Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for July, 2011

The Iraqi Government Gets Downsized: Political and Constitutional Considerations

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 30 July 2011 20:43

The Iraqi parliament has been unusually efficient today. Although the assembly barely reached the quorum level (only 183 deputies were reportedly present), those who attended today’s session – which included a questioning of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki regarding his plans to reduce the size of his government – were effective enough. Whereas a previous session had ended with a lame “agreement to downsizing the government in principle”, today all ministries of state save three (provincial affairs, women’s affairs and parliamentary affairs) were abolished by a majority vote.

In one way, of course, this is a positive development, because a main problem in the government that was formed by Nuri al-Maliki in December 2010 was precisely its bigness and its sprawling, unwieldy character. Criticism of unnecessary and symbolic government offices that primarily serve to augment the hubris of their holders has been part and parcel of the limited “Arab Spring” that has manifested itself in Iraq over the past half year. With fewer ministers, decision-making inside the cabinet should be made easier and, in principle at least, one of the main obstacles towards a more effective government has been removed through today’s action.

At the same time it should be clear that everything that was done today represents a flagrant violation of the Iraqi constitution. That is so because the constitution does not distinguish between ordinary ministers (i.e. those with portfolio) and ministers of state (i.e. without portfolio) as far as sacking them is concerned. They should enjoy exactly the same right to individual questioning before parliament prior to a vote of no confidence, meaning that today’s en masse cancellation of around ten such ministries represents a clear constitutional violation. To add insult to injury, Maliki told parliament that “no legal problems” pertained to the process of reducing the size of the government and Iraqiyya expressed satisfaction as far as procedure was concerned. There have been vague attempts at establishing a distinction between ministries for which separate laws have already been issued and those that lack such laws (including the ministries of state). However, none of that cancels out the constitutional provisions, but so far it appears that only individual politicians like Wail Abd al-Latif and Aliyya Nusayf have even pointed out the constitutional infractions involved in today’s actions. Of course, it is not the first time the Iraqi parliament violates the Iraqi constitution, but what happened today does raise the question about the role of constitutions in states that have recently transitioned from authoritarian rule: Are they just for fun? Can their lofty principles be violated in such a flagrant way without damaging the fiction of democracy and the rule of law?

As for the political aspects of today’s actions, it appears that many of the ministries that were cancelled are from the smaller Shiite parties, including the Sadrists (Abd al-Mahdi al-Mutayri and Diya al-Asadi), Fadila (Bushra Hussein) and ISCI (Hasan Radi and possibly Yasin Hasan Muhammad Ahmad). Apparently, State of Law are giving up two ministries (Ali al-Dabbagh and possibly Amir al-Khuzaie whose national reconciliation position is listed as a “ministry of state” in many accounts) and Iraqiyya two (depending on how, in addition to Salah al-Jibburi, one counts Ali al-Sajri, originally from the Unity of Iraq list that has since been enrolled in Iraqiyya, and Jamil al-Batikh whose White Iraqiyya seceded from Iraqiyya back in March). The Kurds lose the ministry of state for civil society as well as a Fayli minister of state.

The ministries of state that were not abolished today are two held by State of Law (women’s affairs and parliamentary affairs) and one by a Turkmen (Turhan al-Mufti), whose party is seen as close to Iraqiyya but whose political rhetoric is often Turkmen first. The decision by Maliki to hold on to his embattled ally Safa al-Din al-Safi who is having trouble with accusations about corruption is interesting, and could indicate that he is feeling the threat of isolation within his own cabinet.

