Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for April, 2013

IHEC Publishes Partial Results of the Iraqi Provincial Elections

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 26 April 2013 2:02

At the end of a long and dramatic week in Iraq, the Iraqi elections commission (IHEC) has released partial results of the local elections based on a count of 87-90% of the vote. At this point there is neither a formal seat distribution nor information relating to the electoral fortunes of individual candidates in accordance with the personal vote option. Also, it should be stressed that as of midnight 25 April, no official IHEC statistics had been published online. Accordingly, the source base for what follows are Iraqi journalistic accounts of the numbers as read out by IHEC at their press conference. The most comprehensive one appears to be from the AIN news agency, but it does include some very obvious errors and numbers that don’t add up, so the following approximate calculations of percentages of votes to the major parties must be taken as nothing more than rough indications:


Among the trends that stand out in this material are the following:

-The relative success of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in defending his strong electoral result from the previous local elections in 2009. Whereas his State of Law coalition has lost some seats in many governorates, it is still the biggest seat-getter almost everywhere in Baghdad and the south. Apart from the capital, Maliki has particularly impressive results in Basra and the far south. Still, the fact that some seats have been lost despite a broader coalition of Shiite parties (Fadila, Badr and the Jaafari wing of the Daawa all ran with Maliki this time) indicates that there has been a certain disadvantage of incumbency at work.

-ISCI, as represented in the Muwatin coalition, has made something of a comeback compared with its dismal performance in 2009. This is most pronounced outside the shrine cities, in provinces like Basra and Wasit. The comeback is all the more impressive given the relatively recent split with Badr, and could perhaps testify to a relatively successful process of reorganisation on the part of ISCI in the wake of the break-up.

-The Sadrists appear to be at a standstill, not making significant progress apart from winning back Maysan and gaining some new seats in Wasit.

-The Mid-Euphrates generally sees higher political fragmentation than the far south of the Shiite-majority areas, with much more room for local lists – including most spectacularly in Najaf where a local list came first.

-The strong performance of the all-Shiite list in Diyala is quite remarkable and possibly a testament to increased sectarian friction in the area. The figures for the Kurdish list in Diyala seem too low in this source and are contradicted by other sources based on earlier counts.

-With respect to the secular and Sunni camp, the single biggest difference with 2009 is the disappearance of the Sunni Islamist Tawafuq coalition, whose members are this time enrolled in various factions of the Iraqiyya movement, including most prominently Mutahhidun headed by Usama al-Nujayfi.

-In Baghdad, Nujayfi’s Mutahhidun has emerged as the second biggest list, thus inheriting the role of Tawafuq and to some extent marginalising the mainline Iraqiyya faction on its own home turf.

-In the other Sunni-majority governorates where elections are held – Diyala and Salahhadin – it is noteworthy that there is also considerable fragmentation and local lists have greater success than Allawi. In Salahaddin, Jamahir al-Iraqiyya was the biggest winner, whereas in Diyala, Iraqiyyat Diyala came first. The latter reportedly includes people closer to the Mutlak and Nujayfi camps.

It is now expected that final results will be published in two weeks, when the complete seat configuration as well as the identity of each new councillor will be known. At that point, the process of forming new local governments across Iraq can also begin.

Posted in Iraq local elections 2013 | 11 Comments »

The Hawija Incident: Wider Ramifications in Iraqi Politics

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 24 April 2013 13:20

The recent dramatic images from Hawija of protestors under attack by Iraqi government forces are in themselves nothing new in Iraqi politics. Populated mainly by Sunni Arabs and located close to the disputed city of Kirkuk and the border between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Hawija has in recent years seen a level of violence that is significantly higher than the average in post-2003 Iraq. Some of the political violence has been mainly pro-Baath in nature, in other cases Sunni Islamic extremism has been at play, often with suspected ties to foreign radical groups.

What will determine the significance of the Hawija clash in Iraqi politics more broadly relates to its reception among Iraqi political factions outside the local area. And in this respect, early indications are not promising.

