Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for December, 2011

Bremerian Miscalculations at the End of a Long War

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 31 December 2011 16:20

It would have been tempting to do a year-end summary of Iraqi politics. However, in terms of achievements on the part of Iraqi politicians, there really isn’t that much to write about. In late January, Maliki moved a little on exports from the northern oilfields, thereby strengthening his alliance with the Kurds. The Arab Spring came and went but Iraq just did not seem to care: Much of the first part of 2011 was actually spent quarrelling about the exact number of deputies to the largely ceremonial presidential office. Eventually, three deputies were agreed and approved by parliament; one of them promptly resigned. In July, in a positive move, most ministers of state were dismissed from the cabinet, at least theoretically enabling a better consolidation of the sprawling cabinet. By August, the potential for a more compact coalition with an interest in extending the US presence beyond 2011 actually seemed to exist. But it fell apart again as soon as it had come into existence as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Kurds began quarrelling about the oil law, with the secular Iraqiyya party somewhat surprisingly opting to support the confederalist position of the Kurds. By late October it was clear that there would be no prolonged US military presence; simultaneously, some Sunni-majority governorates became so exasperated with Maliki and his renewed anti-Baathism campaign that they began demanding federalism for their own areas on the Kurdish pattern. The US forces finally withdrew in December; this was followed by further steps on the part of Maliki to legally pursue Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and sack Vice Premier Saleh al-Mutlak (both from the Iraqiyya party), plunging the country into a more serious political crisis than at any point since he first came to power in 2006. Anything else? The word count is at no more than 350. 

Paul Bremer to the rescue. Yes, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer. After having reportedly repostured to painting landscapes in 2004, Bremer is now talking again. And writing as well, specifically in The Wall Street Journal.

At the beginning of his op-ed, Bremer declares, “For millennia, leaders in Mesopotamia have survived by making fine calculations about power.” Presumably Bremer sees himself as part of that tradition, because “fine calculations” certainly appeared to be one of his favourite pastimes during his tenure as viceroy of Iraq. In his memoirs, he recounts how at one point he dismissed a gathering of seven Iraqis as “unrepresentative” because it contained only one Sunni Arab. According to Bremer, “representativeness” would have meant a perfect proportional reflection of the ethno-sectarian demographic balance of the population (i.e. around 1.4 Sunni Arabs in this case). In another instance, Bremer nixed the inclusion of an able Christian leader in his governing council because the Christian quota would have thereby become too big according to his own mathematics.

Eight years later, Bremer still does not seem to realise how his fine calculations actually had a detrimental effect on Iraqi politics and society.  He bombastically declares, “the year after the American-led coalition overthrew Saddam’s dictatorship in 2003, al Qaeda in Iraq revealed a cynical plan to kill and maim Shiites to spark a sectarian war. It almost worked. Only President George W. Bush’s courageous decision to surge additional troops in early 2007 saved the country.” Many Iraqis would say it was Bremer’s own focus on sectarian identities when he put together the governing council in 2003 that was the real culprit. They would also add that the “saviour” was not Bush’s surge but Iraqis themselves who began working together across sectarian lines as they discovered just how flawed the constitution they had adopted with American support in 2005 was.

At times, Bremer just cannot seem to make up his mind whether we should cry or be happy about the new Iraq. It is almost touching how he enlists modernisation theory methodology that was in the vogue in the 1950s to count telephones as an indicator of how wonderful everything is in the post-2003 democratic era! But eventually he does find an answer: Everything is fine, except “al Qaeda and Iranian terrorists still active in Iraq”.

Perhaps the most substantially interesting piece of information in the Bremer op-ed is the suggestion that “quiet diplomacy had secured the agreement of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani not to oppose a continued American presence [beyond 2011]”. Back in 2008, National Security Council types would tell us the same thing: Sistani supposedly wanted a long-term military pact with the Americans; only the evil Sadrists opposed it. As is well known, Maliki crushed the Sadrists that year and went on to dictate strict time limits for the SOFA concluded with the Americans. In other words, the Sistani factor never seemed to come into play. Perhaps because it was never based on anything more than some ambiguous statement by his son, Muhammad Rida?