In terms of people, based on a rough count, the remaining rump cabinet includes 7 from State of Law, 5 Sadrists (who increased their share during the first half of 2011 through additional appointments in February and April), 2 smaller Shiite groups (ISCI and Fadila with one each), 4 Kurdistan Alliance plus one minority representative often seen as pro-Kurdish, and finally 7 from Iraqiyya plus Sadun al-Dulaymi (whose Unity of Iraq is now technically part of  Iraqiyya) as well as the aforementioned Turhan al-Mufti. Which in turn means that the lingering decisions on the defence and interior portfolios could become an even more crucial factor in deciding the political balance of the Iraqi cabinet in the coming period.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 14 Comments »

A Bloody Nose for the State of Law Alliance in Parliament

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 28 July 2011 12:51

Just as Nuri al-Maliki was talking tough again in a way reminiscent of the strongman prime minister that emerged in 2008, the Iraqi parliament has dealt a severe blow to him and his State of Law alliance.

Today, parliament voted against sacking the independent electoral  commission (IHEC). Only some 94 deputies out of 245 present voted in favour of the proposal by State of Law to dismiss the commission.

In other words, Maliki only managed to obtain the support of a handful of deputies outside his own State of Law alliance (which now holds around 88 seats). Subsequent to the vote, Maliki allies criticised other Shiite Islamists like ISCI, Fadila and the Sadrists for “colluding in corruption” by refusing to sack IHEC, once more underlining the essentially fictional character of the all-Shiite National Alliance that delivered Maliki his second premiership in late 2010. The vote of the small Shiite parties is not terribly surprising since the Shiite IHEC members are considered to be closer to these parties than to Maliki; the vote of the secular Iraqiyya, for its part, seems to reflect a primary aim of being at variance with Maliki (Iraqiyya’s own influence within IHEC is minimal and the commission let Iraqiyya down several times before the 2010 elections on issues like Kirkuk and de-Baathification).

The vote also illustrates the fictional character of the “political majority” alternative that Maliki has kept talking about. He simply does not have the votes to embark on that right now. Unfortunately for the dynamics of Iraqi politics going forward, today’s developments will probably add fuel to the flames of Iraqiyya’s demand for early elections. The key question in that respect is whether the demand is realistic: Shiite parties who have loyalists inside IHEC may well turn against Maliki on that issue, but are they likely to sack his government as long as they have ministries? And most crucially, what about the Kurds – the only party that has at least obtained something from Maliki in the shape of northern oil exports? Are they likely to ask for a reshuffling of the cards at this point? It should be remembered that the Kurds want to change the formula for allocating deputies before the next  parliamentary elections, which would be difficult if elections were called anytime soon. And finally, is the demand for early elections likely to meet with any international support? Does the Obama administration have any appetite for elections and the insecurity that will come with them at a time when all they seem to want is clarification regarding a post-2011 US military presence?

Perhaps what today’s vote show first and foremost is the entrenched and unrealistic character of Maliki’s current political strategy.  It is not unlikely that events will be superseded by a second unrealistic alternative in the shape of more calls for early elections, leading to an ever more polarised political climate.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, UIA dynamics | 18 Comments »

Maliki the Strongman Preparing for Ramadan

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 27 July 2011 12:58

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in his capacity as acting minister for interior, has issued detailed instructions for how Iraqi restaurants should adapt to the coming holy month of Ramadan which starts in early August. Most importantly, all eateries – with a few exceptions such  as those clearly relating to the tourism industry – are to be closed from dawn to dusk.

Maliki’s order raise interesting questions about centre-periphery relations in today’s Iraq. On previous occasions, the governorates have often taken the lead in defining holidays locally, as seen in the many local holidays that have been declared in various Shiite-majority governorates relating to Shiite festivities. Also, rules governing the sale of alcohol have largely been determined at the governorate level, as seen in places like Basra, Najaf, Wasit. Previously, the governorate of Baghdad have also passed special measures relating to Ramadan.

It will be interesting to see how Maliki’s order goes down across the country. Will it be observed nationwide? What about the Kurdistan federal region (KRG), which is sometimes seen as a more liberal enclave? Of course, Iraq’s constitution does not specify any particular role for the central government in regulating commerce locally, meaning that residual powers in this respect rests with federal regions and governorates alike. But in practice – and to some extent with reference to the more restrictive provincial powers law of 2008 – a more centralistic spirit has prevailed in relations between Baghdad and the governorates than between Baghdad and the KRG during the past few years.

