Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Iraqi Spring Comes to an End with Sadrist Demonstrations and Another Maliki-Nujayfi Quarrel

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 29 May 2011 19:44

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki created headlines last week when he was quoted by some media sources as having said that the Iraqi parliament “has no right to legislate”. Recently, there has been an angry rebuff from parliamentary speaker Usama al-Nujayfi of Iraqiyya who identified legislation as the core task of the parliament. Some politicians are complaining that “relations between the legislature and the executive are deteriorating”, and the quarrel comes at a time when agreement between Maliki and Nujayfi remains key to getting the security ministries passed and having an honest debate about the question of the US presence in Iraq after 2011.

The reason for the misunderstanding is probably that Maliki’s statement may have been an attempt at paraphrasing ruling 43 by the Iraqi federal supreme court of 12 July 2010. In the case leading up to that ruling, the previous Maliki government had complained about parliament’s passage of a law passed by parliament that cut ties between the municipality and public works ministries and the governorates. Maliki’s lawyers furnished a multitude of legal arguments in defence of their case, but above all they focused on article 60 of the constitution. That article identifies two ways of initiating a legislative project (mashru): Either it must come from the cabinet, or it can be presented to parliament by the president. On the other hand, a proposal (muqtarah) for a law can be initiated by members or committees in parliament, but Maliki’s lawyer made the case that the two categories – project and proposal – are two entirely different things, and that a proposal must be developed into a project, by the executive, before it can be considered by the parliament.

In its ruling back then, despite the constitution being far from unequivocal on the issue (article 80 speaks about a right for the executive to “propose projects”, thereby fudging the two concepts), the federal supreme court basically adopted the arguments of Maliki’s lawyers word by word and declared as unconstitutional the law that had been challenged by the government. It seems pretty obvious that Maliki’s recent comments must have related to this ruling. It does not mean that parliament has no legislative power whatsoever, as Nujayfi seemed to indicate, but rather that legislative projects must be initiated by the executive. Parliament remains at liberty to make substantial changes to the law projects, and has indeed done so in the past, for example with the provincial elections law on 22 July 2008, and more recently, in changes to the immunities of state officials. But according to the current opinion of the federal supreme court, each new law must originate as a legislative project from the executive (incidentally this is one of the few remaining areas of real presidential power after the removal of the presidential veto.)

In comparative perspective, this kind of executive–legislature relationship is unusual but not entirely unheard of. For example, in the European Union – admittedly a somewhat exotic specimen in the family of democracies and a confederation more than a federation – the parliament has no right to initiate a process of legislation, since member countries see this as potentially undermining their “minority rights”. Also, in several presidential systems in Latin America, the parliamentary initiative is restricted to certain areas of legislation, and may for example not include budgetary or military and security affairs. Iraq may be closer to the EU example, since cabinet decisions in Iraq require some kind of minimum consensus whereas a strong president in Latin America (Brazil and Chile are among the examples) can make decisions on his or her own.  

Unless the Iraqi parliament moves forward on the legislative project of creating a new federal supreme court that can come up with a new constitutional interpretation, it will have to live with a situation in which legislation starts with the executive. What both executive and legislature need to think about in Iraq these days are increasing signs of political mobilisation on the margins of parliament: The Sadrist demonstrations on Thursday, variously estimated at between 20,000 and 50,000 participants, surpassed any “Arab Spring” demonstrations in scale. As such, they served as a reminder of the possible implosion of the “moderate centre” in Iraq – whatever that may exactly mean – unless this centre stops bickering over useless details about vice-presidents and their prerogatives (and most recently, rank) and starts focusing and acting instead on those big issues in Iraqi politics that really count.

11 Responses to “The Iraqi Spring Comes to an End with Sadrist Demonstrations and Another Maliki-Nujayfi Quarrel”

  1. I think one broader political implication of the Sadrist show of force, beyond the Maliki-Sadr relationship itself, is the negative impact this has on Iyad Allawi. While I’ve always been skeptical of talk about a Sadr-Allawi alliance, even when the two are meeting as they did recently in Najaf, Sadr’s militia diplomacy is useful to Maliki in that it increases his value in the eyes of Sunni Arabs, both the Center Alliance and the subfactions within the INM/Iraqiya. For all the political promises Maliki has broken over the years, on this issue he does have credibility – if he threatens to use force against you – as his aides intimated recently – then he will use it. Sadr would be unwise to press this, but he has been unwise before. Allawi should give up on all this summiteering and “Irbil Initiative II” stuff and become the leader of the political opposition. But that would require actually attending parliament.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Not sure how representative he is but Zafir al-Ani of Iraqiyya is actually attacking Maliki on this issue now – for allowing the demonstrations to go ahead!