More fundamentally, Bremer’s musings on these topics are typical of a prevalent trend in US policy-making circles in which Iraqi Shiites are seen as profoundly anti-Iranian across the board. That thesis is based on good scholarship by Yitzhak Nakash which rightly identifies anti-Iranian trends in parts of the Iraqi Shiite community. But it also contains unfortunate generalisations in which the Shiites are posited as a monolithic community. In fact, the Shiites that were propelled to political prominence by Bremer and other Americans after 2003 happened to be the minority with particularly close ties to Iran.

As for the current situation, Bremer correctly diagnoses a state of crisis in Iraqi politics.“Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, issued an arrest warrant for the country’s vice president, a Sunni, who then fled to the northern Kurdish area.”  And unsurprisingly, the cure prescribed by Bremer is more US intelligence and military intervention: “We should also seek ways to extend our contacts with the Iraqi military, with the eventual goal of returning at least a cadre of U.S. forces to Iraq. Training Iraqi forces outside Iraq, in the U.S. or elsewhere, could be a useful step.”

“Sunnis” and “Shiites”. Clearly, Bremer is at it again. His op-ed is an unspoken mea culpa second only to that of another former Iraq ambassador, Chris Hill and constitutes a much less effective neo-conservative criticism of the Iraq policies of the Obama administration than that previously put forward by Charles Krauthammer. Put simply, Mr. Bremer, you’ve got the wrong calculator: With analytical tools like that, there really is no point in going back.

Let’s settle for the more modest new year’s wish that one year from now there actually exists a recognisable Iraq to write about.

Posted in Sectarian master narrative, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | 28 Comments »

The Arbil Agreement Versus Daawa Authoritarianism

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 28 December 2011 13:28

After the airport hold-ups, the arrest warrants and the bombs, the political turmoil in Iraq is now beginning to produce political statements focused on competing visions for the future of the country.

In an op-ed in The New York Times today, Iraqiyya leaders Ayyad Allawi, Usama al-Nujayfi and Rafi al-Eisawi bemoan increasingly authoritarian tendencies in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s second government. The accusations against Maliki include overreach with respect to his attempts to control the security ministries as well as manipulation of the Iraqi judiciary for political ends. The cure, as the Iraqiyya leaders see it, is implementation of the shadowy Arbil framework that prepared the ground for the formation of the second Maliki government in November 2010.

For his part, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has also used the opportunity to reiterate his own vision of Iraq. Basically, he is saying that the Arbil agreement contains many unconstitutional provisions regarding power-sharing and that the constitution must prevail. In more practical terms, he is saying that if ministers from Iraqiyya are unhappy with his current approach he is prepared to replace them by acting ministers without pausing for parliamentary approval.

Both Iraqiyya and Maliki have ended up with rather strained arguments. In their NYT op-ed, Allawi et al. say they represent a non-sectarian Iraq, and yet the Arbil agreement is in fact a very clear step towards greater formal sectarianism in Iraq, including calls for ethno-sectarian “balances” in the institutions of the state. Maliki is technically correct in deeming large parts of the agreement unconstitutional. On the whole, the Arbil agreement implied Iraqiyya moving extremely far in a pro-Kurdish, anti-centralist direction as soon as they realised that they themselves would not control the premiership.

But Maliki, too, is on thin ice with his revived “constitutionalism” argument. It is true that the constitution posits a prime minister that is relatively strong vis-à-vis his other colleagues in the executive, and more so after the veto powers of the transitional presidency council came to an end in late 2010. However, Maliki seems to forget that vertically speaking , the same constitution also delegates an incredible amount of power to both governorates and federal regions. It could well be argued that Maliki’s way of centralising power towards the governorates south of Kurdistan is as unconstitutional as the Arbil agreement.

Alas, Iraqiyya leaders are probably likely to go on insisting on the implementation of the Arbil agreement. (Not that it matters much anymore, but so will probably the United States.) This is likely to be a frustrated uphill struggle for several reasons. Many of the provisions of the agreement depend upon the passage of additional legislation in parliament, and some of this should arguably be approved in popular referendums since the provisions are unconstitutional in their present shape. Even if it were successful, the Arbil agreement would lead to a fragmented state with ever greater focus on ethno-sectarian identities, i.e. the opposite of what Iraqiyya traditionally stands for. There are signs that at times, even Iran sees this scenario as preferable to an overly dominant Maliki.

