Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for November, 2011

Finally, Some Good Sunni Federalism: Are You Happy Now, Joe?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 30 November 2011 13:21

US Vice President Joe Biden has visited Iraq many times, with many different messages.

Back in 2007, Biden travelled to the Sunni-majority governorate of Anbar in search of federalists. He wanted to fill a glaring lacuna in his wonderful plan for a tripartite Iraq: Real Sunnis that were ready to forget about Baghdad and focus on local provincial politics instead. He was unable to find any takers… Full story here.

Posted in Iraq and soft partition | 7 Comments »

Sub-Governorate Separatism in Iraq: New Examples from Dujayl and Balad

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 26 November 2011 12:30

Those who are following the evolving debate about federalism in Sunni-majority parts of Iraq will have taken note of the rapidly deteriorating legal standard of the arguments presented. The assertion earlier this week by Khalid al-Attiya, an ally of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, that the constitution does not call for the “immediate establishment” of federal regions may represent a low mark in the debate so far. It is true, as Atiyya claims, that the constitution does not say that federalism regions need to be established “immediately”.

“الدستور لم ينص على إقامة الفدرالية فوراً، كما أنه حذر من أي توجه عنصري أو طائفي لإنشاء الأقاليم

The thing is, Mr. Atiyya, they can be established “anytime”! 

Also, the second part of the State of Law argument, that the constitution supposedly warns against establishing regions as a result of racist or sectarian impulses, is an outright lie.

A particularly interesting genre of federalism-related constitutional perversion relates to the newly revived idea of sub-governorate separatism, with or without reference to federalism discussions.  In fact, the new Iraqi constitution of 2005 fails entirely to address the question of changes to the administrative boundaries of existing governorates. In terms of territorial changes, it deals only with the possible agglutination of multiple (whole) governorates into new regions through a process of federalisation. The relevant law on the books is a Saddam-era regulation that vests the power to make administrative changes in the central government – which of course is at variance more generally with the radical, bottom-up spirit of the new asymmetrical system of regions and governorates that was introduced with the new Iraqi constitution in 2005.

Despite the absence of clear constitutional or legal provisions allowing sub-governorate separatism through local initiatives, several incarnations of such projects already exist in the political history of Iraq in the post-2005 era. Perhaps most prominently, this includes repeated calls for the creation of new administrative units (governorates or regions) in the oil-rich Qurna and Zubayr areas within Basra governorate. Qurna is a peripheral part of Basra bordering on Dhi Qar, whereas Zubayr is west of Basra and home to a substantial Sunni minority.

Another example in this category is the idea of a Christian-dominated federal entity in the Nineveh plains. In this case, an attempt has been made to seek justification in article 125 of the constitution (which stipulates the right to “administrative rights” for ethnic and religious minorities), but it seems a far stretch to interpret this as a right to form a federal region: Region formation is treated separately and in a far more detailed manner elsewhere in the constitution, whereas article 125 is part of a section dealing with “local government”.

This week, the latest federalist initiative in Salahaddin has prompted sub-governorate separatist attempts from those who do not want to be part of the bid. Symptomatically of today’s sectarian climate in Iraqi politics, these calls for secession (and annexation to Baghdad) are apparently mainly from Shiite minorities who are territorially concentrated in Balad and Dujayl. In local elections in 2009, Maliki’s State of Law won some 14,000 votes in these areas and 2 seats in the governorate assembly; in March 2010 the Shiite Islamists fell short of the one-seat threshold of some 30,000 votes. Historically, Dujayl has seen severe episodes of sectarian upheaval, including in the 1980s after an anti-regime assassination attempt that led to the collective punishment of many Shiites, as well as in anti-Shiite terrorist episodes in the post-2003 era.