Maliki’s order comes at the time when decisions on two other issues deemed important by him seem imminent. The first is the sacking of the independent elections commission (IHEC), supposedly to be voted on by parliament tomorrow. Maliki supporters now says he enjoys the support of all the Shiite parties enrolled in the National Alliance, but ISCI, in particular, has been critical of the move, which is natural given its own strong influence in IHEC. Then, on Saturday, Maliki is supposed to address parliament on the issue of reducing the size of his government. Once more, the solution he is proposing do not seem to have a clear constitutional basis (according the Iraqi constitution, each ministers will have to be voted out through an individual vote of confidence).

The parliamentary response in both of these questions will serve as an indicator of Maliki’s parliamentary strength as the pressing issue of the security ministers continues to linger.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, UIA dynamics | 19 Comments »

The Terror Attacks in Oslo: Anders Behring Breivik on the Middle East and Islam

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 24 July 2011 15:07

[The subject is on the margins of the topics covered here at Iraq and Gulf Analysis, but in response to requests for commentary on the 22 July Oslo terrorist attacks, a few notes on the internet writings of the alleged suspect in the case are presented below as far as they relate to the Middle East and the Islamic world more generally.]

In his postings on the website, Anders Behring Breivik comes across as an articulate and intellectual commenter. However, his writings also reveal an extreme leitmotif of an alleged grand conspiracy between most of the political establishments in Europe (often referred to as ”Marxists”, but also as “multi-culturalists”) and Muslims that are aiming to change Europe in the name of multi-culturalism. In their most pitched versions, Breivik’s postings merge these two concepts and refer to “multiculturalists” as the “facilitators of the jihadists”. It is clear from at least some of his comments that in the Norwegian context, Breivik sees the ruling Labour party (which was targeted in the Utoya attacks) as an important vector of that dreadful “multi-culturalism”.

Central to Breivik’s analysis is the concept of “dhimmitude”, which he has apparently picked up from one of his main inspirations, the Norwegian blogger Fjordland, who is a long-standing critic of Islam and political Islam. Fjordland in turn borrowed the concept from Israeli writer Bet Yaor. Dhimmitude is a reference to the status of non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire, where they were protected but also lived as second-class citizens without the same rights as Muslims. Breivik uses this concept to make sense of his own teenage experiences in Oslo’s East End, where immigrants dominate several neighbourhoods and are increasing their demographic share. In Breivik’s view, this involves a process of growing “dhimmitude” or second-class citizenship for the remaining inhabitants of non-immigrant background.  People in these areas, according to Breivik, must increasingly conform to Islamic ways of life and norms rather than to Norwegian law.

Another distinguishing feature in Breivik’s writings is his rather implausible attempts to establish parallels from Middle Eastern to European history. In a typical example from, Breivik at least three times tries to create such a parallel between the demographic development in Lebanon in the twentieth century and coming trends in Europe. Supposedly, according to Behring, Lebanon had 80% Christians in 1911, before a process of collaboration set in:

“We all know, by the way, what happened to the Christians of Lebanon. Lebanon was once a Christian country (80% in 1911). When the Muslims became a majority in 1970 (an increase of 40% in only 60 years) they declared war. The reason for the demographic growth [of the Muslims] was the appeasement policy of the Marxists (they allowed demographic warfare). The Marxists had anticipated that they would obtain a special dhimmi status, which of course failed to materialise. Today, there are less than 25% Christians in Lebanon and even the Christian Marxists live in difficult circumstances. Do you really believe that you [leftists, “Marxists”] will obtain special dhimmi status in Western Europe some decades down the line when ALL historical examples indicate that Christian Marxists have been back-stabbed time and again?”