With respect to Maliki’s vision of a strongman ruler that speaks a nationalist language, it is pretty much a Shiite version of Saddam Hussein. This in itself may be more in tune with Iraqi tradition than Western observers are prepared to admit; however the question is whether Maliki will be able to implement it in practice. So far he has emulated Saddam strategies with respect to using tribal powers in areas dominated by the opposite sect (the Sunni-dominated Baath carefully built ties to the tribes in the Shiite south). To some extent, he can probably also depend on the fact that many Kurds and Shiites that are flirting with Iraqiyya these days will likely revert to bilateral dealmaking with him if matters should truly come to a head. 

More significantly, perhaps, at yesterday’s cabinet meeting, the presence of three ministers of Iraqiyya (which is supposedly boycotting these meetings) was celebrated by members of Maliki’s coalition. Those present were reportedly the electricity minister Abd al-Karim Aftan al-Jumayli, Izz al-Din al-Dawla and Abd al-Karim al-Samarraie. It is noteworthy that Dawla and Samarraie are from the Iraqiyya factions of Usama al-Nujayfi (Iraqiyyun) and Tareq al-Hashemi (Tajdid) respectively.

This may well represent Maliki’s game plan: To break Iraqiyya and co-opt a limited number of their ministers into a revamped cabinet. So far, his successes in this respect have been only modest: It is noteworthy that Allawi, Eisawi and Nujayfi collectively signed the NYT op-ed today despite persistent rumours about internal wrangling in Iraqiyya. Today, symbolically, while everyone agrees on the need for an urgent “national conference”, the Maliki camp wants it to go ahead in Baghdad, with others including Iraqiyya preferring Kurdistan as summit location.

If Maliki wants to build something sustainable, he will have to be honest with his own “constitutionalism” and admit that the constitution needs fixing if he wants a centralised form of government south of Kurdistan. Recent anti-federalism statements from Sunni politicians in Mosul suggest there is still a Sunni audience for this kind of message. Re-visiting these issues through the creation of a new constitutional review committee may have a more liberating effect on Iraqi politics than reverting to the stalemates associated with the Arbil framework.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 57 Comments »

Testing the Independence of the Iraqi Judiciary: The Batikh Case

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 26 December 2011 14:01

The attempt by the Iraqi judiciary to prosecute Vice President Tareq al­-Hashemi  (Iraqiyya) for alleged involvement in terrorist offences has reopened the contentious debate about the true independence and neutrality of Iraq’s judicial authorities.

So far, the actions and statements of the judiciary in the case of Hashemi do not inspire confidence. After initially issuing an arrest warrant for Hashemi, the judicial authorities subsequently seemed to renege somewhat by saying that the initial investigation had been done by a single judge and would be re-examined by a team of five judges. However, in a rather overt sign of interference with the judicial process, today there are reports that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is rushing to furnish the judiciary with additional evidence!

While the Hashemi case remains lingering, today the Iraqi supreme court has issued a final ruling on another case: The right of former minister of state Jamal al-Batikh of White Iraqiyya to revert to his parliamentary seat. Batikh was one among the several ministers who lost their jobs during the downsizing of the government last summer.

So far, the court has issued only a press release, not the ruling as such. The press release merely says the law on replacement of candidates was violated when Ammar al-Gharbawi of Iraqiyya was given the seat of Batikh in August 2011. However, this in itself is clarifying: Since Gharbawi like Batikh was from Wasit (he was the second candidate on the Iraqiyya list), the court has most likely decided that his affiliation to a different parliamentary bloc than Batikh must have constituted the transgression.

This was not a foregone conclusion because the law on the replacement of deputies features ambiguous language, mixing concepts such as parliamentary bloc (kutla) and electoral list (qa’ima). Also, voters voted for Batikh as a member of the Iraqiyya list (333) and nothing else. Batikh only broke away from Iraqiyya later on in the spring, when he became minister and played a role in forming White Iraqiyya.

Today, of course, White Iraqiyya is seen as pro-Maliki whereas the attempt to have Gharbawi installed as replacement for Batikh in August was seen as an anti-Maliki move by Usama al-Nujayfi, the parliamentary speaker of Iraqiyya. The case is also relevant for another pending conflict regarding the parliamentary seat of Ali al-Sajri – another former minister and Iraqiyya member who is now seen as pro-Maliki and anti-Nujayfi, not least through his anti-federalism statements with reference to autonomist tendencies in his home governorate of Salahaddin.

On the balance, the ruling must be described as pro-Maliki, if perhaps not the bluntest one of this kind that the court has issued during the past few years. Iraqi politicians who really want to test the judiciary should instead challenge the failure of the government to hold federal referendums in Diyala and Salahaddin: Here the legal framework is so crystal clear that any attempt by the judiciary to issue a pro-Maliki ruling would be outright scandalous.

