Iraq and Gulf Analysis

In Egypt, a Popular Revolution; in Iraq, a Struggle about a Fourth Vice President

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 12 February 2011 17:25

In one of the least glorious acts of his presidency, Jalal Talabani has asked the Iraqi parliament to amend tomorrow the newly passed law on “one or more deputies for the president” so that the number of deputies can be expanded from three to four. Some reports even say Talabani has specifically requested that the law reserve the fourth seat for a Turkmen (the three persons already nominated are two Shiites and one Sunni Arab).

The realpolitik behind this move is as follows. The two biggest Kurdish parties promote a vision of Iraqi politics in which ethno-sectarian collective groups rather than the individual citizens are centre stage. In accordance with this policy, the Kurdish parties ask for ethno-sectarian quotas in government (percentages of jobs that will go to Kurds), identify “disputed territories” (where a majority of people defining themselves as “Kurds” live) and have introduced the general concept of “racial entitlement” (istihqaq qawmi) as a means of justifying these demands. Another facet of this strategy is to make as many non-Kurdish Iraqis as possible think of themselves as members of ethno-sectarian communities too, as seen particularly in the way the Kurds have been building relationships with Iraq’s Christian communities.

The latest step, then, is to reach out to the Turkmen community through the promotion of a separate Turkmen vice-presidency. This strategy makes sense for the Kurds, firstly since they need to win over Turkmens in order to advance their aim of territorial annexation of the disputed city of Kirkuk, and secondly since they are much less worried about the Turkmen as a minority community than the prospect of Turkmens and other non-Kurds joining a strong Iraqi nationalist party. Briefly put, to the Kurdish strategy, it is a good thing when the Turkmens emulate their calls for “racial entitlements” – a concept that does not occur in the constitution – instead of joining other Iraqis in cross-sectarian parties. At the same time, it is a move that will pay off nicely for Talabani, since his deputies according to the law has no other powers than what he himself delegates to them from his own, largely ceremonial prerogatives. Nonetheless, Talabani has succeeded in prompting Turkmen politicians to fight among themselves for a deputy president position that has only symbolic value, while at the same time sacrificing opportunities to obtain ministries where they could have played a more national role.

Tomorrow’s other main scheduled event in parliament, the second reading of the budget before it goes to a vote later in the month, exemplifies the potential benefits to the Kurds of promoting an ethno-sectarian paradigm in Iraqi politics. If ethno-sectarian identities were of limited significance, then one could expect many nationalists in the Iraqiyya movement to support the deputy prime minister, Hussein al-Shahristani, in his persistent reservations against recognising the contracts of the foreign companies operating in Kurdistan without adjustments. Conversely, if Iraqiyya and State of Law are unable to cooperate due to differences in which sectarian sentiments play a part, then the position of the Kurds is looking a lot stronger. Lately, of course, there are indeed signs that that appears to be the case, with Iraqiyya reportedly seeking assistance from the Kurds to achieve progress on legislation for the strategic policy council, another institution that just like the deputy presidencies will help enshrine a sectarian architecture in Iraq’s political institutions. Reports that Iraqiyya have accepted the directorship of the Sunni religious endowment authority (awqaf) would just seem to emphasise this trend towards a Sunnification of Iraqiyya; as do statements by Haydar al-Mulla of Iraqiyya that they are happy with a Turkmen president to fill the third seat as long as there is not a fourth one for a second Shiite! It is increasingly unclear whether the budget text will actually clarify the exact government position on oil exports, but the debate surrounding it will no doubt be influenced by the degree to which an ethno-sectarian quota logic continues to prevail among Iraqi politicians.

Some in the international community will no doubt laud Talabani for his latest move. (“Expanding the number from three to four – how did he think of that?”) Critics will point to the instrument of ever more vice presidents and deputy ministers as the cardinal symptom of a political system in great crisis, where quotas for imagined collective identities matter more than talent in providing services for individual citizens. Why stop at four vice presidents? Why not add some for the Christians and Sabaeans? There are plenty of sects and tribes that need recognition; in the end “Every Iraqi Is a Vice President” will be a suitable slogan.

With hopeful signs of a no-nonsense democracy in the making in Egypt, perhaps Iraq, too, will one day get a democracy that is less characterised by exogenous forces than the current system and political culture, still rooted in the days of Paul Bremer in the years from 2003 to 2004. There are signs that Iraqis are already calling for “better services” but until they also start calling for “fewer vice-presidents” their revolution is likely to remain a frustrated one.