It is true that some of the new, anti-federal resistance is framed with reference to previous administrative maps when Balad in short intervals was part of the Baghdad governorate when the rest of Salahaddin wasn’t. As such, it could perhaps be grouped with other “disputed territory” conflicts (including Nukhayb in Anbar in addition to the better known areas claimed by the Kurds). However, the long line here is that the very creation of Salahaddin as a governorate is a relatively recent phenomenon, and that until the late 1960s the governorate of Baghdad was much bigger – an elongated province stretching northwards to the borders of Kirkuk. First and foremost, then, this latest separatism sub-governorate initiative looks somewhat sectarian in character, and certainly more sectarian than the federalism initiative against which it supposedly reacts (there is in fact nothing more sectarian about the Sunni-led, uni-governorate Salahaddin federalism initiative than what was seen in previous attempts to establish Basra as a separate federal entity, apart from the other Shiite-majority areas).

Thankfully, there are also reports about anti-separatism in Dujayl. Back in history, Dujayl was the ancestral home of Shiite writers who were among the first Iraqi nationalists in late Ottoman times, including Kazim al-Dujayli. Still, if sub-governorate separatism becomes a persistent trend in Iraq, we may soon end up with as many federal entities as there are oilfields in the country.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraqi constitutional issues | 10 Comments »

Salahaddin Leaders Turn to Talabani to Solve Federalism Impasse

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 24 November 2011 13:11

The 15-day limit for the central government to ask the elections commission to arrange a federalism referendum for Salahaddin has now expired.

The Iraqi government is breaking the law on region formation by not arranging the referendum, but in the past similar requests from the Shiite-majority governorates of Basra and Wasit have been quietly shelved by the central government – and without much in the way of protests. Salahaddin, however, is opting for a different course. Provincial council leaders now say they are contacting Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, to make him act in his capacity as “defender of the constitution” and to impel the government to make the necessary legal steps.

In so doing, it is noteworthy that the Salahaddin leaders are hinting at the possibility of future claims before the federal supreme court, but that they are also emphasising that they want to exhaust all other options first. To some extent, this is probably a way of masking a reality in which the supreme court is seen as the tool of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whereas Talabani, as a Kurd – and despite his personal good ties to Maliki – is seen as a federalist first and foremost. For that reason, there is an expectation that he will be sympathetic to federalism initiatives in other parts of Iraq more generally.

Constitutionally speaking, the president of the republic has a theoretical responsibility for ensuring compliance with the constitution but almost no specific constitutional powers in this regard. Even though the president has managed to carve out a certain niche as a quasi-appellate court in cases involving the death sentence, it would be wrong to see the presidency as an alternate constitutional court. What Talabani can do, however, is to act as an informal arbiter, perhaps on the pattern of what was earlier this year when the implementation of the Arbil framework became a matter of dispute. Back then, the secular Iraqiyya party made a point out of turning to Talabani, rather than to Maliki, in an attempt at resolving the remaining issues.

Talabani will be tested on this issue at a point in time when relations between Maliki and the Kurds are already strained because of the Exxon Mobil deals for KRG-held areas including disputed territories. The Maliki camp has been firmly opposed to the Salahaddin federalism bid, but it is hard to see how they can plausibly delay the process in a legal way. The constitutional and legal aspects of the case are so crystal clear that any discovery of new problems by the supreme court will raise even more doubts about its neutrality than before.

There is however one possible reason Talabani might be less forthcoming towards the Salahaddin federalists than they have been hoping for. A new idea in Kurdish circles is that article 140 of the constitution on disputed territories should be implemented before the creation of any new federal region. Also this week, it is being reported that Talabani himself has sent parliament a bill that would regulate the settlement of administrative boundaries in the disputed territories. These ideas in themselves have no constitutional basis and like so much else in Iraqi politics are the concoctions of politicians. Nonetheless, such claims may serve as an indication of a possible new preference in Kurdish circles for bilateral deal-making with Maliki on article 140 instead of or before a general move towards the comprehensive federalisation of Iraq.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraq - regionalism - general, Iraqi constitutional issues | 12 Comments »

More Anti-Baath Legislation in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 22 November 2011 12:59

The Iraqi parliamentary cycle has kicked off again following the Eid al-Adha holiday. Perhaps serving as a harbinger of legislative priorities over the coming months, a bill outlawing the Baath and parties supporting racism, terrorism, takfir and sectarian cleansing was giving its first reading. This represents an attempt at implementing the law called for under article 7 of the constitution that was not ready before the March 2010 parliamentary elections – which instead saw massive attempts at extra-judicial and vigilante de-Baathification.

