Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for January 6th, 2011

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 »