Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Questions for Maliki and Nujayfi

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 28 February 2011 15:09

The 25 February popular protests across Iraq have generated some interesting fallout. Yesterday, parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi called for early provincial elections. (His own brother Athil, the governor of Mosul, had been a target of the demonstrators there. ) Today Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki reiterated Nujayfi’s call, but went on to call for the resignation of Athil al-Nujayfi as Mosul governor, saying he himself had personally supported the decision of State of Law governors in Babel and Basra to resign because the population demanded it.

These are interesting reactions, not least from Maliki who had earlier described the demonstrations as a “Baathist plot” at the time when they were being planned. Of course, Iraq had provincial elections as recently as January 2009, and those elections were deemed perhaps the most progressive in post-2003 Iraq in terms of an atmosphere focused on bread-and-butter issues rather than sectarian bigotry. The resultant governorate assemblies are operating according to the provincial powers law and the provincial elections law that were both adopted in 2008. The assemblies are supposed to sit for four years, and, needless to say, there are no mechanisms for early elections/governor resignations based on popular protests as such.

The statements by Nujayfi and Maliki prompts some interesting questions. Is there anything to suggest that the current national assembly itself – i.e. the parliament in Baghdad – is any less dysfunctional than the provincial assemblies? Symptomatically, it is on holiday for another week right now! Should it, too, perhaps be re-elected as a matter of urgency, with maybe a new premier and a new speaker? And of course, Maliki says governors across Iraq should resign since the people demand it. What will he do if protestors start asking for his own resignation?

The most readily understandable takeaway from the protests as articulated by Iraqi elite politicians is the demand for early elections at the sub-governorate level. Those local assemblies were supposed to be elected six months after the governorate elections according to the elections law adopted in 2008, but that just never happened and many local-level assemblies are still operating with people who have been in their positions since the Paul Bremer days. Unlike the calls for new provincial elections, the demand for sub-govenorate polls is at least clearly in conformity with the established legal framework. Also, there are procedures in place for changing governors at the local level if needed, but again, the legal way of doing this would be for the existing assemblies to make the necessary moves.

7 Responses to “Questions for Maliki and Nujayfi”

  1. bb said

    You don’t make the point, RV, so I guess you won’t agree, but the interesting thing so far about these reactions is the Iraqi leadership handling flashpoint issues in a manner so politically recognisable to western democracies: governors get advised (pressured) to resign, instead of the State using full force to quell public dissent as its first response.

    Don’t think you’ve mentioned this: no signs for eg that Iraqiyya has in any way sought to inflame it? Would this the cost of consensus/cosocialational politics in your view?

  2. Bb,
    The point is there but you didn’t see it. In a western democracy, governors get advised to resign then they face court cases and/or leave politics. In Iraq there is no functioning mechanism for early elections/resignations or accountability, those who leave will find positions if they are from Maliki’s side, but for Athil Nujaify, tough luck.

  3. Hala said

    A minor and perhaps even inconsequential point but most Maslawis say that the name , Nujayfi, is of recent origin; the real name is Najafi but was changed to Nujayfi to underscore the Sunni background of the family.

  4. Jason said

    They should get on with the sub-governate level elections IMMEDIATELY. Also, the four-year terms at every level need to be staggered so that there is an election every two years where half of them stand for re-election. Four years without any election is way too long. The people need a more frequent opportunity to speak.

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, the thing is, the to-do list for parliament right now (and for government) is pretty long. On Sunday they’ll meet again to discuss the unrest in the provinces, decide on its own membership (i.e. the replacement candidate dispute) and have the second reading of the law on the federal supreme court (again..) And there is still nothing specific on the strategic policy council or the security ministries, and towards the end of the month there is supposedly the Arab summit in Baghdad, though some are saying a delay is on the cards…

  6. Santana said

    With all that is going on in the region the USG actually thinks Iraq is somewhat immune to a complete upheavel cuz they are saying it is a Democratically elected government and that it will be the shining example for the region ! With the chaotic situation in Iraq I find it hilarious that Iraq is considered a “shining example” ! The U.S State dept feels Iraq can weather just about anything….one top State dept official told me a few days ago that the Strategic Council MUST get formed and the cabinet completed….or he said “it will be a disaster”…and what he meant was not a disaster for Iraq- he meant a disaster in Washington cuz the GOP will latch on to any failures to embarrass the administration. McCain and Liebermann have already been very vocal in criticizing Obama’s M.E policy…..and the GOP can no longer be ignored (with control of the house)…Obama last week called all his aides and asked them to come up with a new approach or “Master-Plan” for the area.

    The Arab Summit has been pushed to the end of May.

  7. Jason said

    Santana, the relief valve of elections does provide Iraq with a much stronger “immune system” to resist violent upheaval, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is totally “immune.” More frequent elections (at least every two years) would provide even greater opportunity for the people to let off steam. That’s how democracy works – it doesn’t create paradise, or even do away with all forms of chaos, but it does provide for peaceful transitions of power. The rest is up to local leadership and competence.

    You can stop your fretting about the role of American politics, or any conspiratorial “Master Plan” for the ME. The Obama Admin is adrift, and Iraq has fallen completely off the map of American concerns, replaced entirely by domestic labor and budget disputes. At present even the most serious Neocons have no interest in getting involved in Libya or other flashpoints in the ME, and are more than happy to hand off Iraqi concerns to Iraqis. So Iraqis need to get cracking.

    Are there no substantive political issues in Iraq for aspiring politicians to take up and champion?

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