Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Just Exactly How Many Iraqi MPs Are Ready to Vote Out Maliki?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 10 June 2012 16:54

Late last night, Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, broke his long silence on exactly what is going on with the request for a no confidence vote against the country’s embattled premier, Nuri al-Maliki.

For a “clarification”, Talabani’s latest announcement was relatively convoluted. Still, there is now at least a few more pieces of information available. Firstly, Talabani is aware that the signature collection does not form part of the constitutional procedure for a presidential call for a no confidence vote. Good. Nonetheless, he has apparently asked for the signatures in advance in some kind of “intermediary” gesture to the opposing camps. His aim has probably been to establish whether there was basis for a no confidence vote to succeed.

In this more limited capacity – as an “opinion poll” if you will – the exercise is of course valid. It also has some interest for predicting the likely outcome of a vote in parliament. As said before, though, there are methodological issues here, relating in particular to the difference between collecting written signatures via email and actually having people come and vote in the parliament chamber. This aspect is salient given the overall low attendance level in the Iraqi parliament. Additionally, there is of course the question of whether Talabani’s office is up to the best standards in terms of analyzing this material. The public statement erroneously refers to “quorum” (nisab) instead of an “absolute majority” as the required threshold (they are both at 163 but no excuses for the confusion by the presidential “guardian of the constitution”) . We can only hope there are no more errors in the press release.

To the numbers reported by Talabani, then. Most wire services on Saturday said only 160 MPs had signed (thus falling just short of the required 163 needed to unseat Maliki) but a fine reading of the presidential statement  shows that is not necessarily the case. Instead, Talabani essentially gives us something of a mathematical equation:

–  160 signatures from Iraqiyya, the Kurdistan Alliance, the Sadrists and independent MPs were initially presented.

–  An unspecified number of signatures from the PUK (Talabani’s own Kurdish party) were subsequently added. This must be more than 3 (since at one point there were more than 163 signatures) but less than 12 (the total of PUK MPs in parliament, assuming none had signed off in the initial batch of 160).

–   Subsequently, 11 signatures were withdrawn and 2 were “suspended” (taliq, this is evidently so strange that even the Arabic statement uses quotation marks).

–  The remaining total is less than 163. (It should be noted that there is no word about falsification of signatures – a subject which consumed a good deal of heated exchanges in the press last week.)

Let us for the sake of the argument assume that the unknown variable here – the PUK signatures –  were at their highest possible value, i.e. 12 (the total of PUK representatives in the Iraqi parliament). That would leave us with a maximum of 160+12-11-2 signatures by people ready to vote down Maliki, i.e. 159. This is 4 less than the required threshold of 163,  in line with conservative estimates presented earlier in the week, and significantly lower than numbers reported by Maliki critics (ranging from 176 to 200 plus).  At the very maximum, there may at one point have been 172 signatures according to the Talabani statement. Add to this the fact that it is easier to make people sign via email than show up in parliament. (Maliki lawyer Tareq Harb appears to have his own count, arriving at 146 but apparently not counting the PUK signatures that were added at one point.)

The Maliki critics who met again at Erbil today have plenty to think about. They are apparently considering a plan B consisting of the second route to a no confidence vote: A questioning of the parliament (called for by 25 deputies) followed by a no confidence vote called for by 65 deputies. This approach is not without its problems: It takes longer, the supreme court recently issued a very biased ruling limiting the right to question ministers (it has received zero attention by the Iraqi press but was almost certainly calculated to also apply to the eventuality of a prime ministerial no confidence vote) and the support of President Talabani and his Kurdish PUK party would not be a given. In any case, its proponents should now stop trying to convince the Iraqi public about their number of signatures (today, Iraqiyya leaders boast they have 10 more up the sleeve and there are even reports about another futile attempt to send one more letter to Talabani to convince him). Instead, if they truly want a vote they should simply begin making specific steps towards a questioning of Maliki in parliament (which begins with a request by 25 deputies to the parliament speaker, Usama al-Nujayfi of Iraqiyya, to summon Maliki to the national assembly).