As usual, the bill itself is not published by parliament when it is merely on the stage of the first reading. Nonetheless, it seems likely that the bill read today was more or less similar to the one that was prepared by cabinet this summer and was leaked in some media. The parliamentary committees charged with handling the bill (security & defence, de-Baathification and legal) may have introduced minor changes along the way.

The draft bill is quite short. To some extent it stays truthful to the constitutional requirements for banning the Baath and parties supporting terrorism, racism, takfir (labelling others as unbelievers) and sectarian cleansing – though it falls short of defining those ideologies it is seeking to outlaw other than the Baath. For good measure, parties that are “against the peaceful transfer of power” or against the constitution itself or the “principles of democracy” are banned as well.

The bill then goes on to ban all possible forms of support and promotion of the Baath party. It further says that these measures also apply to parties promoting the other outlawed ideologies.

Perhaps the most important and potentially controversial aspect of the bill is the creation of a committee that will oversee the law and hand over potential cases to the prosecution. This committee will be headed by the minister of state for parliamentary affairs, with members from the ministries of justice and human rights, the head of the consultative state assembly and two judges. As is well known, the minister of state for parliamentary affairs and the ministries of human rights and justice (which also administers the consultative state assembly) are all dominated by members of the grand Shiite alliance to which Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki owes his second term. Of course, this all comes at a time when there is already evidence that vague accusations of Baathism are being used to settle political scores.

The law then goes on to stipulate severe prison terms – mostly in the range from five to ten years – for offenders. In this section it also goes beyond the constitutionally mandated focus on political parties to also define punishment for government official discrimination on sectarian or racist grounds. There is also specific mention of the crime of forcing someone to leave his or her home for “sectarian, religious or nationalist” reasons.

The biggest problem with the draft law is the combination of vague criteria (what exactly constitutes “racism”?) and the designation of a supervisory committee that inevitably will be seen as political. For example, some of the claims by the two biggest Kurdish parties to annex to the Kurdish region outlying areas where minorities of Kurds live can hardly be defined as anything other than “racism”. Similarly, the tendency of some parties to define certain governmental posts as belonging to particular ethnicities, be they Kurds or Arabs, would also seem to constitute racism. It is noteworthy that in line with the constitution, sectarianism is not outlawed as such, only sectarian cleansing.

The full details of today’s debate regarding the first reading have yet to be published. It will be interesting to see which Iraqi deputy dares to be the first to demand ethnic quotas for the committee overseeing the anti-racism bill.

Posted in De-Baathification, Iraqi constitutional issues | 13 Comments »

Exxon Moving into Seriously Disputed Territory: The Case of Bashiqa

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 17 November 2011 11:46

More details continue to emerge about the recent deals cut by Exxon Mobil with the Kurdistan Regional Government.

A key point in this respect is newly-emerged information that at least two of the six exploration blocks are in so-called “disputed territories” that are formally part of the Nineveh governorate but since 2003 have been administered by the Kurds who occupied these areas at the beginning of the war. This includes both the Qush and Bashiqa blocks. 

In itself, this move by international oil companies into “disputed territory” is not entirely unprecedented in Iraq. Other companies including Hunt Oil and Gulf Keystone have previously concluded deals for blocks in disputed territory in Nineveh.

