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.
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