Talabani does not rule out this second option, of course. Indeed, in calling for the “national meeting” – the gathering of leaders sought by Maliki instead of a no confidence vote – he says this can be useful whether the premier is ousted or not. Maliki critics should however take notice how firmly Talabani asserts his own right to appoint any replacement in line with article 76 of the constitution by which is it his job to identify the candidate of the biggest bloc in parliament. If the Shiite alliance breaks down as a result of a no confidence vote in Maliki and the remnants fail to form alliances with Iraqiyya and the Kurds, that might in theory well be Maliki’s own State of Law bloc – and its premier candidate Maliki himself.

22 Responses to “Just Exactly How Many Iraqi MPs Are Ready to Vote Out Maliki?”

  1. There is one other aspect which is probably worth noting, and that is that parliament was initially scheduled to return from recess on June 14, that is, this coming Thursday. But last week someone “noticed” that this would make it too close to the Shia commemoration of the death of Musa al-Kathim, the 7th Imam. So they postponed it to June 21. Now, aside from the low possibility that the parliamentary leadership was not aware of the upcoming religious memorial, and the fact that they could have brought the meeting forward into a special session, this suggests something about the numbers – they don’t have them.

    The other possibility is that they have the numbers, but since Sadr, Allawi and Nujayfi are all unwilling to go to new elections, they are discussing a new government coalition. But if that is the case, this is all moot, because Barzani could never have formed a government with these three, because the Sadrists are so hardline on Kurdish issues, and because the base for Allawi-Nujayfi will not support them if they do. So this is not looking like it was very well thought out.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Kirk, thanks. I think their persistence in trying to convince Talabani once more that they do have the numbers is indicative of a worry on the part of the Maliki critics that the alternate route to a no confidence vote may get blocked by Maliki and/or the supreme court.

  3. Santana said

    That was a dirty game that Talabani played….I think we had the votes initially and fatso purposely sat on them till Daawa had a chance to dole out stacks of “dafater” to the “weak souls” within the other groups to get em to change their minds…. …a defter is 10,000 USD for the Non-Iraqis on here…and ten of those can usually change hearts and minds…especially if the option of turning it down means they get the “Hashemi’ treatment…..

  4. observer said

    Santana, the weak souls are within Iraqia. Kerbuli and company are prime examples of that.

    RV – i think that getting 163 was just an excuse to buy time as I stated earlier. Talabani and PUK are done and that is the price Iran was willing to pay to Keep Maliki in his seat. The fact that you are all shrugging your shoulders at the way Maliki is using government coffers to buy votes pisses me off to no end. You keep on making the argument that the Kirkuk contingent is not willing to act against Maliki is an example for me of how far removed from the ground you guys are. But of course you refuse to recognize that because it will take away from your credentials as Iraqi experts.

    Even if we have only 157 votes – should we not have the right to call for a NCV? The bottom line is that they are celebrating the NCV not coming to the floor as a proof of their popularity. Really give me an explanation as to why they are still not willing to bring the motion to a vote? Isn’t an actual vote the best example of how they can prove the popularity of Maliki and Da3wa. yet they do not what to bring it to the floor because they know they can not control the votes.

    We will take the route of IStijwab and there will be demonstrations and lets see how the regime is going to deal with it. This will be another Syria. And of course you are all going to blame the victims. Well these victims are not willing to take it silently.

    I am packing as I said because this place is going to become hell and I am not willing to see the land where I was born go through another civil war. the first time was hard enough.

    I will end this with a heartfelt congratulations to Mo and all the other pro Maliki voice out there. Now enjoy the tragedy that will inevitably unfold. Maybe not this month or next, but within a year or two. The words written here will be long forgotten, but the pain will be real. And Of course you are all still going to be blaming the victims. Cheers

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, you can ask for an istijwab with 25 deputies and then a NCV with 65 deputies. If Maliki gets difficult there are very specific constitutional infractions by him which you can cite, and I’ll write more about that later. I will always defend the constitutional right of having a NCV in my writings here.

    On Kirkuk, let me respectfully retort that I feel that you, in turn, may perhaps be too close to Allawi & Damluji if you believe there is not a bit of heartfelt anger among Iraqiyya voters against the way in which you are currently working with the Kurds.

  6. observer said

    RV you are missing the main question. If they have 163 votes, why don’t they bring it on and prove they are popular and we are just sour grapes. The fact that you all do not tal about the Iranian/Talabani coalition is down right shameful. Just look at your tweet. 157 votes is not enough! You are legitimizing the game Talabani and Maliki are playing by keeping the count.