Once again, it is to some extent of course Exxon’s stature as a “Big Oil” company – and over above that as “American Big Oil” – that is particularly significant as far as the new disputed-territory dimension is concerned. It is noteworthy in this respect that previous attempts by the central government in Baghdad to auction off service contracts in disputed territories in Kirkuk failed, both in the first and second licensing rounds in 2009.

But there is a particular dimension to the Exxon contract for Bashiqa. It is commonly assumed that pro-Kurdish areas of the Nineveh governorate like Shaykhan and even Tall Kayf (where Qush is situated) may eventually gravitate towards the Kurdistan Regional Government when final status negotiations get going – to some extent as the result of pro-Kurdish feeling among Yazidis and Christian minorities there. However, in Bashiqa the situation is far from clear. A good study on the disputed territories by Sean Kane of USIP uses elections data at the district level to highlight Bashiqa as an area of Nineveh where Kurdish claims are not particularly popular among the local electorate. Additionally, to the extent that there is a pro-Kurdish tendency among parts of the population, much of it is actually Christian. As such, it is torn between the idea of joining the KRG and the alternate (and constitutionally dubious) scheme of a Christian-dominated sub-governorate administrative unit in the Nineveh plains. It is not unlikely that Bashiqa and its oil will end up remaining outside the final KRG borders and hence outside Kurdish jurisdiction.

In other words, in Bashiqa, Exxon is not only going into “disputed territory” but is becoming involved in a particularly disputed area. By so doing, Exxon is positioning itself in direct opposition to the longstanding official US government policy of trying to build trust and détente in these areas through so-called “joint patrols” with Kurdish and central-government participation. Additionally, this particular move may prove to be yet another thorn in the relationship between Kurds and Sunni Arabs: The Nujayfi family of Mosul and its two leading brothers (Usama, the parliament speaker, and Athil, the governor of Nineveh) have been personally involved in the quest to keep Bashiqa as part of Nineveh. This could in turn have a negative impact on recent tendencies of rapprochement between Sunni Arabs and Kurds as the result of growing interest in federalism among Sunnis, especially in Salahaddin.

In sum, one cannot help wonder whether Exxon may have been lured into a trap by including such a contentious and risky piece of real estate as Bashiqa in its recent bouquet of exploration blocks. There is now the impression that Exxon has wedded itself to a policy of Kurdish maximalism from which there can be no easy or partial retreat.

The Kurds may well have tried to sell the whole Exxon package as an “all or nothing” deal. As such, it is looking singularly successful.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories, Oil in Iraq | 20 Comments »

The Exxon Mobil Bombshell

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 14 November 2011 19:24

So far, conspiracy theorists alleging that American appetite for oil was the real factor behind the Iraq War – perhaps even in a plot intended to partition the country for the benefit of US oil interests – haven’t quite been able to fit their theory to the empirical realities. Until now, American companies have not been particularly prominent in terms of their involvement on the ground in “the new Iraq”. Also, generally speaking, most of the contracts of the IOCs signed with Baghdad come across as modest in terms of profit rates for the Western companies compared to what goes to Iraq.

Enter Exxon Mobil and its recent Kurdistan dealings. The story began in the shape of rumours last week but has now been confirmed by a sufficient number of sources that it can be treated as facts: Exxon has cut separate exploration deals with the Kurds, circumventing Baghdad and thereby potentially jeopardising its existing service contract with Baghdad for the supergiant West Qurna field near Basra. The move could also signify the entrance of “big oil” into Kurdistan after a period of “small oil” dominance (including, most recently, former BP chief Tony Hayward in his new role in Genel). 

The bid comes at the most critical juncture imaginable. For the first time in the history of Iraq, the central government is threatened by federalism movements in both Sunni and Shiite areas, alongside the existing challenge from the established Kurdish region. Today saw further unprecedented moves in this direction in parliament where Usama al-Nujayfi, the speaker of the national assembly, organised an impromptu conference on federalism and decentralisation issues. The conference – attended by representatives of five Sunni-majority provinces and reportedly boycotted by the ten Shiite-majority ones – concluded with a statement that highlighted such broad issues as the constitutional right to form regions, the need to reform the provincial powers law of 2008 and even the question of the impartiality of the Iraqi judiciary.