Posted in Iraq parliament membership, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 20 Comments »

On His Uneasy One-Year Anniversary as Premier, Maliki Escalates Iraq’s Political Conflict

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 21 December 2011 13:23

Exactly one year ago, the second government of Nuri al-Maliki was approved by parliament in Baghdad. At the time, the event was celebrated by commentators in the international community as a sign of Iraq’s prospering democracy. The Obama administration was jubilant that a pluralistic form of democracy embracing all of Iraq’s ethno-sectarian groups had prevailed.

What was forgotten by commentators back then was that the formation of the government was only partial. A projected strategic policy council, intended to accommodate the leader of the secular Iraqiyya party which won the most votes in the March 2010 parliamentary elections, remained at the drawing board. No agreement was reached regarding key security ministries. The vice presidencies had yet to be officially appointed since there was no law determining the procedure of their appointment.

One year on, most of this work has yet to be accomplished. Even optimists realise the strategic policy council is not even close to being implemented. The security ministries remain in the hands of acting ministers that are close to Maliki but that have never received parliamentary approval. Three vice presidents were eventually appointed, but one has resigned and another is now being targeted by Maliki in a judicial process that so far smacks of political vendetta.

At a press conference today, Maliki himself seemed unworried about these shortcomings. Indeed, he appeared to be taunting his opponents, saying he expected to appoint acting ministers for Iraqiyya ministers that are boycotting the sessions of parliament, as well as installing a new vice premier and a new vice president to replace Salih al-Mutlak and Tareq al-Hashemi respectively (he is also seeking to extradite the latter from the Kurdistan government). Implausibly, he seems to indicate that he has the power to do these things without parliamentary consent, which is a clear violation of article 78 of the constitution (it requires at least a plurality vote in parliament before any minister can be dismissed by the premier).

Also today, Maliki reverted to his old threat of establishing a political-majority government without Iraqiyya. It seems unlikely that he will go as far as resigning, which would once more give the Kurdish president a kingmaker role. The Kurds are unhappy that their many demands for forming the second Maliki government have not been met, and in particular that the (rather unrealistic) aim of having an oil and gas law passed in 2011 remains unfulfilled. For their part, Iraqiyya are now calling openly for Maliki to be sacked.

A more likely scenario is a move towards a de facto majority government, with a marginalised parliament and ever more acting ministers that have yet to receive parliamentary approval. The Kurds may still be a potential partner, but if parliament remains half full, Maliki can also dominate it by pandering to fellow Shiite Sadrists instead of making compromises with other groups. The Sadrists were the ones who ultimately delivered the premiership to Maliki last year and will likely continue to receive his attention in times of trouble.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 52 Comments »

The Hashemi Arrest Warrant

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 20 December 2011 12:27

The televised confession, often taped less than 48 hours after the detention of a suspect, has become something of a gold standard in Iraqi judicial procedure in the post-2003 era.

In many ways, this way of presenting the evidence of the prosecution is a sorry sight. At similar instances in the past, accusations of torture and forced confessions have been rampant. The theatrical nature of these videos and the conspicuous timing of their appearance certainly do not instil confidence about due process and the independence of the judiciary vis-à-vis the political environment.

Hopefully, any case against Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi – who yesterday evening was formally accused of having abetted terrorism through his office – will be judged on its own merits. Before rushing to conclusions, it might perhaps also be useful to recollect a criminal case involving the security detail of another past vice president, Adel Abd al-Mahdi, back in 2009. Despite the serious nature of the charges against one of his employees (a bank robbery with alleged political motivations), Abd al-Mahdi eventually emerged unscathed from the whole affair. 

Given the symbolic timing of the arrest warrant just days after the US withdrawal from Iraq, it is hard to ignore accusations that there are political dimensions to the case. The reputation of the Iraqi judiciary is already in tatters after a series of rulings of a rather blunt pro-Maliki character. On the whole, the atmosphere seems reminiscent of the arbitrariness and outright terror that characterised the pre-election de-Baathification process in early 2010 – except perhaps that the targeted politician in this case is someone with a Sunni Islamist rather than a Baathist past. Sunnis and secularists must begin wondering whether they can all be the next target in a politicised campaign.