  7. Reidar Visser said

    With all respect, it is you who must take action not “they”. Ask Nujayfi for an istijwab and then a NCV. Even if you had 325 signatures, Talabani would be in his right to ask you to go to hell with them.

  8. faisalkadri said

    Talbani’s reference to Nisab (quorum) rather than absolute majority is an indication of the intention of the Maliki-Talbani camp of not attending a meeting where a NVC is on the agenda. You can bet that they will fight hand and teeth to prevent such a meeting to take place from moment 1.

  9. Reidar Visser said

    But the onus is on the 163 who want to get Maliki out. They need to come to parliament. Let’s talk about obstructions once the NCV (or, in the first instance, the istijwab) has been duly called. All it takes is a letter from 25 deputies to Nujayfi and the istijwab could be scheduled for the next session of parliament on 21 June.

  10. Mohammed said


    I don’t like rubbing salt in an open wound, so I will wish you peace. I say again that it is Iraq’s loss to lose somebody as good and principled as you. I wish all of Iraq’s politicians were more like you. You may find this hard to believe, but just based on your writings alone, I have a tremendous amount of respect for you, and I know you are a man of honor. Your overwhelming charm simply never allowed me to develop any animosity towards you—to rip off a phrase from the movie Jerry Maguire…(you had me at ‘apologist’ 😉

    Personally, I do not have the certitude about Iraq’s politics that you have and that may be because of my outsider expat view. My father just came back after spending two months in Iraq and simply remarked : “Kulhum khiiyseen ibny.” (they are all rotten my son—to the non-arabic speakers out there)…..In such a landscape, it’s hard to find a man in the white hat (the good guy)….If you were higher up in the ranks, it would be somebody like you…

    I hope you enjoy your summer. I still hope some day our paths cross however unlikely that is. I will be the guy wearing the “I wish I were back in my Ivory Tower” t-shirt.


    p.s. even though you swore never to write, I hope you break your promise…this website is not the same without you. Besides, then I will have to stop writing, I will then have too much spare time, start flirting with nurses, and have a Brett McGurk scandal of my own…so for my sake..please write.. 😉

  11. bb said

    Well Talabani, as predicted, is not going to be the bunny who calls on an NCV, so now that honour goes to Najayfi it seems. As for the quorum, two can play at that game; surely with 163 votes the anti Maliki alliance can make the parliament unworkable if it doesn’t get its way, Reidar?

  12. Santana said

    Hey Observer- You can’t leave me man…..Faisal and Placebo is all I got left now as far as Honorable,Nationalistic and secular Iraqis. We need your insight…even if it’s from the U.S……Iraq is heading toward some very dark days bud with the Daawa cancer spreading to the bone.

  13. observer said

    Yeh Mo,
    I have always told you that I have an exist strategy unlike the 25 million poor souls whom you want to live in iraq under Wiliat al Faqeeh while you enjoy the good life. Well, i am out to go back and enjoy the good life. By the time you and your fellow think tankers and ivory tower academics find out that you were wrong, it will be too late.. But too late for whom.. not for you guys. It would be too late for the poor souls living under the new Baath Party…

  14. faisalkadri said

    Unworkable parliament serves the purpose of Maliki-Talbani and Iran.
    My angle on Talbani’s tactics is in blog entry titled Octopus Maneuver.

  15. placebo12 said

    Santana – I appreciate your comments. However, there are a number of such Iraqis out there who are either unaware of this blog or simply following and not commenting. The worse the situation becomes in Iraq the more I would expect these guys to raise their voices – perhaps even ‘apologists’ à la Mohammed may have their consciences rattled (and give me decent answers to our debate…:p).

    P.S. Something I raised in my very first couple of posts here – in our obsession with Maliki vs. Iraqiya (unequal though that fight is), we ‘educated’ Iraqis are losing serious sight of how all this is affecting the long-term future of the country. A simple logical projection on all fronts (economic, environmental, societal) demonstrates a very very poor future for the country. Beyond all the BS we’re being fed about “improvements” in the oil sector, there really is nothing to be hopeful about IMO. However, I wouldn’t want to attract Reidar’s ire here, let’s leave all that to a separate discussion!