Whether Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in this critical situation will bend to the pressure from Exxon Mobil and give up his policy of blacklisting companies that do separate deals with Kurdistan remains to be seen.

A consistent response would involve kicking Exxon out of its Qurna contract which is shared with Shell (which in turn has not concluded any deals with the Kurds). Maliki has so far been able to resist federalism initiatives from fellow Shiites in Basra and Wasit, and has recently indicated a possible judicial approach that could create delays for the latest Salahaddin autonomy bid. Maliki does not really enjoy the parliamentary backing required to act so boldly, but as long as his enemies are unable to sack him due to their own disunity there is plenty of room for manoeuvre for the prime minister regardless of the parliamentary situation.

If on the other hand Maliki does feel threatened by the growing number of unhappy oppositionists he will likely turn to deal-making with the Kurds in order to ensure his own survival. In that respect, bargains over oil may perhaps be an easier route than a sell-out on Kirkuk (which is certain to meet with opposition even in Shiite Islamist circles that are normally friendly to the Kurds). Taking a pragmatic approach to the latest Exxon deals in Kurdistan might be one aspect of such an approach.

The international dimensions of these developments are particularly hard to grasp. It seems remarkable that a company of Exxon’s stature should run such an incredible risk with West Qurna had there not been some kind of deal-making and assurances under the table.  Could the move have been clarified with the Obama administration? Right now, it seems Washington cannot quite make up its mind as to whether to slap Maliki in the face or try to put a gloss on the whole situation. It is noteworthy that according to Kurdish sources, the deals with Exxon were signed on 18 October 2011 whereas 21 October was the date of Obama’s “total withdrawal” speech on Iraq. Would Washington really want to put all its eggs in basket of central-northern Iraqi energy when even the most optimistic scenarios for the Kurdish areas (including the projected Nabucco pipeline) dwindle by comparison with the south? The geopolitical risk of those fields falling under ever firmer Iranian control is certainly considerable.

The net effect of the Exxon Mobil dealings are easier to evaluate: They make Iraq look more fragmented, vulnerable and susceptible to foreign influences than for a long time.

Posted in Iraq - regionalism - general, Oil in Iraq | 41 Comments »

The New Federalism Jurisprudence of the State of Law Alliance

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 11 November 2011 19:13

Just when you thought things could not get more farcical in Iraq, the so-called State of Law Alliance of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has provided yet more fodder for potential pun-makers.

Back on 5 November, in a comment on the recent Salahaddin federalism initiative, Walid al-Hilli of State of Law declared that there were problems with the bid relating to article 6 of the law on region formation. According to Hilli, the article in question was “unclear” with respect to the creation of new regions through the transformation of a single governorate to a new federal region.

One could have dismissed the comment by Hilli as a slip of the tongue were it not for the fact that something almost identical was repeated by Mariam al-Rayyis, also close to Maliki, in press comments yesterday.  According to Rayyis, article 6 only relates to governorates wanting to join an existing region! In her view the law must be amended by parliament before the current Salahaddin project can go ahead (she specifically suggests Salahaddin can only join Kurdistan).

Let’s look at article 6.

يكون الاستفتاء ناجحاً إذا حصل على أغلبية المصوتين من الناخبين في كل محافظة من المحافظات التي تروم الانضمام إلى إقليم

Okay, so the referendum is successful if it gains a majority in “each governorate of the governorates wishing to join/combine into a region”. In other words, it was written with reference to a case of multiple governorates forming a region. Arguably, the case of single-governorate formation should have been mentioned separately.  But to deduct from this that single-governorate formation should be governed by different rules is absurd. Article 6 is the sole article that defines the modalities for a successful referendum and it was clearly intended to cover all instances of region formation including single-governorate ones, not least since such single-governorate regions were among the most likely scenarios in 2006 when the law was drafted, for example in Basra. The idea – implicit in the comments from State of Law politicians  – that there should somehow be a stricter threshold for a single governorate to become a federal region than for a combination of governorates (which after all would constitute an even more radical change) just defies common sense.  