6 Responses to “In Egypt, a Popular Revolution; in Iraq, a Struggle about a Fourth Vice President”

  1. robinson said


    Constitutionally these deputy positions are, as you say, symbolic. That said, given the amount of attention being paid to them by various political blocs do you have any sense that they hold any practical, that is to say functional, value?

    I agree with your analysis of what the Kurds angle is in this, but I don’t think I buy the argument that the Turkmen (and others before them) have been duped into angling for some false prize as an explanation for why these constitutionally meaningless positions seem to be so sought after. Nor do I buy the “Iraqis like titles” argument. The most logical answer to me is that these constitutionally peripheral positions unfortunately (not to mention illegally) have tangible power to direct financial resources.

    Also, wouldn’t “national entitlement” be more accurate than “racial entitlement”?

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Robinson, for now the only likely practical impact of the deputy positions is that they will be given accounts for “social” activities – a disputed budgetary item because some see it as little more than corruption – plus the usual access to travel and meetings with foreign dignitaries. If that is more important than running a real ministry, then I think the country is headed in the wrong direction.

    As for qawmi, if you want to call it “national” then I’m sure that works well as long as you stress it is the “blood” kind of nationalism (hence race/ethnicity), not the “territory” -focused one (which is wataniyya).

  3. Salah said

    will one day get a democracy that is less characterised by exogenous forces than the current system and political culture, still rooted in the days of Paul Bremer

    will one day get a democracy that is less characterised by exogenous forces than the current system and political culture, still rooted in the days of Paul Bremer

    YES it will but not in one day, this process need long term investment of democratic rules and laws.

    What seen in Iraq from the day one of Bremers creation nonsense “fake” democratic CPA were purely wrong creation upon ethnics/ sectarian mantra, was against the basis of any democratic principles and rules.

    But let hope there will be no oppressive regime in Iraq and more willing people who loving to work for Iraq and Iraqis not for their folks and their relatives most important are not greedy and corrupted like Hosni Mubarak as reported by US his wealth between $70 to $80 billion.

    May be good to know that Maliki after the Egyptian’s people repelling their president and his government for sake of better life more than a democracy,So Maliki did closed the main bridge to the green zone for maintenance work while military and police forces guarding that bridge also he did make announcement as old tyrant’s style by giving Iraqis an amount THREE times more of food items who holding food card, he also giving ID 15000.00 for Iraqis who is in needs.

    What should call this? Is it a bribe or you should give another name to Maliki move?

  4. There is a saying that goes like: Timing is everything. I think adding the fourh VP is all about the timing process. The significance of the Iraqi president’s office is in influencing the timing of political decisions. We saw how this works when, for nine months Iraqiya was the largest block and should have been given the task of forming the government but the presidency chose to wait. Adding a Turkumene VP essentially widens the circle for consensus over timing and makes it more difficult and likely to cause delay, on the other hand it is an addmission of the role of Turkey in the Open Pot Iraqi political process.
    Talbani is the embodiment of Open Pot politics blindly favored by the US; a policy which may have worked better for the US in other situations because the US was the strongest player by far. But in Iraq, an Open Pot means loss of timing, of synchronization: The Clocking Source is External! What we need is internal clocking otherwise the political process goes out of synchronization.
    I apologize for using electronics technical jargon in order to explain my point, I hope it makes sense. Electronics is my day job!

  5. Reidar Visser said

    No problems with the electronics Faisal, but please note that the new (“ordinary”) presidency is not a consensus institution. Talabani only delegates power if he wants to. And he does not have much power himself unless government breaks down and there is to be a second government-formation process.

    Anyway, they didn’t manage to elect those deputies today after all; I’ll get back very soon with a full report.

  6. Thaqalain said

    ID 15K= Just 12.5 USD, anyways better then starving and fighting for bread as in other 3rd World Nations or as under regional US dictated regimes.
    Kuwait & Bahrain announced to pay around 2500 to 3500 USD +Food Ration. One can imagine the disparity of lifestyles, Kuwaiti companies are investing in Iraqi projects and at the same time they are getting their share of compensation out of Iraqi oil.
    Nothing is changed in Egypt. It was face change week.

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