Of course, Breivik’s estimate of “80% Christians” in Lebanon in 1911 is as problematic as its identification on a map one decade before it came into existence as a country. Or as those growth figures of the Muslims – truly remarkable as Breivik says, but might that have something to do with underestimates of Muslims in early accounts, different growth rates and emigration patterns rather than with “demographic warfare” as Breivik alleges? And who are those omnipotent Christian Marxists of Lebanon anyway?  But Breivik keeps going back to his Lebanon argument again and again (and its main source: Mark K. Tomass, whose 1997 journal article on the subject has not been quoted a lot by others), also when posting on mainstream websites like that of the Norwegian newspaper VG using a shorter form of his name.

Nor does Breivik shy away from commenting on Sunni-Shiite issues and the geopolitical tug-of-war in the region:

“I have never understood why the West focuses so disproportionately on Iran compared to Saudi Arabia, which after all is the most powerful and most dangerous Muslim great power. True, we should bomb those suspect installations [in Iran] but other than that we need to focus far more on Saudi Arabia. Could this have to do with the fact that Iran is not a big oil exporter?

Shiites make up a relatively small proportion of all Muslims and exercise no influence whatsoever on Sunnis. To be honest, I’d say we undermine our own interests by attacking the sole existing, relatively weak alternative to Sunni Islam. If Iran falls, the position of the Wahhabis will be strengthened quite significantly since they will have no competition. We should not forget that Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim countries want to crush Iran. It is not Iran that is behind some 300 to 500 Wahhabi centres across Europe, and they finance only two out of 30 Jihad fronts worldwide.”

In other words, Breivik is somewhat clueless about the Middle East, but not more clueless than, say, an average US politician. Many of the sources he quotes copiously, including Daniel Pipes, are well-respected in the US public debate about the region, and the idea of Shiism as “the good Islam” and a potential ally for the United States circulated among many think tankers in the early days of the Iraq War. Like many respectable politicians, Breivik voices support for Christian separatism projects worldwide, including southern Sudan. He expresses sympathy with Lou Dobbs with reference to the way in which he was forced to leave the CNN. Also, contrary to what many newspaper reports claim, he explicitly criticises Nazism, both for its genocidal actions as well as its state-centred economic theories.

Rather, it is in his postings on Norwegian affairs that Breivik’s one-sided, black and white and extreme master narrative becomes most evident. He complains, “100 Norwegians have been killed in racist/Jihadi murders during the past 15 years without getting attention, but a single murder committed by a Norwegian racist prompted a vigil of 50,000 participants and the establishment of a commemorative fund”. To most Norwegians other than Breivik, it is difficult to see the “jihadi” motive in those murders, which may well have no other aspect in common that they were committed by people with an immigrant background. But with his conspiracy theory, Breivik sees a jihadi plot and externally imposes a motive of jihadism in every action by immigrants and their supposed native collaborators. Similarly, in a pun which perhaps should have made alarm clocks go off, Breivik describes former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland as “murderer of the Norwegian people”.

By the time Breivik posted his last comment on in late October 2010, he still seemed focused on a practical action plan for furthering his political views. Some of his posts feature calls to like-minded people for winning control over newspapers and NGOs as part of a long-term strategy.  Some of his sources of inspiration, such as Fjordland, have previously been explicitly anti-terrorist, and he himself highlights the Tea Party movement in the United States as a hopeful model to follow for European right-wingers (to some of whom he appears to have established links).  However, Breivik’s take on Middle Eastern issues at are strikingly similar to a far more radical English-language manifesto, “2083: A European Declaration of Independence”, that was released on the day of the Oslo bombings and has since been attributed to him, although parts of it are clearly lifted from other sources. The document repeats many of the themes of Breivik’s postings at, including a paranoid fear of the Mediterranean initiatives of the EU as a door-opener for an Islamic conquest of Europe. There is also more detailed commentary on the Middle East, with quotes supportive of the idea of a Christian federal region in Iraq as well as the Syrian Baathist, Allawite-led regime, because of its protection of Christians! But the action plan in this second document is far more chilling and foreshadows the violence that was unleashed in Oslo on 22 July.

