politician from central Iraq, and less known politicians from Diyala and Mosul. How much more important this committee potentially is than the elusive strategic think tank!

The remainder of the committees are of less significance. Some of the people named there are clearly waiting for other, mostly vice-presidential jobs, including Adil Abd al-Mahdi for cultural affairs and Tariq al-Hashemi for migration affairs (their inclusion proves that they are not vice presidents, as argued here earlier), and Ayad Allawi himself (also on the migration affairs committee). The tribal committee has attracted Muhammad al-Sayhud of the National Alliance from Maysan and Hussein al-Shaalan, a veteran Iraqiyya politician from the mid-Euphrates region; Nuri al-Maliki’s recently-confirmed replacement deputy, the secular (ex-Iraqiyya) Izzat al-Shabandar is on the committee for parliamentary affairs; Adnan al-Asadi, thought by some to be the interior minister in waiting is on the national reconciliation committee; Ali al-Allaq and Muhammad Mahdi al-Nasiri of the Daawa are on the religious affairs committee, Mahmud Uthman, a prominent Kurdish politician, is on the committee for regional and governorate affairs; Abd al-Hussein Abtan, ex-governor of Najaf for ISCI is on the separate economic and investment committee; Haydar al-Mulla of Iraqiyya is on the human rights committee.

The parliamentary session appropriately ended with reference to another lacuna in the  new Iraqi political system: A discussion on the need to hold local elections at the sub-governorate level, where no comprehensive, standardised elections have taken place yet in the post-2003 era.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

More Kurdish Protests against the Budget

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 16 January 2011 15:14

It has been reported that 40 Kurdish deputies withdrew from today’s parliament meeting in protest against the revised version of the budget, now presented for its first official reading.

What the Kurds protest against are the limited changes to the previous version. That was tentatively “read” in the parliament earlier, and the Kurds rightly protested that it had not been duly considered in the financial committee. However, even though the procedural objection of the Kurds was sustained and a provisional financial committee formed, the document that was presented today apparently still contained all the clauses to which the Kurds have made exception. Over and above that, the one major change appears to relate to additional funding for the next Arab summit to be held in Baghdad!

Basically, the Kurds dislike the clause in the budget that obliges them to stick to an oil production target of 150,000 barrels per day. Or rather, they dislike the conditions attached to this item, i.e. firstly that any failure to produce that much will automatically reduce Kurdistan’s share of the national income from 17%, and secondly that the compensation for expenses that will be paid to foreign companies operating in Kurdistan has not been decided. In other words, there could in theory be a repeat of the stalemate seen in 2009 in which no agreement on the validity of the contracts signed by foreign companies operating in Kurdistan is reached – either because the Kurds refuse to submit the contracts to Baghdad for approval (which would signify an admission of a loss of sovereignty in the oil sector) or because the remuneration offered by Baghdad is seen as inadequate by the Kurds or their foreign partners.

The underlying political dynamic that has enabled this situation to emerge consists firstly of the enduring centralistic tendencies in at least some leading personalities in Maliki’s entourage, and secondly the emergence of Iraqiyya as a potential supporter of these tendencies, for example through people like Rafi al-Eisawi whose finance ministry is directly involved in hammering out the budget. More dialogue is expected before a second reading and then the vote itself, perhaps in February. The problem for the Kurds is that Maliki does not need their votes to pass the budget (which he can do with the support of Iraqiyya alone), and unlike in 2010, the Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani does not have the power to veto it.

Posted in Iraqi nationalism, Oil in Iraq | 2 Comments »

Meagre Results for Biden in Baghdad?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 14 January 2011 14:41

Vice President Joe Biden has so far been unusually tight-lipped about his recent trip to Iraq, the latest in a string of increasingly unsurprising “surprise” visits.

Could it be that the results are not particularly positive? The assumed list of real US desiderata in Iraq right now is as follows: 1. Renegotiation of the SOFA to allow some US forces to stay beyond 2011; 2. Establishment of the national council for strategic policies that was promised during the negotiations leading up to the formation of the Maliki government in late December; 3. Completion of that government without Maliki himself (or the Sadrists) emerging too strong with respect to the security ministries. It can be safely assumed that these issues were talked about, or at least that Biden attempted to talk about them, behind close doors. However, all that has been reported in public concerns the essentially ornamental “Strategic Framework Agreement”, which unlike the SOFA is an empty, non-committal arrangement with few real implications despite all the spin surrounding it.