As far as the politics of the affair is concerned, not that much has changed. The Kurds propose vague mediation attempts and “national conferences”. Symptomatically, perhaps, President Jalal Talabani – normally a Maliki ally – managed to say that “no one should interfere with the judicial process” before adding that the measures taken against Hashemi seemed to have been done “in great haste”! For their part, Iraqiyya leaders remain reluctant to give up their patronage assets entirely: They are now suspending their participation in cabinet meetings rather than withdrawing from their ministries altogether. In a trend echoing the previous experience of secularist leaders in the Iraqi football federation, Iraqiyya are now clearly signalling their perception of the Kurdish federal region as “neutral territory” and are calling for the investigation against Hashemi to take place in Arbil. (Hashemi is reportedly still in Kurdish territory.)

Two players could conceivably create some dynamism in what seems an otherwise static – if increasingly bitter – tug-of-war. Firstly, Ibrahim al-Jaafari of Maliki’s own State of Law alliance, a former premier, has tried to present himself as an intermediary in the conflict with Iraqiyya, at times portraying himself as more reconciliatory than Maliki himself. (Jaafari is however not particularly popular with the Kurds and is seen as closer to Iran than Maliki by some.) Second, Usama al-Nujayfi, the parliamentary speaker of Iraqiyya, has continued to chair parliament meetings and thus remains in contact with Shiite and Kurdish leaders perhaps to a greater extent than others in Iraqiyya are.

The reported appearance of CIA director David Patraeus at a meeting of Iraqiyya yesterday seems somewhat extraordinary. If true, it could be indicative of how Washington sees the situation in Iraq after the withdrawal. Critics will claim that after two years dominated by Joe Biden diplomacy, it is perhaps somewhat late in the day to begin sending competent special envoys to Iraq.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | 15 Comments »

Parliament on Holiday again after Kurdish Abstentions

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 19 December 2011 12:34

The significant facts of Iraq’s unfolding political crisis this morning appear to be the following:

1. Parliament was unable to achieve a quorum. After a half-hour delay the attempt to hold a session was given up. Parliament will reconvene on 3 January 2012.

2. In a context when Iraqiyya is already boycotting parliament, it was reportedly the absence of the Kurdish parties that prevented a quorum. The Kurds themselves are stressing that “many deputies were absent” and say they are not boycotting in solidarity with Iraqiyya.

3. Several leading Iraqiyya leaders have travelled to the Kurdistan federal region over the past 24 hours.

4. The Iraqi higher judicial council has reportedly issued a prohibition aimed at preventing Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi of Iraqiyya and his security detail from leaving Iraq. Hashemi travelled to Sulaymaniyya in the Kurdish region yesterday.

The failure of parliament to hold its scheduled session seems to signify at least a symbolic blow to Maliki’s ambition of doing as he pleases in the wake of the US withdrawal. (Maliki yesteday formally conveyed a request to parliament for sacking his deputy from Iraqiyya, Salih al-Mutlak.) At least for now, the Kurds appear to be putting some kind of break on. Whether the ultimate aim is to get a better deal from Maliki (as has been their past inclination) or to genuinely work for a more radical restructuring of the Iraqi government remains to be seen.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election | 17 Comments »

Targeting Mutlak and Hashemi: Towards Full Political Disintegration in Iraq?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 18 December 2011 13:15

Only days after Maliki’s Washington photo-op and with the US withdrawal formally sealed, Iraqi politics is alive again – but for all the wrong reasons. Yesterday saw unprecedented statements by people close to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that a move is afoot to withdraw confidence in Deputy Premier Salih al-Mutlak of Iraqiyya (on charges of incompetence) and to bring legal charges against Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, also of Iraqiyya, for alleged involvement in the recent terror attack against the Iraqi parliament.

It should be stressed that so far much of this remains rumours and statements. Iraqiyya leaders say no formal request to parliament nor any arrest warrants have been seen so far. However, to some extent, the exact formal status of these proceedings does not really make that much difference. Mentally speaking the cat is out of the bag anyway: Here are two abrupt attacks by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki against participants in his own government. Two lines of attack are being followed, one political and the other judicial.