Whether today’s alleged mass murder already coexisted with the armchair generalist who wrote far-fetched but moderately eloquent postings on in October 2010 or whether Breivik was subject to a subsequent  process of radicalisation that concluded with his violent attempt at declaring “European independence” remains to be seen.

Posted in Sectarian master narrative | 18 Comments »

The Never-Ending Process of Government Formation in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 21 July 2011 19:45

When Iraqi politicians finally formed a new government in December 2010, nine months after the parliamentary elections, many voices in the international community were congratulatory. Observers emphasized that the Iraqis had managed to create an “inclusive government” in which all the different ethno-sectarian groups in the country were represented. Critics of the deal that led to the formation of the second government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pointed out that it simply papered over persisting conflicts among Iraqi politicians. It also produced an oversized, ineffective, and unstable government with lots of unnecessary, bogus ministries (including such portfolios as civil society and the southern marshlands), whereas ministries that were truly needed, especially relating to national security, remained unfilled.

Eight months on, it seems the critics got it right… Full story here. Comments section open as usual below.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 21 Comments »

Can US Aims in Iraq Be Squared with a Discourse of Iraqi Sovereignty?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 18 July 2011 16:53

“American instructors!”

It has been long in the making but finally there are more specific signs that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is beginning to publicly articulate a vision of a post-2011 US presence in Iraq that can fit with his own avowed aim to be an Iraqi nationalist.

Importantly, after his recent meeting with the new US defence secretary Leon Panetta, Maliki was talking about “instructors” or “trainers” (mudaribun) and not advisers (mustasharun), or, for that matter, regular troops.  Historically speaking, “advisers” would be a major problem given the chequered legacy of the British in Iraq during the mandate and in subsequent decades, where it was precisely the popular hatred of the advisers (and the connotations of their immense political influence) that played a key role in unseating the monarchy in 1958. Similarly, regular forces or the presence of military bases would also be at obvious variance with a discourse of Iraqi nationalism.

The areas in which Maliki envisioned US training assistance included border surveillance, logistics and intelligence capabilities. This is actually a discourse that can fit in with a notion of Iraqi sovereignty: The US is considered an undisputed world leader in many of these areas; hence, to ask for assistance from a global superpower in these specific areas would not harm the idea of Iraqi independence in the same way that the “advisers” of the British mandate did.

Contrast this with the prevailing themes in the Western debate about Iraq. “Absence of external defence capabilities” is a recurrent term. And while this is probably true, as long as it is presented as a general issue rather than broken up into digestible and specific areas  that can be singled out for cooperation with the US (preferably technology-related), kneejerk nationalist reactions are likely to prevail in the Iraqi parliament.  Similarly, many Western commentators like to highlight a US peacekeeping role in and around Kirkuk. This is also something that is susceptible to Iraqi nationalist criticism, because it is a kind of narrative that fits so well with the standard conspiracy theory to the effect that foreigners are plotting to keep the Iraqis divided in order to justify their own continued military presence. If Arab-Kurdish tensions around Kirkuk are used as a key argument for extending a US presence in Iraq, each bomb that goes off elsewhere in the country may soon be blamed on a US scheme to pit Sunnis against Shiites so that they can extend the American presence in the oil-rich areas in the south.

The challenge for Washington is now to find out whether the parameters defined by Maliki – with an emphasis on “instructors” – can meet its own aims in a context where a straightforward SOFA renewal is becoming increasingly unlikely. Maliki seems to be aiming for a military presence that is so low-key that the anticipated parliamentary debate about the SOFA can simply be circumvented. For their part, the Iraqis still need to agree on a new minister of defence.

