Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Complex Alliances in Babel

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 27 March 2011 18:02

After the local elections in January 2009, Babel was one of the most contested Iraqi governorates when it came to agreeing on a new governor. After a long stalemate, an alliance of State of Law, the Sadrists and Iraqiyya decided to sideline ISCI and formed a coalition with a new governor considered loyal to State of Law and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The Babel governor, Salman al-Zarkani, became one of the casualties of the latest public demonstrations in Iraq when he was instructed by Maliki to tender his resignation. However, it seems that Maliki and his party subsequently lost control of the battle for the next governor. The recently-elected new governor, Muhammad al-Masudi, is thought to be leaning towards ISCI and other smaller blocs independent of State of Law.

One particularly interesting aspect of developments in Babel is the recent selection of a second deputy for the speaker of the council. The council speaker, Kazim Majid Tuman, is a Sadrist, whereas his first deputy, Sabah Abbud Hasan Mahdi Allawi, duly elected in 2009, is from the secular Iraqiyya. Recently, however – and apparently as part of the deal that led to the election of the new governor – a second deputy to the speaker of the council has been elected. The new second deputy to the speaker is also from Iraqiyya: Mansur Hussein Mani Hummadi.

The idea of a second deputy speaker does not have any basis in the law on the powers of the governorates of 2008. In itself, it seems to echo an unfortunate tendency in Iraqi politics called muhasasa or quota-sharing, which often leads to an inflation of deputies as new posts are created basically in order to accommodate appointees of the political parties. Now, interestingly, this latest creation of a second deputy speaker is being challenged by two parties that appear to be on the defensive in Babel: Maliki’s State of Law, as well as the Sadrists, who have promised to send the matter to the federal supreme court.

The court may find it difficult to rule in the matter. It has previously said it does not adjudicate disputes that relate to the interpretation of laws in force as such (only the constitution), and yet on numerous occasions it has in fact used arguments precisely from the law on the powers of the governorates even in cases of constitutional review! There are certain parallels to the recent dispute about the number of presidential deputies, although in that matter the constitution at least offered some guidance and left the issue as basically a political question.

As for the political aspect of the new developments, one can get the sense that ISCI and Iraqiyya in this case are coming closer together again at the local level, but with the Sadrists still sticking to their alliance with Maliki. At the national level, things are looking slightly different right now, with the Sadrists reportedly still supporting Ahmad Chalabi as new interior minister, and with Iraqiyya apparently fighting among themselves about who should be the new defence minister after Khalid al-Ubaydi (reportedly pro-Nujayfi) was recently dismissed as their candidate and replaced with others (Fasih al-Ani and Hikmat al-Jahishi).

Today, an agenda for this week’s last parliamentary meeting (Thursday) was published; once more it fails to include any mention of security ministries. If things continue to drag on like this, Maliki may well end up in a situation where developments in the governorates could ultimately create greater challenges for him at the national level.

Postscript: In a breaking-news update out of Baghdad tonight, ISCI’s Adil Abd al-Mahdi says he is no longer a candidate for vice-president. This could further affect the overall political dynamics sketched out above. In particular, it will be interesting to see how the main candidate to another of the vice-presidential positions, Tariq al-Hashemi of Iraqiyya, reacts.

10 Responses to “Complex Alliances in Babel”

  1. Kermanshahi said

    It’s not only Iraqiyya which can best leave the government to go into the opposition. It would also much better serve ISCI if they stopped trying to cling on to power to get into government and instead join the opposition. The reason they lost so much support was because they were in the government in the first place and people got fed up with them, if they accept their loss and go into the opposition, than in several years when elections are held, people fed up with the Maliki-Sadr alliance will go to them and they can regain support again. The thing is, without ISCI, al-Maliki’s alliance with the Kurds will be more unstable than it already is and a Maliki-Sadr alliance alone cannot rule the country.

  2. robinson said

    At the risk of asking you to speculate wildly; do you suppose the Sadrists genuinely want Chalabi as the MoI? Or are they “supporting” him as part of a strategy for deflecting candidates they don’t want? (“ok, we will drop our demand for Chalabi if you drop your demand for al-Lami or Faruq al-Araji)

    I understand what the Sadrists bring Chalabi, but I’m not sure what Chalabi brings the Sadrists.

  3. Reidar Visser said

    Robinson, the rumours are that the Sadrists have been supporting Chalabi with a view to obtaining some key positions in the ministry for themselves. However, there is some major news from Iraq today to the effect that a list of candidates for the security ministries has actually been handed over from Maliki to Nujayfi for a vote later in the week. Crucially, at least some reports say Chalabi’s name is absent from the list of candidates for interior, which instead is supposed to include Adnan al-Asadi as the “political” candidate closest to Maliki, but with Abd al/Muhsin al-Kaabi and Ibrahim al-Lami, who appear to have professional military/security backgrounds, also in the running. (Some reports say Asadi has already withdrawn.) It is also being suggested that Ubaydi remains a candidate for the defence portfolio despite Allawi’s reservations. Reports go on to say that a pro-Sadrist candidate for the planning ministry, Ali al-Shibli, is included on the list handed over from Maliki to Nujayfi, whereas internal Shiite disagreement on who should be national security adviser reportedly prevented Maliki from presenting any candidate for that position.