With respect to the Mutlak case, given his latest comments to US media about the nature of Maliki’s regime it is perhaps unsurprising that Maliki should take some action: When Mutlak accused Maliki of being a dictator, Maliki allies quipped back that Mutlak was the deputy dictator! Whether Maliki has the parliamentary support base to do this remains to be seen. In this matter, Maliki can probably count on the Shiites outside the State of Law alliance (Sadrists and ISCI), since many of them are bitterly opposed to Mutlak for his past association with the Baath party (after previously having been targeted judicially, Mutlak was formally exempted from de-Baathification proceedings as part of the December 2010 government-formation compromise). It is also interesting that the move against Mutlak and the Iraqiyya boycott comes at a time when the general amnesty law is making progress in parliament: That was a case of Iraqiyya and the Sadrists uniting against Maliki.

It is more unclear what the Kurds would do and their votes should be needed even if Iraqiyya continues to boycott parliament since sacking a minister in theory requires an “absolute majority”. Given his penchant for exploiting potential legal loopholes, it is however not entirely unlikely that Maliki may try to make use of ambiguity that arguably exists in that the constitution regarding the definition of an absolute majority in this particular case: In most instances, the constitution explicitly refers to an “absolute majority of the members of parliament”, but with regard to the sacking of individual ministers it speaks only about an “absolute majority” (aghlabiyya mutlaqa). This may well have originated as a simple clerical omission, especially since the concept of a “simple majority” (aghlabiyya basita) occurs elsewhere in the constitution. In other words it would be a an exercise – far-fetched perhaps? – of redefining all of this as plurality, simple majority and absolute majority respectively. Under that kind of scenario, of course, the Shiite Islamists might theoretically seek to sack Mutlak singlehandedly.

As regards Hashemi, this very much looks like a judicial attack on a political enemy that Maliki would probably not be able to get rid of in parliament: Last spring, Maliki had more trouble getting his own vice-presidential candidate, Khudayr al-Khuzaie, confirmed than Hashemi had with respect to his own candidature. Today, there is a statement from the higher judicial council to the effect that it will create a special investigatory committee to look into the accusations against Hashemi’s security detail – a judicial approach that in itself seems ad hoc and extraordinary.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect in all of this is that Maliki is targeting people with a record for compromise. Both Mutlak and Hashemi have at times taken chances with their own constituencies for the sake of cooperating within the Iraqi political system. Back in 2009, Mutlak led a rapprochement attempt towards Maliki, whereas Hashemi was vice-president in the previous parliamentary cycle despite opposition from many Sunni Muslims. When Hashemi was labelled “Baathist” by the Sadrist Bahaa al-Aaraaji in autumn 2009, the revulsion against Aaraji in parliament included many Shiite Islamists and Kurds.

Symptomatic of all that is going on are perhaps today’s developments in Diyala. The embattled, pro-federal governorate council is in emergency session in the Kurdish-dominated Khanaqin. They complain about armed Shiite demonstrations in Baquba and the inability of the government security forces to provide adequate security. This is a pattern we have seen before: Secularists and Sunnis withdrawing to the Kurds in times of trouble with Maliki.

So far the Kurds have a track record of hosting Iraqiyya in a friendly manner and then ultimately betraying them in bilateral deals with Maliki.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraqi constitutional issues, UIA dynamics | 20 Comments »

Iraqiyya Decides to Boycott Parliament

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 17 December 2011 12:05

In normal democracies, if political parties are unhappy with the general situation, they may try to sack the government – or in case they themselves are part of that government, resign from it.

Iraq is not a normal democracy. If you still need proof of that, take the latest decision by the secular Iraqiyya party to boycott parliament in protest against highhandedness on the part of the Shiite Islamist prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki. Supposedly, the move is intended as a warning to Maliki that ministers may be withdrawn, too. The goal is also to win over other critics of Maliki that are currently part of his government, such as the Kurds and ISCI, which are both unhappy with aspects of Maliki’s policies.

The nature of the move also serves as an indicator of some of the problems in Iraqiyya’s strategy. They are reluctant to give up control of ministries proper and are using a parliamentary withdrawal as a substitute. Iraq remains a patronage-based society and with ministries come power, as simple as that.

Second, today saw the first session of parliament without Iraqiyya participation. 184 deputies were present (some sources say 182), meaning that the quorum (163) was easily reached – although half an hour extra was apparently needed in order to rouse some deputies from their sleep and bring them to the assembly. During the past year, parliamentary sessions have typically gathered around 220 deputies, to some extent reflecting the fact that Iraqiyya already stood out as one of the blocs with a particularly poor attendance record. What these numbers show is that Maliki may well be able to continue to get things done in parliament regardless of whether Iraqiyya participates or not. (Indeed, he may well continue to get things done without reference to parliament at all.)