On the other hand, on the three assumed key issues there has been no development reported, which after all is not terribly surprising. Regarding the SOFA, this is related to a straw-man argument that has been making the rounds in Washington for the past year, to the effect that Maliki secretly wants US forces to stay beyond 2011 and that only the evil Sadrists – with Iranian instigation – can prevent him for asking for an extension of their presence. In fact, there is nothing to suggest that Maliki is any more interested in an extension of the US presence than the Sadrists are. With respect to the strategic policy council, Ayad Allawi is still waiting in the wings but indications are that the draft law has now become so watered down that the council will have no meaningful role – though if it does come into existence eventually (that’s after the Iraqi parliament has decided on committees and a budget, at the earliest), it will no doubt be celebrated in Washington as a triumph of American diplomacy regardless. As for the security ministries, one increasingly gets the impression that candidates personally vetted by Maliki will gradually assume control. Falih al-Fayyad, from the movement of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, was recently made national security adviser.

The sad irony is that the media narrative on Muqtada al-Sadr’s recent return to Iraq has masked an opportunity for the US government to do something about the situation. The dominant version of Muqtada’s return suggests that it “reflects” the rise of the Sadrists and their kingmaker role. The truth is that once Maliki had been nominated as candidate, he did his best to keep the Sadrists out of real positions of influence at the top level of government, with only three Sadrist ministers having been confirmed so far (rather than the “seven ministries” often referred to in the press which includes four ministries not yet appointed that may or may not end up in Sadrist hands). The government that was created on 21 December was in fact dominated by State of Law and Iraqiyya much more than Iran may have hoped for, and it seems reasonable to interpret the return of Sadr from Iran, after two days of consultations between Iranian leaders and Ibrahim al-Jaafari in Tehran, in this light.

In other words, there is still a fight going on about the future direction of the Maliki government. If Washington had opted to forget about the strategic policy council at this stage, chances are that the relations between Iraqiyya and State of Law would actually have improved rather than deteriorated. But once more, the United States keeps sticking to policies that will keep the government sprawling and disunited, exactly as Iran wants.

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | 3 Comments »

Musa in the Council of Component Representatives

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 9 January 2011 16:24

During his visit to Baghdad over the weekend, the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Musa, has met with fake vice presidents and deputies who have stolen their seats in the Iraqi parliament. In this way, just like the rest of the international community, the Arab League is contributing to the further erosion of the Iraqi state at the time when it should have done the opposite.

Salim al-Jibburi of Tawafuq/Wasat

Today’s session in the Iraqi parliament just highlighted these unfortunate tendencies. With nauseating predictability, Musa was greeted by a procession of three speakers supposedly representing Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish interests, followed by a Christian. The only exceptions to the predictable pattern were the contributions from Tawafuq and Gorran, probably meant as consolation prizes for having been largely shut out of the recently-formed partial government. Salim al-Jibburi of Tawafuq, in particular, must have felt he was on borrowed time, since he recently, in an unconstitutional fashion, became the fourteenth member of parliament from Diyala, thereby snatching one seat from Salahaddin’s quota of 12.

After the niceties had been completed, parliament also attended to some ordinary business. Abdallah Hasan Rashid al-Jibburi was sworn in as member of parliament for Iraqiyya to take the place of Salah Muzahim Darwish who recently became a minister. The change, which was constitutional since both were candidates for Iraqiyya in Diyala (though it is thought Muzahim was originally with Salih al-Mutlak whereas Jibburi has been reported as belonging to the Allawi faction), is interesting because the new member earlier got excluded from the seat he won with most votes in Diyala after Maliki’s State of Law in May 2010 complained that he had been previously convicted and hence unqualified to become a deputy. Possibly some more extrajudicial ad hoc reconciliation has been going on?