    There have been plenty of rumours about the imminence of a vote on the security ministers previously but if a document has actually been handed over from Maliki to Nujayfi, we could finally be a step closer to a decision.

  4. Kermanshahi,
    Seeking positions is not only for short term selfish reasons such as fame and fortune, it is for the advantages of being an incumbent in the following election. If the elections were truly fair and transparent like some starry eyed pretenders would like us to believe then it would be better for Iraqiya and ISCI to be in the opposition because their votes can rebound. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you and I think about the transparency of the elections, when the folks inside Iraqiya and ISCI can see what Maliki got away with during the last election then they know that being an incumbent is way more important and the position is more advantageous than being in the opposition. They simply don’t trust the process and they show it clealy in their action.

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Interestingly, today Izzat Shabandar of SLA says Maliki is looking for a “political majority” once more. Sounds like a redo of early 2010… Only weeks ago Maliki made a speech in which he again emphasised that his government was one of “national unity” and not of the “political majority” type.

    It will be interesting to see how any Allawi-Nujayfi tension inside Iraqiyya will relate to such a “political majority” project.

  6. robinson said


    Saw that article yesterday. Interesting timing to say the least, given that the مهزلة as Shabander so delicately put it, may be about to receive its finishing touches if the key ministers area about to be named.

    I wonder though if this is a case of someone asking Shabander about Malikis comments to “academics and political analysts”, and Shabander got a little excited.

    I get the sense that Shabander’s comments stem from Malikis aformentioned meeting, and I suspect that was a case of Maliki speaking to his audience…

    وكان مصدر مطلع كشف في حديث سابق لـ”السومرية نيوز”، أمس الأحد، أن رئيس الحكومة نوري المالكي أكد خلال اجتماع جمعه مع مجموعة من الأكاديميين المحللين السياسيين العراقيين أنه بدأ يفكر جديا بطلب سحب الثقة من حكومته في حال استمر شركاؤه في العملية السياسية بمحاربته، لافتا إلى أن المالكي اعتبر أيضا أن العملية السياسية لا يمكن أن يكتب لها النجاح في ظل الدستور الحالي.

  7. I don’t think the tension between Allawi and Nujaifi will be a strong factor in the next development. Nujaifi showed awareness and independence when he started his 40 B$ investigation committee, whether it will lead to any meaningful result is another matter, but he is no Maliki stooge.
    I think the biggest factor will be the momentum to keep the status quo. There is so much dirt under the carpet in the security ministries that any independent minded appointee will find it impossible to clean without disturbing the entire process.

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Robinson, I agree it sounded as if Shabandar got a little carried away; however note also that the particular part of the story that you are quoting may say more about the cut and paste techniques consistently used by Sumaria and many other Iraqi news agencies when they write their reports. They typically start with some headline material, then expand on it just a little, and then lazily cut and paste from a previous item they themselves have published which may or may not be truly relevant to the latest story, but they publish it anyway… I think they are copying Western news agencies to some extent when it comes to this. Aswat al-Iraq always end their stories with “and city X is Z miles away from the capital Baghdad”, just like Reuters and AFP often do.

    Faisal, I nevertheless find it interesting that on the choice of defence minister there seems to be some kind of Maliki-Nujayfi preference for Ubaydi whereas the rest of Iraqiyya appear agitated that Maliki may try to force a vote on someone who was nominated as an Iraqiyya vote but who no longer is their internally approved “quota candidate” – though he might possibly obtain the support of parliament as a whole!

  9. Nicholas Jack Herrmann said

    Mr. Visser,

    I just ran across this article from AK News citing Faris Wanas as the second deputy chairman of the Al Qadisiyah provincial council ( Is it your understanding that many provinces have second deputy chairmen? I thought there was only usually one.


  10. Reidar Visser said

    Nick, my understanding was also that second deputies was a rarity and that the developments described for Babel above constituted something of an exception. However, note that in Arabic sources, Faris Wanas al-Hamzawi, a Sadrist, is usually described as a “first deputy” of the speaker of the provincial council, or simply as the deputy speaker. Of course, the designation “first deputy” strongly suggests that a second one also exists, and I was able to find some references to one Shaykh ‘Inad al-Na’ili of the Fadila party who is mentioned as the “second deputy” and the “deputy speaker” in Qadisiyya interchangeably.

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