To some extent, it is unsurprising that Sunni and secular groups that have been critics of Maliki for a long period should rush to the defence of the Hawija protestors and complain about the actions of the Iraqi army. What is more critical, though, is that other Sunni and secular groups that lately have been on talking terms with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki are also deeply critical of the government’s handling of the Hawija affair. This includes Sunni and secular ministers that had recently returned to the Iraqi cabinet despite the boycott by the mainline Iraqiyya movement – including Saleh al-Mutlak, the deputy premier, whose support for the annual budget played a role in enabling Maliki to pass it without Kurdish support.

Beyond this, even if Mutlak can perhaps be accused of wavering rather often when it comes to his relations to Maliki, the disputed areas of northern Iraq and the contest between the central government and the KRG have generally speaking been among the few issues where Maliki has been able to win some Sunni and secular friends during his two terms in office. By way of example, after parts of Iraqiyya opted to boycott parliament and cabinet following the arrest order for Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi in December 2011, it was mainly deputies from Kirkuk and other northern areas unhappy with the pro-Kurdish turn of Iraqiyya that defected and signalled their willingness to work with Maliki through breakaway factions like Free Iraqiyya and Wataniyun. Similarly, Arabs from the disputed areas have repeatedly played a certain role in helping Maliki defeat pro-federal tendencies in the northern governorates.

It will not be possible for Maliki to alienate both the Kurds and the Arabs of the disputed areas at one time. In a reflection of this dilemma, Maliki has reportedly rejected the resignation of the education minister from the Mutlak bloc, and is still weighing his options with regard to Kurdish ministers he had promised to replace by acting ministers in the case of prolonged absence from cabinet.

One interesting indicator of how this tug of war will play out relates to the provincial elections results of Diyala and Salahaddin, which have Sunni Arab majorities and significant Shiite and Kurdish minorities. Those results, expected later this week, will likely influence the extent to which factions like that of Mutlak will remain in protest mode.

Another significant process is the holding of delayed elections in Anbar and Nineveh. It emerged yesterday that there has in fact been considerable tension between the elections commission IHEC and the Iraqi cabinet on the issue: Whereas IHEC indicated 18 May as the latest possible date, the Iraqi cabinet decided that elections will be held on 4 July absent any radical improvement of the security environment at an earlier stage. The relevant legal framework gives cabinet the right to fix election dates on the recommendation from IHEC; to what extent this procedure has actually been followed now seems in doubt.

It is no more possible for Maliki to endlessly delay elections in Anbar and Nineveh than to pretend that the conflict in neighbouring Syria doesn’t exist. Maybe the Hawija incident can serve as a reminder for Maliki about how radical winds from Syria can easily derail Iraqi politics, and how critical it is for him, now more than ever, to build bridges and create accommodation rather than letting confrontational politics of the Syrian kind gain hold in Iraq.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories | 13 Comments »

10 Years after the Fall of the Baath, De-Baathification Remains Centre-Stage in Iraqi Politics

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 9 April 2013 12:41

Whereas 20 March was a suitable date for reflecting on the background of the Iraq War and the role of the United States, 9 April – the date when the Baathist regime fell in 2003 – is above all about the legacy of the war and the nature of the new political regime that emerged in the post-2003 period. News from the Iraqi cabinet and parliament during the past week provides an interesting window on the state of play in democratic politics in “the new Iraq”.

On the one hand, there are certainly signs of a degree of normalcy within a political framework that must be described as competitive, if perhaps not as splendidly democratic as some enthusiasts for the war had in mind. Iraqi oil income is on the rise, parliament recently agreed on the distribution of revenue through the annual budget, and Iraq is beginning to resume contacts with the rest of the Arab and international world after decades of isolation under Saddam Hussein.

On the other hand, there are also indications about the limits of progress. An increasing number of  ministers in the Iraqi cabinet are acting ministers that do not enjoy parliamentary approval. This includes not only the all-important security portfolios, which were never agreed in the first place when the second government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was formed in December 2010. More recently, critics of Maliki including parts of the secularist Iraqiyya, Kurds and Sadrists have temporarily withdrawn ministers from cabinet meetings without resigning from their ministries, prompting the appointment of more acting ministers by Maliki and turf wars over ministerial influence.

