Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

18 Responses to “A Bloody Nose for the State of Law Alliance in Parliament”

  1. State of Law was less than 30 votes from winning, it’s a fragile victory for those who believe in the independence of the election committee, hardly a bloody nose.
    In the long run, Iraq would do better with more elections anyway, irrespective of “unrealistic..calls for early elections”, but Maliki will not set an example for Democracy.

  2. observor said

    today Allawi is in Hawler/Irbil after a morning visit to the Parliament. I doubt that there will be new elections and frankly i think that all this is pressure counter pressure to get the other outstandign issues addressed. Maliki thinks that time is on his side and the longer he holds on to the security ministries the more permenant the changes he is making will become. I think it is a wrong headed tactic as it will get him nowhere.

    The populace is getting fed up with the situation – frankly I am surprised at how much abuse Iraqis are willing to take without going into the streets. Today electircal services in the south was 1 hour on 4 hours off, and during the “on hour”, the electrical service resembled christmass trees or traffic lights. On second thought, It is probably too hot to demonstrate !!!!

  3. Reidar Visser said

    The vote comes at a time when there seemed to be a certain degree of progress on the security file, apparently towards letting Iraqiyya get the defence portfolio on the basis of a new acting minister. Also the government downsizing carried some potential for rapprochement between the three biggest blocs at the expense of the smaller parties.

    I’m just wondering how much damage will result from this vote and the fallout.
    It’s quite interesting that Maliki has been so out of touch with reality in this case, i.e. moving forward with the vote and putting a lot of prestige into it, only to be abandoned apparently by everybody except White Iraqiyya (who, incidentally, have been pronounced in their calls for not extending the SOFA). To me that looks like a serious miscalculation for a prime minister!

    We’ll probably learn more on Saturday when parliament supposedly will debate the process of reducing the size of the government.

  4. Jason said

    Was the plan to completely disband the IHEC, or to replace the existing members? If the latter, then I assume that the concern is that Maliki would appoint all loyalists. If so, it seems as though this result could have been avoided with either a requirement that new appointments require majority confirmation vote by parliament and/or a deal on how the new members would be chosen. I agree this looks clumsy, especially if there was no roadmap for what comes next.

  5. Thaqalain said

    Reidar , this is first time I am reading about early elections , are not you inciting politicians to demand which will lead to another cycle of chaos. What service you do by reporting baseless reports of re-election!

  6. JWing said

    Faisal, I believe State of Law needed something around 165 votes for a successful no confidence push. It wasn’t close.

    Raider, to follow up on what Observer said, the calls of no confidence in the government and new elections by Iraqiya are all talk to try to pressure Maliki. It’s not working because Allawi is in a weak position with no real leverage.

    Finally, this is just a minor setback for Maliki. He’s in power, and putting Dawa members deeper into the bureaucracy, etc. That’s what is most important, not trying to get rid of the Election Commission leadership.

  7. Apparently Maliki resisted calls from his party and others for postponement of the vote until the last minute but he insisted, he was irrationally sure of winning..

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Thaqalain I think you need to re-evaluate the range of Iraqi newspapers you’re reading! Iraqiyya has been making this claim for many months. (And my article is critical of the claim, as should be clear.)

    Jason, yes it was about changing the members of the commission.

    What I find somewhat worrying about the situation is the tone of the language used, for example Mulla Haydar of Iraqiyya saying “the will of Allawi prevailed over the will of Maliki in parliament”. This seems like petrol on fire to me. Another Iraqiyya member made a very useful observation pointing out Maliki’s strategical alliance with a Kurds as a possible reason for them not being named and shamed by State of Law as “collaborating with corruption” in the way ISCI, Fadila, the Sadrists and Iraqiyya were:

    عزا النائب عن القائمة العراقية عثمان الجحيشي سبب عدم ذكر التحالف الكردستاني ضمن [المصفقين للفساد والمفسدين] بحسب تعبير اعضاء في دولة القانون الى” التحالف الاستراتيجي بين دولة القانون والتحالف الكردستاني”.