The comment by Rayyis which tries to differentiate between annexing governorates to existing regions and everything else is even more flawed: She seems to suggest that article 6 only applies to cases of multiple governorates wishing to join an existing region all in a single referendum! This scenario is not even discussed in article 2 of the law which merely envisages the addition of single governorates to existing regions. It should be fairly clear that the “region” mentioned in article 6 can also be the result of non-federated governorates joining together in an act of federalisation.

The bottom line is as long as the Salahaddin federalists remembered to make a simple request for a referendum (in addition to their dubious “declaration of a region”) the bid will be legal and the government is under an obligation to carry out the requested referendum. Maliki allies have tried to claim that there is somehow a difference between a similar request from Basra and the Salahaddin bid, with the suggestion that the Salahaddin federalism scheme is intended to provide refuge to Baathists, is not conducted in coordination with the central government and even marginalises the Shiite minority! The fact is that in legal terms, the two bids, Salahaddin and Basra, are one hundred per cent identical. Many supporters of the Salahaddin bid are in fact anti-Baathists and there are Baathists in exile that have denounced the whole federalism project. If Maliki continues to treat Basra and Salahaddin differently, then it means he is effectively holding the Sunnism of the majority of the Salahaddin people against them.

Perhaps the new focus on article 6 at least is an indication that Maliki eventually understood that he could not forever obstruct the Salahaddin bid with vague allegations of Baathism. But the sloppy language of that article is such a silly and contrived basis for an attempt to derail a project that clearly satisfies the constitutional criteria for a federalism initiative. This is however not untypical: During the past few days Maliki has also declared that ex-Baathists should publicly denounce the Baath party as a condition for staying in their jobs in the government sector. Once more, he is making up the rules himself.

Reportedly, Maliki is now seeking the counsel of the federal supreme court on these matters. Let’s hope that unlike other previous episodes, the court (or the consultative assembly of state) will know exactly what answer to give him.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraq - regionalism - general, Iraqi constitutional issues | 14 Comments »

The Iraq End Game: The Krauthammer Version

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 8 November 2011 19:17

Not all of what Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer writes is easy to agree with. However, in his latest take on the Iraq policy of the Obama administration, despite some degree of simplification and hyperbole, there are some good points relating to Iraqi government formation in 2010 that are not usually articulated in US policy-making circles.

Krauthammer writes,

“Three years, two abject failures. The first was the administration’s inability, at the height of American post-surge power, to broker a centrist nationalist coalition governed by the major blocs — one predominantly Shiite (Maliki’s), one predominantly Sunni (Ayad Allawi’s), one Kurdish — that among them won a large majority (69 percent) of seats in the 2010 election.

Vice President Joe Biden was given the job. He failed utterly. The government ended up effectively being run by a narrow sectarian coalition where the balance of power is held by the relatively small (12 percent) Iranian-client Sadr faction.”

This is true.

At least to some extent. Krauthammer is making the valid point that not everyone needed to be included in the second Iraqi government, and that the eventual inclusion of the Sadrists did make Maliki overly reliant on Iran.

At the actual time of the government-formation struggle, the idea of a more compact government was propagated most enthusiastically by former US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, who as early as in April wrote in an op-ed in The Financial Times,

“The Obama administration should not sit back and allow Iran and sectarian parties to decide Iraq’s political future. President Barack Obama needs to send a message that Iraq is for the Iraqis, not for the mullahs in Tehran and their Iraqi surrogates.