And these are not the only problems. Maliki was recently summoned to parliament to be held accountable for the latest spate of serious security incidents; he responded by excusing himself, insisting he was too busy running the affairs of the state to indulge in conversation with the Iraqi national assembly. Similarly, in another move unlikely to inspire confidence in the security situation in the country, local elections scheduled for 20 April were postponed, probably in an illegal way, in two Sunni-dominated provinces bordering on Syria.

Look closer at some of the stories dominating Iraqi political news and a similar picture of a democracy that is just muddling through emerges. For example, in an interesting move, Qutayba al-Jibburi – a deputy who broke away from the secular and Sunni-dominated Iraqiyya to pursue dialogue with Maliki in 2012 – recently reported the full reinstatement of de-Baathified workers at the Bayji refinery thanks to his own personal efforts. Whereas the announcement was a positive indication that dialogue between Maliki and secular and Sunni leaders still remains possible, it was also a reminder about the extent to which processes that are supposed to be judicial are subject to political pressures and horsetrading in the “new, democratic Iraq”.

Similarly, this week, the Iraqi cabinet agreed on proposed revisions to the de-Baathification law, which in theory could provide a more enduring framework for national reconciliation. But the law, agreed by a cabinet full of acting ministers and with key blocs not represented, remains hostage to parliamentary approval. For the moment, the main problem in parliament is to get deputies to actually attend, with a series of cancelled meetings recently due to a lack of quorum.

What are we supposed to make of this? Factions that squabble but ultimately muddle through? Or just the same authoritarian politics of the past, with a higher number of Saddams in control?

The answer is, that question is still not settled. It is impossible to paint a truthful picture of Iraq today in black and white.

Perhaps the best way of illustrating this is to look at the latest developments regarding the cabinet proposals of changes to Iraq’s de-Baathification legislation. The reported changes to the existing bill from 2008, if adopted by parliament, would mean a somewhat more liberal approach to the question of what to do with high officials of the Saddam Hussein regime. Specifically, it is being proposed that former Baath party members of the firqa level – who have hitherto been considered disqualified for continued state service if they held positions as director generals or worked in the security, finance or foreign ministries – will be able to continue to serve in government.

The political background for this somewhat more permissive arrangement for ex-Baathists is rapprochement between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and parts of the secular and Sunni-dominated Iraqiyya headed by Saleh al-Mutlak. Whereas  much of Iraqiyya has been boycotting both parliament and cabinet lately in protest against what they see as undue centralisation of power by Maliki, Mutlak has opted to return to cabinet alongside a few other ministers who disagree with the hardline stances of Iraqiyya leader Ayyad Allawi as well as Rafi al-Eisawi and Tareq al-Hashemi.

It is important to stress that a softening of the de-Baathification legislation is not something that uniquely benefits Sunnis or other secular Iraqiyya supporters. Maliki has himself relied on large numbers of Shiites who served Saddam, and the fact that their pasts were often brushed under the carpet created a major inconsistency in the way de-Baathification was applied. By way of example, embattled supreme court chief Midhat al-Mahmud is accused precisely of having been a firqa member of the Baath in Baghdad; the proposed changes of the law would make him eligible to continue to serve regardless of those accusations.

The key question, then, is whether the bill will be passed by parliament. When the debate gets going, it should serve as a good opportunity for Maliki to reach out to much-needed potential supporters among Sunnis and secularists and making his constant references to a “political majority” to something more than rhetoric. Already there are interesting signs that whereas the Sadrists are attacking the bill (as are members of the Badr), Maliki allies in parliament are defending it. For their part, Iraqiyya MPs would thoroughly stultify themselves if they reject the bill (which will benefit many members of their constituencies) out of sheer personal opposition to Maliki. Accordingly, with the Kurds currently boycotting parliament and often uncommitted in de-Baathification questions, Maliki now has the chance to cast himself as a moderate after he failed to play that role when de-Baathification came on the agenda during the months leading up to parliamentary elections in March 2010.

In sum, the progress in the Iraqi cabinet on the de-Baathification bill indicates an atmosphere very different from the visions of partition and regional conflagration that dominate media commentary on Iraq at the anniversary of the fall of Baghdad. Ironically, 10 years on, it seems that the pragmatic nuts and bolts of reinstating officials of the hated Baath may serve as a bridge-builder towards national unity as much as a source of conflict for Iraqis.

Posted in De-Baathification | 6 Comments »