The parliament also passed the law on a deputy or more for the president. No mention of the presidency council there, for sure. The law also confirms that the deputies have no other power than whatever the president himself delegates from his own, largely ceremonial prerogatives. We will still have to wait a little more before parliament confirms the maximum three deputies that the president can select, though it is widely expected that he will settle for Adel Abd al-Mahi of ISCI, Tareq al-Hashemi of Iraqiyya and Khudayr al-Khuzai of Daawa (Tanzim al-Iraq), with a Turkmen representative who ran on the National Alliance ticket today promising a “popular revolution” unless a Turkmen is given a seat! Alchemist of the revolution indeed.

At a time when most of the Iraqi parliament is concerned with being Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, minorites, and women, it is gratifying to find at least some positive exceptions. Gorran’s representative Latif al-Shaykh Mustafa recently pointed out that the alleged promise by Maliki to extend veto powers to the president as part of the Kurdish 19 points is in fact unconstitutional. (It should be added that there are absolutely no signs that Maliki has any intention to keep the promise, since there is no constitutional way for him to do so.) Similarly, Jawad Kazim al-Buzuni of Daawa (Tanzim al-Iraq) has attacked the intention of Talabani to create three presidential deputies, which he says is superfluous and a waste of government money since the presidency has no real power and responsibilities beyond ceremonial functions anyway. Maha al-Duri, a female Sadrist, has called for urgent decreases in the salaries of the “three presidents” (Maliki, Nujayfi, Talabani) and presumably their deputies also.

Actions that challenge the muhasasa (quota) logic of the presidential deputies and the recent backroom deals on replacement deputies are welcome steps towards a more mature form of politics in Iraq. For now, though, the Iraqi parliament remains a council for self-proclaimed component representatives (majlis nawwab al-mukawwinat or مجلس نواب  المكونات ) rather than a national parliament as such.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, Sectarian master narrative | 9 Comments »

Parliament Replacement Update

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 7 January 2011 15:05

Thankfully, the numerous violations of both the relevant “replacement law” and the constitution in the process of substituting deputies who became ministers in the second Maliki government have prompted reactions in Iraqi political circles. So far, at least five cases have reportedly been submitted to the federal supreme court.

It seems fairly easy to predict the outcome of these cases as long as one can assume that the judiciary will manage to resist attempts at political pressure. Three of the five cases should lead to cancellation of the replacement candidates because both the law on replacement of deputies and the constitution are clearly violated since the seats have been given to candidates from different governorates than the deputies who left to become ministers. These are Daghir al-Musawi from Basra (replaced Hasan al-Sari from Maysan), Jawad Bulani from Baghdad (replaced Ali al-Sajri from Salahaddin) and Muhammad al-Hindawi (replaced Hassan al-Shammari who was a candidate in Dhi Qar). Musawi comes from the all-Shiite Iraqi National Alliance and is the longstanding leader of the controversial Sayyid al-Shuhada movement with particularly close ties to Iran; although he replaces someone who is from “Hizbollah in Iraq” with similarly close connections to Iran, the two formed a unified political entity in the March 2010 elections and are technically part of ISCI. Bulani is of course from Unity of Iraq but from a different sub-entity (the Constitutional Party) than Sajri, whereas both Hindawi and Shammari are from Fadila, meaning the intra-list dynamics will be unaffected either way in that case. But these replacements are likely to be invalidated by the court since the governorate balance gets affected and since the only exceptions to the principle of upholding the governorate quotas in the “replacement law” relate to 1.) cases where all the candidates of a list already have a seat in parliament; and 2.) cases where one of the seven compensation seats are being replaced. Additionally, this same logic should relate to two more cases not mentioned as having reached the federal supreme court yet, those of Jawad Ghanim Ali (a Sadrist who apparently was a candidate in Dahuk) and Salim al-Jibburi (who has taken a Salahaddin seat even though he was a Diyala candidate).

Two other reported cases are likely to be thrown out. There have been challenges to the seats given to Abdallah Khalaf Muhammad (Iraqiyya in Kirkuk) and Fuad Kazim al-Dawraki (State of Law in Karbala) from others within these alliances that got a higher number of personal votes. However, the number of personal votes has moral rather than legal significance in this case. The Iraqi elections commission previously attempted to introduce rules for computing the compensatory seats that would take into account personal votes and thereby make the system more in harmony with the open-list logic adopted in the revised elections law in 2009. However, on this they were overruled by the party leaderships and similarly no revised version of the “replacement law” better attuned to the open-list logic has been adopted. Accordingly, as of today, the party leaderships can decide the replacements themselves as long as they stick to the same governorate, as has been done in these two cases.