To this end the US needs to adopt a more hands-on approach and encourage the Maliki coalition, the Allawi coalition and the Kurdish alliance to form a grand coalition and avoid steps that would drive Mr Maliki into accepting Iran’s proposals.”

The problem was that this and other US proposals for “intervention” only envisaged a desirable end result, i.e.  a coalition of Iraqiyya, State of Law and the Kurds. They did not address or engage with the question of how their preferred nominee for prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, would actually end up getting that position in accordance with Iraqi constitutional procedure.

When the Americans found themselves unable to square desired end games with constitutional process, instead of looking more carefully at the constitution or ideas circulating among the Iraqis at the time, they began making up the rules themselves. This included complete inventions like the strategic policy council – designed as a consolation prize for Ayad Allawi  in lieu of the premiership –  as well as a last-minute attempt to oversell him the largely symbolic presidency. Khalilzad’s own preferred solution was a suggestion for splitting the premiership in two two-year terms, which again was unconstitutional and almost certain to end up with an acrimonious struggle once the first term neared expiry, if not earlier.

The disastrous outcome of these failures – both that of the largely passive Obama administration as well as the general haplessness of the minority “hands-on” crowd that preferred the Khalilzad approach – is the oversized, still-not-quite-seated Iraqi government of today, unable to deliver Washington the extension of the SOFA that at least the Pentagon, if not the White House, had been craving for.

What the Americans could have done instead was to listen to the Iraqi debate at the time, where ideas that could have solved the whole issue actually existed. The first step would have been the formation of a super-bloc of Maliki’s State of Law and the secular Iraqiyya. This coalition could have ruled itself with a majority of about 180 deputies in parliament, or could have added the Kurds later on (the Kurds had signalled they would not be part of a greater bloc formation, so the premiership issue would have to be settled between Allawi and Maliki). The key point is that the new bloc could have agreed on a prime minister, most probably Maliki, that would not have been dependent upon the Sadrists or Iran.

Arguably, to all parties including the Kurds, the best way of structuring the government would actually have been to exclude the Kurds entirely. By so doing, the government would have had greater incentives for developing internal coherence and autonomy versus the stormy regional environment, and would also have been in a better position to provide generous concessions to the KRG. The problem was that the sheer thought of not having the Kurds included would have prompted immediate panic in Beltway circles, where there seems to be general ignorance of the fact that the whole idea behind deep autonomy for the Kurds in the constitution is precisely to safeguard them against the prospect of no representation at the level of the central government. The checks and balances were already in place, and yet Washington kept clamouring for more!

A smaller governance-oriented cabinet would have confined the federalism question to the KRG and in turn provided for greater leeway in oil-related negotiations and territorial bargains. Conversely, in today’s situation with a weak, oversized cabinet and 15 un-federated governorates that are increasingly looking like potential federalism threats, paranoia and authoritarianism are likely to characterise the executive in the months and years to come.

Let’s not forget that Charles Krauthammer enthusiastically gave his stamp of approval to the happy-go-lucky federalism clauses of the Iraqi constitutional draft in September 2005.

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | 26 Comments »

More Federalism Chaos

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 4 November 2011 18:56

There is so much fuss surrounding the renewed federalism debate in Iraq that it is really hard to know where to start.

Maybe a suitable vantage point is nomenclature: Can the Iraqi press please understand that no one can “declare” themselves a federal region in the way Salahaddin tried to do? Iraqi media keep talking about the “declaration” of federal regions, ignoring the fact that the most the governorate council can do is to ask the government to conduct a referendum.

Other oddities can be found in the arguments for and against the emerging federalism bid. One Iraqiyya figure claims that “everyone” supports the Salahaddin bid, including all the districts.