As regards the internal balance in Iraqiyya, it should be noted that the decision to boycott was taken by a meeting yesterday night chaired by its leader Ayad Allawi, in the house of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. It is being suggested that most sub-components of the alliance were present. Usama al-Nujayfi,  the parliamentary speaker and leader of a significant faction within Iraqiyya, will go on chairing parliament even as Iraqiyya deputies are absent.

The problem for Iraqiyya is that the Kurds may well see this whole situation as an opportunity to gain further concessions from Maliki instead of joining ranks with Iraqiyya in a move to sack the government. If Iraqiyya jump and no one else follows, they could be left out in the cold.

From the point of view of Maliki, a tactical alliance with the Kurds combined with an increasingly authoritarian approach to the Sunni-majority areas (tribal support councils etc.) may well be considered an option. More realistically speaking, though, as long as he does not want to be seen as the man who sold Kirkuk to the Kurds, Maliki will figure out he does need some substantial partners from Iraqiyya. Whether he sees the current situation as a potential juncture for achieving that remains to be seen. Over the past few years, parliament speaker Nujayfi has been particularly chameleon-like in his dealings with Maliki, sometimes signalling a greater inclination towards compromise but more lately also indicating sympathy with the rising pro-federal trend among Sunnis that Maliki so vociferously rejects. It is noteworthy, though, that so far there is no major pro-federal movement in Nujayfi’s home constituency of Nineveh.  

Chances are that Maliki may well try to soldier on as a strongman for all of Iraq despite his limited parliamentary backing. With the United States gone, it could increasingly be Iran, Syria and Turkey that will define the external environment of Iraq’s factional politics.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi nationalism | 13 Comments »

Thoughts, More Than Actions, Shaped the Iraq War Legacy

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 16 December 2011 18:38

When the last remaining American forces withdraw from Iraq at the end of this month, they will be leaving behind a country that is politically unstable, increasingly volatile, and at risk of descending into the sort of sectarian fighting that killed thousands in 2006 and 2007… Full story here (New York Times op-ed on the formal end of the Iraq War).

Comments section open as usual below.

Posted in Sectarian master narrative, US policy in Iraq: Leverage issues | 14 Comments »

Disputed Territories and Region Formation: A New Low in the Iraqi Constitutional Debate

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 15 December 2011 13:01

We already have a pretty confused federalism debate in Iraq after the recent surge of interest in federalism among some Sunni local politicians. Both opponents and proponents of new federal regions are making up their own rules and are paying scant attention to the laws on the books.

Enter the concept of “disputed territories”. With emerging federalism projects in Diyala and longstanding Kurdish claims to portions of that governorate – notably Khanaqin – ever more complex situations seem to come on the agenda in Iraq. The Kurds now claim they have supported the federalism request in the governorate council on the provision that Khanaqin will be kept separate and will be annexed to the Kurdistan Regional Government:

وقال عضو الكتلة دلير حسن في حديث لـ”السومرية نيوز”، إن “أعضاء كتلة التحالف الكردستاني وقعوا على الطلب الرسمي بإقامة إقليم إداري واقتصادي في ديالى، على أن تكون المناطق المتنازع عليها وخاصة قضاء خانقين بنواحيه الأربع خارج الإقليم

But can they do that? Absolutely not. Not as part of a federalisation project as such. It is absolutely critical to appreciate that, constitutionally and legally speaking, region formation and disputed territories are entirely separate concepts in Iraq. There is no relationship between them whatsoever and an attempt to intertwine the two concepts – as seen in the latest Diayla move – is bound to come up against insurmountable judicial problems.

This all goes back to the fact that Iraq does not have any post-2003 framework for tackling changes to governorate boundaries other than the vague provisions that relate to “disputed territories” under article 140 of the constitution. Those provisions, in turn, are interpreted to mean “referendums” on the final status of contested areas – but as long as there is no general progress towards article 140 settlement, region formation must remain a separate theme.

If a referendum for the establishment of a federal region in Diyala is called for (as it should be, legally speaking, regardless of Shiite-led counter-demonstrations of some size), inhabitants of Khanaqin – just like all the other citizens of Diyala – will have to vote on whether Diyala (including Khanaqin) should become a single federal region or remain as an ordinary governorate as per today. No other option can or will be on the table.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraqi constitutional issues | 17 Comments »