Meanwhile, these important questions have no chance of breaking through the Western mainstream media’s preferred dichotomy of Muqtada=bad; everything else=the charming wonders of Iraq’s interesting democracy. Today, enlisting the assistance of a “special correspondent”, the prestigious Washington Post wants us to believe that “Parliament met on 10 of the past 11 days to debate a national budget, nominees to head security ministries and other weighty topics”! The truth of the matter is that parliament hasn’t met since 27 December and won’t meet again until Sunday (9 January), but who are we to disturb the exciting narrative of the epic battle between Muqtada al-Sadr and the energetic US-sponsored democrats of the new Iraq?

Posted in Iraq parliament membership, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 13 Comments »

Talabani Makes Another Constitutional Invention

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 6 January 2011 14:30

The media is full of speculation about the return of Muqtada al-Sadr and what it means for Iraqi politics. The truth of the matter is we probably won’t know for some time yet. What is worse, though, is that whereas all the discussion of problems in Iraqi politics right now seems focused on Sadr and what it means for Iranian power in Iraq, the more gradual and less spectacular destruction of the Iraqi state in the name of a system of ethno-sectarian quota-sharing favoured by Iran continues on a daily basis.

In other words, Iraqi politicians don’t need Sadr’s help in order to disassemble their own nation. They’re doing quite fine in that respect already. Take the lingering issue of the deputies of the president. Apparently some in the Iraqi media must have finally woken up and challenged the establishment, because on Monday there was a report that one Ismail Alwan, described as a “legal expert”, claimed the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, had issued a special “order” whereby his two previous deputies in the presidency council, Adel Abd al-Mahdi and Tareq al-Hashemi, had somehow been made “temporary deputies” for him. Sources in the offices of the two men confirmed the existence of this kind of “order”.

Multiple questions arise out of this. Firstly, where exactly is the order? If it is somewhere on the presidency website then it must be carefully hidden, for the news section there is just full of the usual idle reports on Talabani’s endless travel and ceremonial exchanges of telegrams with foreign dignitaries. Second, if the order exists, how has Talabani acquired the right to create any deputies in the absence of a law for their election? Clearly, that is for the federal supreme court and not the president to decide. If the president has indeed issued this kind of order (and he has been innovative in this respect in the past) he should be challenged to present it to the public with a reference to the legal rationale for this course of action, because it is far from obvious that he has the right to make this kind of appointment.

What this all goes back to is the continued failure of much of the Iraqi media to appreciate the radical difference between the relatively weak presidency now in force and the relatively strong presidency council that was a transitional arrangement for the first parliamentary cycle from 2005 to 2010 only. The latter does not exist anymore and cannot be revived except after a referendum; it goes without saying that Talabani’s deputies in the presidency council cannot follow him into the presidency: The two offices have completely different sets of prerogatives and have no relationship to each other. The soon-to-be-adopted draft law on the “deputies of the president” also confirms this state of affairs.

The case of the deputies of the president and the way it gets overshadowed by Muqtada al-Sadr just underlines how Iran’s sophisticated strategy of achieving influence in Iraq is succeeding thanks to American misreadings of what that strategy is. Alarm clocks appear to go off in Washington whenever there is mention of Muqtada; however Iran’s more basic strategy of keeping the Iraqis preoccupied with the game of ethno-sectarian quotas is promoted and even celebrated by the Americans. It should be a hint to Washington that Muqtada is not the sole VIP traveller between Iraq and Iran right now: This week also sees visits to Iraq by the Iranian foreign ministers and Kurdish leaders plus Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the Shiite alliance going to Iran.

The key question going forward is more than what Sadr will do. Rather it is about whether the new government can stop thinking about silly quotas, dozens of useless deputy president positions and made-up interpretations of the constitution aimed at perpetuating the system of sinecures, and instead build a strong and coherent government capable of confronting whatever cards Muqtada may have up his sleeve.

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, Iraqi constitutional issues | 8 Comments »