PS: Today’s vote in parliament to “support a reduction of the number of ministers in principle” is a non-issue. The real challenge is to actually do it and not least negotiate the constitutional modalities relating to such a move (i.e. the rules for dismissing a minister).

Posted in Iraqi nationalism, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | 7 Comments »

Iraqiyya Tries to Clear the Air on Federalism

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 13 July 2011 15:46

During the past few decades, few words in the vocabulary of politics have been more angst-inducing among Arab leaders than “federalism”. Associated with division, colonialism, Israel and other undesirables, “federalism” has long been approached with suspicion by the entire Arab political class. Instead, “administrative decentralisation” – by which was often meant that municipalities would enjoy complete supremacy in such matters as the collection of dustbins – remained the preferred term for contemplating any possible cession of power from the centre.

In this kind of perspective, developments in Iraq during the first part of 2011 have been somewhat remarkable. As is well-known, Iraq’s constitution adopted in 2005 includes flexible provisions for the creation of new, future federal entities alongside the one federal region explicitly recognised in the charter itself – Kurdistan. However, it was generally thought that those provisions largely reflected the wishes of a tiny group of Kurdish (KDP/PUK) and Shiite (SCIRI) politicians who with American help managed to sideline the rest of the Iraqi political establishment: For a long time, real interest in the creation of new federal regions seemed confined to the far south in Basra, whereas pro-federal currents elsewhere remained at the level of rumours. But more recently, even politicians of the secular Iraqiyya alliance have increasingly become associated with various political demands that are federalist, or federalist in everything but the name (as seen for example in the demand by the local council in Anbar to cut separate gas deals with foreign companies). In other words, it seemed as if Iraqiyya was turning its back on everything it had said previously about the virtues of a strong, centralised government.

However, this week, the top leadership in both the secular Iraqiyya and the Shiite Islamist State of Law have brought a measure of clarity to the debate. Ayyad Allawi, head of the Iraqiyya alliance, declared that the party is against the creation of more federal entities, while at the same time calling for “greater powers to the governorates on a decentralisation basis”.  Another Iraqiyya leader, Salih al-Mutlak, expressed the view that no governorate should have more powers than others. Coincidentally, the remarks by the Iraqiyya leadership followed similar sceptical comments by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of  State of Law, who has recently seen a string of potential federalist challengers in his “own”, mostly Shiite fiefdoms, including Basra, Wasit and most recently Babel. (At least some of these challengers involve politicians from Maliki’s own faction.) All of a sudden, it looked as if we were back at the well-known configuration of positions known from the past, with Sunni-secularist rejection of federalism and considerable Shiite Islamist opposition to pro-federal tendencies within their own ranks (i.e. by ISCI and some local politicians).

Those latest comments and the reactions to them illustrate the continuing stalemate on one of the more fundamental issues in Iraqi constitutional law. Kurdish president Masud Barzani seemed angry with Maliki for his lack of interest in federal regions outside Kurdistan, despite the constitutional provisions that exist. For their part, some of the participants at the Iraqiyya meeting seemed to condemn federalism as a principle altogether (rather than new federal regions), to the point where media stories about Salih al-Mutlak supposedly rejecting the federal status of KRG began circulating. In this way the whole debate gets polarised: The KRG is actively abetting federal projects outside its own territory and is claiming powers that are not even in the constitution, whereas some Iraqiyya leaders give the Kurds reason to doubt that the federalism granted to them by the constitution is indeed guaranteed. Another complicating factor relates to the discrepancies between the constitution and the provincial powers law of 2008. When Iraqiyya is claiming “more power for the governorates”, do they mean more power than granted to them by the provincial powers law of 2008, or just a proper implementation of that law? In article 115 of the constitution federal regions and governorates enjoy exactly the same residual powers and are arguably created almost equal; in the provincial powers law of 2008 (and the draft oil and gas law) a greater degree of administrative subordination to Baghdad is clearly envisaged.