 أأكّدَ فرحانُ العوض المرشح للبرلمان العراقي عن محافظة صلاح الدين ان قرار مجلس المحافظة إقامة اقليم فدرالي، تم بموافقة جميع ابناء المحافظة بجميع أقضيتها وشتى أطيافها وألوانها

Again, this is irrelevant. Sub-entities may count in Spanish federalism but they don’t count in Iraqi federalism. The referendum will be a straightforward majority vote counted at the governorate level.

As for the opponents of the Salahaddin federalism bid, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki still continues to produce statements that are legally and constitutionally flawed. He labels the Salahaddin bid as neo-Baathism in disguise, ignoring the fact that the law does not specify ideological preconditions for launching a federal region. In other words,  it is the prerogative of the people of Salahaddin to go federal and try to grow bananas if they so desire.  Similarly, Maliki continues to talk about “conditions” for federal regions to emerge in concert with the government, and even alludes to the “pre-occupation” of the central government to build security at the moment!

إقامة الأقاليم حق دستوري لكن الدولة مشغولة حاليا ببناء البلد وتحقيق الاستقرار الأمني

Again, these are not valid arguments against implementing the law on forming regions, which Maliki has previously refused to do with respect to bids from Basra and Wasit.

Additional confusion has been thrown into the mix because of unprecedented talk in some circles of Sunni regions joining the Kurdish areas. For their part, some Kurds have said they would like to see the implementation of article 140 of the constitution on the disputed territories before any region-formation, which again is an idea that enjoys no legal basis.

What seems certain is that Maliki is now coming under pressure on federalism issues from fellow Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis alike. That is an unprecedented situation which will add further pressure on his minority-government survival strategy unless he either manages to win over some substantial Sunni and secular allies or gives the Kurds some more of what they want.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraq - regionalism - general | 24 Comments »

Iraqi Parliamentary Attendance Data Are Bogus

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 1 November 2011 18:40

On paper it looks all fine. A record of Iraq’s parliamentary attendance figures is regularly published, along with the names of deputies who are absent from parliamentary sessions.  A separate non-governmental organisation keeps track of those numbers and pegs the attendance figure to entries for individual deputies, making it possible to check the attendance of any of the 325 deputies in parliament. The parliamentary bylaws say the parliamentary presidency can issue a written warning to deputies that are absent 5 times in a row or 10 times during the course of the legislative year.

There is only one problem: The numbers are false. A systematic correlation of parliamentary records and attendance information linked to individuals shows that only a fraction of those absent are actually accounted for in the official record. Here is a quick rundown of gross attendance figures and the numbers of absentees actually identified by name for the past months:

Date Deputies present Registered absentees Other absentees
19 June 165 3 157
29 June 200 3 122
30 June 175 2 148
2 July 190 3 132
4 July 177 5 143
12 July 174 4 147
16 July 164 5 156
18 July 167 7 151
26 July 181 3 141
28 July 245 11 69
30 July 183 9 133
1 August 184 6 135
9 August 164 5 156
11 August 167 5 153
13 August 187 5 133
14 August 165 15 145
15 August 164 8 153
16 August 227 6 92
17 August 165 5 155
18 August 164 6 155
6 September 200 7 118
8 September 173 14 138
10 September 183 9 133
12 September 181 12 132
20 September 221 8 96


A possible explanation for the huge discrepancies can be found in the bylaws, where a distinction is made between “legitimate” absence (apparently for health reasons or if a deputy is on business representing the parliament elsewhere) and other forms of absences. Quite possibly, the absentees identified by name are the few who had such legitimate absences.

The problem, of course, has to do with all the others, non-legitimate – and non-registered – absentees. Just look at the huge numbers! The whole oversight system of checks and balances loses its meaning unless those names get published too. Until they are in the public domain, there is no real transparency in the Iraqi parliament – and it is also more difficult to analyse the political dynamics behind votes in parliament, since voting is usually done anonymously.

In short, here is yet another reason why Iraq cannot be considered a model democracy for the emerging “new Middle East”.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues | 12 Comments »