    Btw Reidar – correct me if I’m wrong but you appeared to be implicitly sceptical of the numbers throughout the NCV game. However, assuming the rough calculations reported above are correct there is clearly a sufficient number of deputies “flirting” with the NCV to make it a realistic possibility. Moreover, the actions of Maliki and allies both prior (supreme court decisions) and during this saga demonstrated their fear of this. I know you wouldn’t want to get drawn into a discussion around the effectiveness of underhand “payments”, but do you seriously believe that the relevant deputies who dropped-out of the NCV at the last minute did so out of love for Maliki’s policies? If you do, I would tell you that you are giving FAR too much credit to Iraqi politicians. Money and fear are the order of the day, no amount of political analysis will help you get to the bottom of that.

  16. Reidar Visser said

    Placebo, for the last couple of weeks or so I have gone on record saying that I believe 150-160 is the realistic estimate for a NCV. (There’s a link to a Reuters piece on this above). The math is based upon the belief that the Kurds and the Sadrists may well stay reasonably coherent (90 deputies) but there may be defections from Iraqiyya in the range of at least 20-30, leaving maybe 60.

    I am well aware that the Iraqis are not unfamiliar to the art of corruption and bribery; however I would categorically deny that all the defections from Iraqiyya recently can be attributed to this factor alone. Some has to do with the politics of disputed territories in northern Iraq; we saw exactly the same tendency in 2008 with the 22 July trend.

    The more unsavoury elements of new support for Maliki are really extra-parliamentary and do not really impact the numbers game: I am thinking of Asaib Ahl al-Haqq and other Sadrist splinters and even sympathetic members of Kataeb Hizbollah. Their support for Maliki in this struggle is clearly not a good omen, but may well be what Iran likes about how things are shaping up.

  17. Samir Abdallah said


    It is far from being over. I believe, if Maliki succeeds in surviving this episode, he will face a most difficult test in the next elections.

    Maliki prepared his battle with controversial supreme court decisions that his opponents underestimate or don’t give proper attention. He also used the Kirkuk dispute to try to make defections in Iraqiya. Maliki knows that these cards may help him in his battle now, but they will be a burden in the long run. But that cannot be exploited by short term strategies as is common in Iraqi politics.

    Maliki prepared to make the Istijwab more difficult (or simply looks hopeless to his challengers) by the latest court decision. However, I believe that Iraqiya should go for Istijwab. They lost enough time persuading Talabany to submit his request unsuccessfully and may lose more time, and be prepared to ensure quorum and sufficient number of deputies when voting take place. Or, if Maliki refuses Istijwab based on court decision, Iraqiya should start from now preparing legal and constitutional arguments against the court ruling using all legal and media means. In fact they should have started challenging that decision since it was announced.

  18. Reidar Visser said

    I cant help wondering, instead of all the letters – yes there are reports abt a new one from Barzani to Talabani today claiming 170 signatures – why dont the Maliki critics simply show up in strength when parliament reconvenes on 21 June? Not the usual 100 or so but all 163 who intend to vote him out? Wouldn’t that send a strong message?

  19. Mohammed said


    If I had to put my ‘Observer Hat’ on, I would say that Observer would make the following argument: some people who would vote against Maliki would only do so if ensured that Maliki would not politically survive such a vote. So for 163 to show up, they would be taking a political risk when they know constitutionally, it means nothing.

    Putting my ‘Expat Mo Hat’ back on: I agree with you RV….By the way, they need not even show up in parliament, they could all show up in Erbil and take a big group picture with a “I Hate Maliki” banner…


  20. observer said

    The istijwab has always been Plan B and it is now Plan A. There is Plan C which is in fact now Plan B. My bags are packed but I have not shipped them yet. Once I reach states side, i will be busy defying Bloomberg’s ban on large sodas. It is no different than Da3wa banning wine and alcohol in the green zone. So I will be right back in my element. Opposition. Love it.

  21. Vargen said

    Defense Committee describes lifting barriers from Parliament building as “Wrong procedure”
    Monday, 11 June 2012 21:33

    Source from the parliament stated that a security force has lifted the concrete barriers situated in front of the parliament building.

  22. faisalkadri said

    I am surprised at the lack of interest in Barzani’s reaction to Talbani’s foot dragging regarding the NCV signatures, could he compel our valiant president to keep his word of honor? I wonder if plan A is truly dead.

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