Many suspect that local politicians in Iraq are contemplating the creation of federal regions for the sake of getting bigger budget shares. Some apparently believe they can ask for anything in the name of the existing governorates as long as they do not utter that “divisive” F word! However, the current practice of allocating a certain share of the budget to the sole federal region (Kurdistan) and exempting it from contributing to other central government expenses than defence and the foreign ministry has no constitutional basis as such, and would become a matter of debate if  more federal regions were created. The bottom line is that unless there is constitutional revision to clear up the distinction between a federal region and a governorate, the discussion about the Iraqi state structure is likely to remain detached from reality and will serve as yet another distraction from the more pressing issue of consolidating a government that can provide services and infrastructure for the Iraqi population.

Posted in Basra and southern regionalism, Iraq - regionalism - general, Iraqi constitutional issues | 7 Comments »

Nomination Trouble for the De-Baathification Appellate Bench

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 8 July 2011 18:53

Remember the special appeals court for de-Baathification cases? That’s the Iraqi judicial entity of seven judges that came into existence in January 2010 in a supposed attempt at harmonising the laws in force on de-Baathification with the process of vetting candidates for the March 2010 parliamentary elections. Of course, that attempt failed miserably and resulted in gross miscarriage of justice against hundreds of candidates, including such prominent Iraqiyya figures as Salih al-Mutlak who was barred from participating on the basis of a non-existing law.

While it is true that the Iraqi federal supreme court must shoulder ultimate responsibility for the failure to apply due legal process to the mechanisms of electoral candidate approval back in early  2010, the de-Baathification appeals court also played a certain role. However, after the parliamentary elections the court has been less prominent and the reason is very simple: After two judges were pensioned and one was killed, by September 2010 it no longer had any quorum to make decisions.

Early attempts by the Iraqi parliament to install replacement judges were aborted thanks not least to the efforts of the militantly anti-Baathist Bahaa al-Aaraji of the Sadrist movement. Last week, another attempt was made (the Sadrist are also worried about the lack of quorum on the court, since “Baathists continue to serve in government”), but again the process ran into trouble: Only two new judges were approved, whereas two others were left unconfirmed – ostensibly pending the examination of their curricula vitae by parliament, but with rumours about past Baathist ties swirling around (and with Maliki allies in his  State of Law alliance featuring prominently in the proliferation of those accusations).

The process of filling the appellate bench with new members illustrates the problems of reconciling old Iraq and new Iraq. The two judges that were cleared by parliament last week were Jalil Khalil Shakir and Sulayman al-Qaradaghi. Judge Jalil is a Fayli Kurd and his approval by parliament was loudly celebrated by Fayli Kurd media of a rather ethno-sectarian calibre: They even forgot to mention the outcome of the remaining nomination attempts! As for Judge Sulayman, his family name (Qaradaghi) could be Kurdish and could be an indication that he is a replacement on an ethno-sectarian quota basis for the Kurdish judge of the previous bench that was killed.

But two of the other judges that were also likely nominated on an ethno-sectarian quota basis were not approved by parliament. This applies firstly to Numan al-Bayati, whose family name sounds Turkmen and in fact is the same as one of the retiring judges (Hamid al-Bayati). The second case relates to Yas al-Saadi – was he intended as replacement for the retiring chief of the court, Muhammad Sahib al-Khafaji? In those cases, despite the quota imperatives, legacies of the past were not readily accepted by parliament, once more underlining how the previous regime was so much more than a bunch of relatives of Saddam Hussein from Tikrit. More broadly, this relates to a general problem that has delayed the passage of a new law for the federal supreme court:  In Iraq, it is almost impossible to find qualified judges with decades of experience that do not have any ties to the past regime. That in turn has prompted some of the Shiite Islamist parties to demand changes to the draft law on the new supreme court (which was prepared by the existing court). In particular, they want lower service thresholds for nomination to the new court.