  3. Xenophon said

    From “Roads to Iraq” website: “Sources confirmed that the renewed negotiations between the Iraqiya List and the State of Law is an American desire came with the US congressional delegation that recently visited Sulaymaniyah, asking the Kurdish regional presi­dent Masoud Barzani to intervene to form a lobby within the Parliament to extend the US forces presence in the country, after the end of the year.”

    This paragraph links to an Arabic-language story in al Mustakbal al Iraqi.

    “Roads to Iraq” has also previously claimed that ongoing negotiations between the USG and GOI center around the use of nine bases/facilities for a post-2011 US presence

    Basra (2): Close to the US Consulate in Basra and inside Basra Airport.

    Kirkuk (1): Kirkuk Airport.

    Mosul (1): Mosul Airport.

    Baghdad (4): Police Academy, Interior Ministry, the “Green Zone”, Baghdad Airport.

    Irbil (1): Irbil Airport.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    These are rumours-based stories and I wouldn’t want to comment on the details, but no doubt the Americans see the “Barzani route” as one possible way of agreement between State of Law and Iraqiyya. As said previously, I am sceptical about the virtues of that route, especially given the latent and I think unresolvable tensions relating to the strategic policy council. I always thought direct negotiations between Iraqiyya and State of Law via the “Izzat Shabandar route” held greater promise. But Allawi is apparently allergic to that kind of thinking! At any rate, with the recent Sadrist demonstrations and today’s resignation by Adel Abd al-Mahdi of ISCI, Maliki is under greater pressure than ever to get things done with Iraqiyya, irrespective of what the Americans may think.

  5. Xenophon said


    Do you believe all or most of SoL is lined up behind Maliki on the question of maneuvering to keep a US presence post-2001? I would think it would be (or will be) quite controversial within the party coalition. Or do the SoL COR members and grass roots uniformly buy into Maliki’s policy of tightrope-walking between the US and Iran as fundamentally favorable to their bloc interests?

  6. Reidar Visser said

    Xenophon, good question, and, as you can imagine, quite difficult to answer. What I would suggest is that whereas Sadrists, ISCI deputies and even some Iraqiyya members have been quite outspoken in rejecting any possible post-2011 presence, State of Law has been comparativelyt quiet on the issue. That suggests to me that at the very least there is considerable debate internally, and that at least part of them may be favourable to some kind of extension.

  7. Jason said

    What is Sadr doing with his control in Maysan Province? (Maysan may foreshadow what greater plan the Sadrists have for all of Iraq if they achieve greater power.)

    Do you know anything about the status of new elections for local and provincial level officials? Or is that and everything else backed up by the nonsensical bickering over VP’s?

    I would have guessed that the Sadrist demonstrations would push all others to get off the fence about a continued American presence. Is this not happening?

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Nope, it is not happening yet, because it is much more demanding to craft a powerful rhetorical justification for extending the US presence. Sadr’s council in Maysan has just decided that US forces cannot enter the governorate, but they are not the only ones: Something similar has been resulted from Wasit, I think. In Najaf, the Sadrist initiative was rejected in the local council, which is interesting.

  9. JWing said


    I have an article lined up about the Sadrist control in Maysan, which I’ll be posting soon. The new administration has refused to meet with U.S. officials, attacks upon American forces have gone up, the governor says he has no duty to stop them, and a provincial councilman said there were no attacks going on to begin with. As Reidar said, the council also voted to keep U.S. forces out, but they have no real say over the matter.

    The last provincial elections were held in Jan. 09 so the next ones aren’t scheduled until 2013 at the earliest. Iraq has been talking about district and lower level elections since 2005 but nothing has happened. Here’s something I wrote about local elections:

  10. JWing said


    Here’s my story about Sadrist control in Maysan

  11. Nice piece about Maysan, Joel.
    The popular sentiment against the Sadrists is clear from the results of the last provincial elections. It seems to me that this is another example of short term US foreign policy; instead of playing neutral and strengthening democracy in order to control their influence the US is negotiating its own deal with Maliki just like the Sadrists.

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