Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Iraqi Parliament Closes Down

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 11 October 2011 12:58

Perhaps the most significant development in yesterday’s parliament session came towards the end: Parliament will be on holiday until 20 November.

That’s right: Despite continuing political stalemate, Iraqi lawmakers will not meet for another 6 weeks or so. Ostensibly, the reason for the long holiday is the fact that it coincides with the pilgrimage to Mecca in early November. It is expected that a large number of deputies will be out of the country.

One cannot help wonder, though, whether political expediency may have played a role in the decision. Asma al-Musawi, a Sadrist, reportedly said a request to the federal supreme court for extending the term had been rejected on constitutional grounds! That statement should arouse some serious incredulity since the constitution only stipulates that there shall be two parliamentary terms annually of altogether 8 months and that parliament can also extend its work for an additional 30 days if 50 members or the parliamentary speaker request it. As usual, there is a delay in the publication of the court ruling – if there actually is one, that is.

More likely, the will to call for such an extension was missing because the long holiday will fit the agenda of the biggest political parties perfectly. For Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his State of Law coalition it makes sense because they can continue to rule Iraq as a de facto minority government. For the secular Iraqiyya, the long holiday probably makes sense as well, not least since what they are able to do in terms of effective parliamentary opposition is limited anyway. Hence, they may well prefer to remain muttering on the sidelines.

This stalemate, or variations of it, is likely to continue until there is some kind of rapprochement between the two main factions. In this respect, one interesting development yesterday was the approval of a new electricity minister from the Karbuli bloc within Iraqiyya. It means that in terms of ministers, the factions of Iraqiyya outside the direct control of Ayyad Allawi at least technically speaking remain more integrated in the Maliki government than Allawi’s own Wifaq movement. Potentially, a future decision on the security ministries and the defence portfolio in particular might have a further impact on that relationship.

Still, with the upcoming holiday recess we are fast approaching the one-year anniversary of the formation of the second Maliki government and still have no ministers of interior or defence approved by parliament. Maybe that is exactly the situation Maliki wants to have.

12 Responses to “The Iraqi Parliament Closes Down”

  1. Santana said

    Riedar- you say that this “stalemate is likely to continue until there is some kind of rapproachment between the two factions” I really can’t see any “rapproachment” in the horizon- infact the only thing I see is that this stalemate is part of a SOL strategy to buy more time in hopes Iraqiya breaks up and also to run more time off the clock towards the withdrawl deadline just to make it is even more unlikely or more difficult for the US to rethink their status.
    I mean really Riedar-am I missing something? what would be an incentive for Daawa to even consider a rapproachment with Iraqiya?

    Iran has worked it well while the US totally screwed it up. There is nothing SOL/Daawa can do now that would surprise me.

    It is funny that Maliki finally criticized Syria yesterday for having a “One party government” !!! hahahaha…look who’s talking !

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Santana, I agree with your scepticism, see the final para. The rapprochement thing was only for those interested in a solution that keeps both Iraqiyya and State of Law in government. As said before, I totally agree that a purely opposition role for Iraqiyya should be considered as a serious alternative. The defence-ministry decision (or the lack thereof) could be used as a yardstick.

    BTW there was a somewhat unusual NYT article by Tim Arango the other day which pushed the message that Iranian soft power was NOT winning in Iraq. I couldn’t help wonder whether it was part of the USG-sponsored lipstick-on-pig package that you referred to in the other thread! The main source was the Najaf governor, Adnan al-Zurfi, who expressed anti-Iranian and pro-US views. He is interesing since he was once with Iraqiyya but got elected as Najaf governor in 2009 with support from Maliki and despite considerable ISCI opposition. I wonder what he thinks about Maliki today?