Unless the Iraqi parliament can find pragmatic and consistent solutions for incorporating professionals that served in the previous regime, it is unlikely to be able to pass legislation on a new federal supreme court at all. In that sort of context, the old court and its various appellate institutions will continue to serve – with the legitimacy problems and susceptibility to political pressure that come with its own genesis during the days of Paul Bremer back in 2003–2004.

Posted in De-Baathification, Iraqi constitutional issues, Sectarian master narrative | 34 Comments »

Iraqi Shiites Debate Federalism Again

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 3 July 2011 18:33

Parliament Speaker Usama al-Nujayfi’s recent outburst about potential Sunni separatism has had the side effect of a limited resurgence of discussion of federalism among Iraq’s Shiite Islamist factions.

So far, the contributions to this reawakened debate follow patterns that are familiar to those who followed the previous discussion about federalism south of Baghdad in the 2005–2007 period: The Shiite Islamists remain divided on federalism, with many signalling only limited interest in the concept as such, and most players being explicitly opposed to the idea of a single Shiite region that was propagated by ISCI and the Hakim family from 2005 onwards. Only some Kurds keep calling for a tripartite Iraq made up by ethnic and sectarian regions.

A typical example are recent statements by Shakir al-Darraji, from the State of Law bloc of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. While correctly conceding that the creation of new federal regions are the prerogative of popular initiatives in the governorates, Darraji warns against any new regions at the current stage given the security situation and the heated political atmosphere. Specifically, he warns against a single Shiite region: Such a region would not be in the interest of the Sunnis and Kurds, Darraji says, before adding that the considerations of Iraq’s interest as a whole should be given due weight in any renewed federalism discussion. Symptomatically perhaps, in his interview, Darraji also gave an erroneous account of the legal framework for forming new regions: By saying that any three governorates have the constitutional right to form a new region he reiterated the provisions of the Transitional Administrative Law from 2004 rather than those of the new constitution in 2005 (which allows for any combination of governorates into federal regions, excepting Baghdad, as well as uni-governorate federal regions.)

For his part, Muqtada al-Sadr has commented on the recent threat by Usama al-Nujayfi by challenging the inhabitants of these regions to prove their interest in federalism in a referendum. He added that he was against any kind of federalism that would lead to partition… Also, to the extent that there are departures from this general trend, they relate to Basra – as they always did in the past. In a recent statement Jawad al-Bazuni, a young deputy from Basra affiliated with Daawa (Tanzim al-Iraq) exhibits this tendency. Echoing pro-federal tendencies in evidence among State of Law deputies who captured the governorate council in Basra in January 2009, Buzuni says the creation of multiple federal regions would be the best solution in Iraq in the context of enduring political tension. Buzuni also highlights the Kurdish experience as a successful case of federalism.

Perhaps the greatest surprise in all of this has come from a “Sunni source” – Nujayfi himself. In media comments subsequent to the latest controversy about his statements, Nujayfi revealed that in addition to the petition by the Basra governorate council for a federalism referendum that was submitted in the second half of 2010 (but has so far remained unaddressed by the government in Baghdad in violation of the law on implementing federalism), a similar petition from the governorate council in Wasit, signed by 16 out of 28 council members, was submitted some 2 months ago. This is interesting because Wasit has not figured prominently in past discussions of federalism among Iraqi Shiites. The existence of an oilfield operated by a Chinese company in the governorate adds to the complexity of centre–periphery relations in this case, as does the fact that the State of Law alliance is severely divided there, with a recent split between the Shahristani and the Maliki blocs (the Shahristani supporters have joined independents and the Iraqi Constitutional Party). The exact political configuration behind the latest pro-federal move remains unclear, but an ISCI politician played a key role in making the first moves in 2010.

Posted in Basra and southern regionalism, Iraq - regionalism - general, Oil in Iraq, Shiite sectarian federalism | 19 Comments »