Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

14 Responses to “The Iraqi Government Gets Downsized: Political and Constitutional Considerations”

  1. Santana said

    I don’t know if it is just me – but I am starting to see very early indications of compromise from Maliki- I think one reason the U.S has finally started applying pressure on him to ease up on his inflexibility and non-compromising attitude and actions. Even if it is true, then he must have something up his sleeve….Maliki’s is notorious for renegging and backstabbing.

    I know Biden and the NSC are equally frustrated with both – Biden calls Allawi and urges him to take a more conciliatory position just to lead Allawi into believing Iraqiya is the impediment and then Jeffery visits Maliki on behalf of Biden and said the same thing but that Maliki needs to ease up…, I am not sure if working both sides this way will bear any fruit but It kind of reminds me of an incident that a British Steel Engineer told me about where back in the 80s they had supplied a certain GCC country with armour plating that protects certain military vehicles from penetration by high caliber rounds. He said the economies of these oil countries were not that great at the time due to Oil being in the 20 dollar range so there were many games being played out by the clients when “payment due” came around to avoid paying. So he said he was called by his head office in London telling him that the Client is not willing to pay the full amount because there are quality claims locally that the rounds were easily penetrating the armour that they supplied and therefore it is useless. His office asked him to go immedietly to the Gulf and meet the Sheikh at the MOD…he said he went there (in July) and was upset that he had to cancel his vacation because of this issue and he was quite sure there were no quality issues – when he got there he went to the MOD and waited in the lavish lounge waiting for the Sheikh to see him….and there was another Western looking gentleman there waiting on an appointment as well…so they started chatting and the other man asked ” so-what do you guys do?” he said “I told him I was with British steel and that we supply Bullet proof Armour plating and the client is saying it is worthless and the rounds are penetrating them”….the other guy opened his mouth in astonishment and said ” You must be joking ! so the Steel engineer asked -no why? the other guy said – “We make and supply High caliber rounds and I am here because they won’t pay the bill saying our rounds can’t penetrate the armour ” ! They both then got up shook hands and left without seeing the Sheikh.

    I am sure the Sheikh’s scheduler was fired shortly thereafter ! LOL

  2. Apparently the sacked ministers will retain 80% of their salaries but there is tax advantage which will make their net income more than before. So much for saving money.

  3. Reidar Visser said

    And in his press conference, Maliki said that the small parties that had been hit hardest by the downsizing would be compensated by, well, other ministries…

    Santana,I don’t hink we’ll know for sure until we see what happens with the defence portfolio. That’s going to be a bellwether as far as Maliki’s intentions go.

  4. Jason said

    I hope that the horrible killing in the streets of Syria is giving Iraqi politicians serious thought about the level of obstructionism and disfunction in which they are engaging, and sending a clear message about the potential danger they are flirting with by failing to work together to build a stronger and more unified, democratic Iraq. dictatorship?

    I also hope that this is proving a distraction to Khamenei, away from Iraq, as I understand that the IIRG and Basij are in Syria directing the violence there.

  5. From what I’ve read the last couple of days, it looks like he’s going to fall back on Dulaymi, the minister of culture from Accord whom the INM has already rejected. But I agree that were Maliki to make a real compromise there, it would show a significant change. But these were just the “ministers without portfolio,” and Maliki always wanted to get rid of them anyway, so I don’t see this as a compromise on his part.

  6. Reidar Visser said

    Kirk, yes, there is brief reference to Dulaymi’s candidature in the comments section of the previous post. I see this issue as something of a litmus test for Maliki and State of Law: If he offers Iraqiyya the defence portfolio (even on an acting basis) then I think they should drop all the talk about the strategic policy council. I mean, look at the net Iraqiyya influence in the re-shaped government under that scenario! On the other hand, if Maliki tries to appoint Dulaymi against the wishes of Iraqiyya then it is indicative of a lack of realism that has been bluntly exposed in the latest parliamentary developments. Calls for new elections would not be so far-fetched anymore if that were to take place.

  7. Perhaps Biden and the Americans should spend more time governing their state instead of worrying about the governance of the Iraqi state. For the Americans to presume to give instruction to any other country about governance is risible. Rather like the Soviet Union instructing Poland in 1987.

  8. Santana said

    Thanks Steve- for your advice to Biden and the U.S….kind of late for that don’t you think? this responsibilty comes with the decision to invade so yes- they NEED to worry and be involved…………and I disagree with your analogy…the Soviet Union did not invade Poland in 1987..

  9. Salah said


    Sorry been out of the post, recently there is a lot of talks with politicians, newspapers talking about the new Kuwaitis Port and the rejections by Iraqis in southern area also on the officials arena.

    What words or thought you hold in this matter?

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, there is some earlier discussion of this matter here:

    In general, I think the Iraqi govt has itself to blame for delaying its own Fao port project. The case is interesting for the prominent role taken by the Shiite Islamist parties in challenging Kuwait.

  11. Michele Rogers said

    Does any know the exact Article in the Constitution that made the process a constitutional violation?

  12. Reidar Visser said

    Michele, the correct process for withdrawing confidence from a minister is described in article 61-8-a of the constitution, viz:

    أـ لمجلس النواب سحب الثقة من احد الوزراء بالأغلبية المطلقة، ويُعد مستقيلاً من تاريخ قرار سحب الثقة، ولا يجوز طرح موضوع الثقة بالوزير الا بناءً على رغبته، او طلبٍ موقع من خمسين عضواً، اثر مناقشة استجوابٍ موجهٍ اليه، ولا يصدر المجلس قراره في الطلب الا بعد سبعة ايام في الاقل من تأريخ تقديمه.

    It stipulates an individual process, based on the desire of the minister in question or 50 deputies, and to be based on an individual appearance before parliament to answer questions.

  13. Salah said

    Thanks, I do agree what you said, but did you read this, might have some hand link to it?

  14. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, I wouldn’t want to speculate about that, but I agree with the critical tone in the article to the effect that it seems somewhat distasteful of Blair to get so heavily involved in Kuwait after the very prominent role he had in the decision to start the Iraq War in 2003.

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