  9. Here is a plausible explanation why the vote went against sacking the IHEC: A deal was not struck between Daawa and the Sadrists in order to place a 60-day time limit over the forming of the new commission.

    If the commission’s mandate ends in 8 months anyway then I don’t understand why the hurry to abolish it right now? Unless there is reasonable risk of early election very soon…!

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Interesting, including the reference to upcoming (hopefully) local elections at the sub-governorate level. The format of the hand-written document shown in the link is slightly hilarious and comes across as a treaty between two teenage gangs… I wonder if it is authentic!

    The growing tension between State of Law and Talabani regarding the execution of Sultan Hashim et al. is also interesting as a possible indicator of general friction in the State of Law-Kurdish relationship.

  11. observor said

    Allawi in irbil for two days now…. hmmmmm…One day for the funeral of Barazani’s mother. What is the extra day for? I suppose a weekend in Salahdin beats Baghdad’s heat (and electrical “services”) any day…

    Well, this follows a visit two weeks ago.

    I hope that a shake up of Maliki’s slef confidence is coming up. I wonder when the US is going to intervene and save Maliki’s behind one more time.

  12. Reidar Visser said

    But the ball is in the court of the Kurds, isn’t it? Without them, no new elections. There is nothing the US can do to stop a call for fresh elections if they are supported by Iraqiyya, the Kurds and a couple of small parties.

  13. ali w said

    A good day for democracy, would anyone agree ?

  14. Reidar Visser said

    There is a report to the effect that Maliki intends to appoint Sadun al-Dulaymi as acting defence minister, despite the wishes of Iraqiyya. (He is culture minister and became so as part of Wasat/Unity of Iraq, the latter of which has now officially merged with Iraqiyya). Reportedly, the “decision” was made at a State of Law meeting! If true, I’ll add my voice to those calling for fresh elections, because such a move would be an affront to all the signals from parliament lately.

    كشف نائب عن ائتلاف دولة القانون أنّ” رئيس الوزراء نوري المالكي قرر تكليف وزير الثقافة الحالي سعدون الدليمي لوزارة الدفاع وكالة “, على الرغم من رفض العراقية لهذا الترشيح . .
    وقال عضو لجنة الأمن والدفاع النيابية النائب هيثم الجبوري لوكالة كل العراق [أين] اليوم إنّ: ” رئيس الوزراء قرر خلال اجتماع ائتلاف دولة القانون ليلة أمس تكليف وزير الدفاع الأسبق ووزير الثقافة الحالي لشغل منصب وزير الدفاع وكالة لحين اتفاق الكتل السياسية على أحد المرشحين للمنصب “. وأضاف أنّ ” تكليف المالكي لسعدون سيعلن عنه في غضون اليومين المقبلين “.

    But I’m still not sure the Kurds actually want new elections, and the decision rests with them. I’m also not sure about the trustworthiness of the source above.

  15. Samir Abdallah said


    The document you linked to shows a severe lack of trust in the political scene in Iraq, even within the same block. It was also clear during the past years that no political entity is working to improve its trustworthiness. I wonder how real political blocks can be formed and how issues can be resolved in the parliament under such environment. That represents shortsightedness in attitude of all political entities and they are risking losing Iraqi citizen’s trust in the whole political system.


    It seems that Iraqiyya is on its way to agree on AbdulKareem Al-Samarraee as its nomination for the defense ministry. The coming days will witness more media leaks about Maliki’s and Iraqiyya’s nominations.

  16. JWing said

    Reidar, did State of Law need a majority vote of those that attended the session to get a no confidence vote or did they need a majority of all of parliament (163)? I read that they needed an absolute majority.

  17. Reidar Visser said

    JWing, to be clear, as per the IHEC law passed in 2007 dismissal of the commission members is an absolute-majority vote whereas the appointment of a new commission only requires a majority.

  18. Samir,
    I agree with your conclusion irrespective of the document; I find the document simply a backup for a verbal pledge, it looks so imperfect but the content sound credible. Lack of motivation to improve trustworthiness indicates, in my mind, a lack of trust in its value. Trustworthiness matters if votes are perceived real, obviously the blocks think there are other more important factors in play than their own appeal.

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