  3. For what it’s worth the official spokesman for the city of Najaf denied Zurfi’s assertion of 90% of Najaf population hate Iran!
    I think the anti-Iranian sentiment is strong everywhere in Iraq, but the fear factor is on Maliki’s side thanks to US apathy. BTW Reidar, Anti-Iranian does not mean or imply Pro-US, realistically speaking I don’t think Zurfi or most Iraqis who are anti Iranian are pro US.
    Santana, Maliki’s position is even funnier vis a vis Libya: He wants to give advise on reconstruction and re-building the Libyan constitution!
    There is a lot of disconnect with reality here, which means the outcome could be positive, but the Iranians are better players than the Americans.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Hang on a second, Faisal, Maliki isn’t bad on constitutional issues. It’s his authoritarian practice that is the problem. In Libya, he would probably argue against too much federalism fanciness, which is going to be a contentious issue.

  5. Reidar,
    “Maliki isn’t bad on constitutional issues”
    you are pulling my leg right? It’s his interpretation of the constitution that’s making him authoritarian, he had little or no say in the form of the constitution, when he defends it then he defends his own interpretation. The Middle East is full of bad rulers and (not bad) constitutions, let’s have constitution that punishes bad rulers.

  6. Reidar Visser said

    By “good” I mean he defends the powers of the central government, is moderate when it comes to federalism (not to be extended beyond the KRG), and is firmly opposed to ridiculous innovations (the strategic policy council).

    There is however a trend in State of Law that advocates the establishment of the strategic council as long as Allawi won’t chair it. If Maliki embraces this, then he is of course a hypocrite. Ditto with respect to his alarming tendency of using increasingly Lebanese language when it comes to the sectarian apportionment of certain government posts (“the defence ministry to the Sunnis” etc.)

  7. Maliki a hypocrite? Noo. Nobody in his position can afford to stick to principles, all that matters is to stay in the game, bring the Americans, bring Iran and NATO too, bring’em all:)
    BTW I see bumps ahead because of the possible involvement of NATO, not only reluctance from European members to participate but also from Iraqi society resentment of NATO. The hate runs so deep and it will be so easy for Iraqis (other than Kurds) to express anti NATO sentiments. Somebody should have listened to the call of getting the UN involved.

  8. Reidar,
    “ridiculous innovations (the strategic policy council)”
    Today I watched an interview of Hamid Al Kefaie, he said almost everything I wanted to say regarding the policy council.

  9. Reidar Visser said

    Sorry Faisal, on this I’m with the interviewer who asks critical questions instead. Does Iraq really need more government offices? The only argument Kifaie can present in justification of the council is that it was supposedly part of the Arbil agreement. Well, the Arbil agreement was a melange of empty promises of which many will remain unimplemented simply because they are unconstitutional or depend on action by parliament and affirmative referendums that are beyond the control of the party leaders.

  10. Allawi is becoming more irrelevant by the day. Remember that proposal he made last week in response to the “Najayfi initiative” to set up a committee to solve the Baghdad-Irbil conflict? Nobody paid attention, but the one thing that was noticeable was that he made it in his capacity as head of Wifaq, not Iraqiya. And of course the one thing parliament did get done was approve Karbuli’s new man at electricity, and Iyad Sammarai is fighting with Isawi, everyone is going their own way.

  11. Håvard said

    It seems that the Kurdish gameplay is a Wise one:

    The Kurdish strategy for Iraq: Divide and Exploit 14.10.2011
    By Ranj Alaaldin, The Guardian

  12. Reidar Visser said

    Honestly, I think Ranj overplays the Kurdish leverage a little. For example the idea that non-passage of the oil and gas law is in Kurdish interests seems somewhat strange given that its passage during 2011 was a central demand by them for giving Maliki the premiership. What happens in the absence of an oil and gas law is 1) Doubt continues to persist with regard to validity of contracts signed by the KRG, affecting both current and future oil-sector investments in the KRG areas and 2) Maliki/Shahristani continue to do as they see fit in the rest of Iraq, which big oil companies see as their default area of interest the country.

    Just look at the way the latest Kurdish attempt at extracting decisive guarantees from Baghdad disintegrated: It was billed as a major visit to Baghdad (as usual) and ended up with fruitless multi-lateral talks with the usual empty rhetoric. Seems to me to suggest that Maliki wants to continue his strongman games for a little longer despite his flimsy parliamentary base. That isn’t a problem as long as parliament is weak.

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