Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for June, 2013

Provincial Powers Law Revisions, Elections Results for Anbar and Nineveh: Is Iraq Headed for Complete Disintegration?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 27 June 2013 9:38

A number of important political developments in Iraq this week have failed to receive the attention they deserve, especially for the light they cast on the perennial question of Iraq’s territorial unity in the face of real and imagined schemes of disintegration.

A good place to start are the provincial powers law “revisions” that were passed by parliament on Sunday. The word “revision” is somewhat misleading, since it can be argued that the new changes are so dramatic that they amount to a rewrite of the original law from 2008.

Here are some of the important changes:

Article 7-4: It is for the first time specifically stated that in an area of shared competency between the central government and the governorate, the policy of the governorate shall prevail.

Article 7-6: The governorate is given responsibility for all state officials in its jurisdiction – significantly no longer excepting the courts, the military and the universities which had previously been designated a central government preserve.

Article 7-9: Whereas the ministry in Baghdad was formerly involved in picking top officials of the various government departments operating in the governorates, the selection process is now exclusively limited to the governor and the governorate council.

Article 31-10: Whereas the military was previously expressly excepted from the authorities of the governor, this no longer applies and an ambiguous shared power formula is outlined.

Article 44: Revenues for the governorates are for the first time specified in law (rather than being the subject of annual budget negotiations). This includes 5 petrodollars per barrel of oil or 150 cubic metres of natural gas. Various potential taxes are mentioned, including the right of governorates to tax companies for damages to the environment.

Article 45: This was formerly a vague cooperation council between the central government and the governorates. The council is now being tasked with transferring, within 2 years, control of all governorate-based government departments under the following ministries to local authorities: Municipalities, housing, employment and social issues, education, health, agriculture, finance, sports. If the transfer is not complete within 2 years, the transfer will nonetheless be considered a legal fact. Henceforth, the role of the ministries will be limited to “general planning” only.

It has been suggested that these dramatic changes were acceded to even by sceptics as an alternative to the creation of federal regions. The question is: What is the point in arguing about the creation of federal regions when this law effectively transforms Iraq into a confederation consisting of all its governorates plus the virtually independent Kurdistan? Is it perhaps just the word “federalism” they fear more than anything else? Do Iraqi politicians realise the implications of giving governorate decisions priority in areas of shared competency? It is for example very hard to see any exemption of the oil and gas sector from the general scheme of provincial dominance, since energy is specifically referred to in the new law through a reference to article 112 of the Iraqi constitution.

Whereas decentralisers among the Kurds and ISCI will have been very happy with these new changes, it is more surprising to find Iraqiyya and the State of Law alliance of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki backing them in a parliamentary session with unusually high attendance (217 out of 325 deputies). Of course, parts of Iraqiyya have long been drifting in a pro-federal direction, and with even Ayyad Allawi calling for widespread decentralisation of services. More surprising is the apparent green light from Maliki, whose parliamentary allies reportedly objected only to an initial article that further limited the powers of the Iraqi army locally – and who expressed satisfaction at the compromise that later emerged on this. Maybe it is the complications of government formation after the 20 April local elections that have prompted this apparent outburst of modesty on the part of State of Law?

More theoretically speaking, even if this law was adopted as a safeguard against the creation of federal regions it is hard to see why the pressures were perceived as being so acute at this time. Firstly, there are the recent (delayed) provincial elections results from Anbar and Nineveh. After pro-federal winds have been blowing over the Sunni-majority parts of Iraq for some time, there is nothing in these results to suggest the existence of an overwhelming demand for new federal regions in north-western Iraq. True, the Mutahiddun bloc of parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi picked up 8 seats in each of these two provinces. But politicians with more anti-federal agendas (Mutlak, Karbuli, local lists etc.) achieved the same number of seats in Anbar and Nineveh and will make coalition forming something of a challenge for Nujayfi (on top of the fact that the Kurds emerged as the biggest bloc again in Nineveh with 11 seats). Second, if the persistence of demands for federal referendums was the problem for Maliki, it could have been solved much easier simply with legislative action to abrogate the law on forming regions that was adopted in 2006. This could have been done even with a simple majority in parliament and without infringing on the constitution since the right to form a region would be intact – it would just need another law to be passed.

The 2-year automatic sunset clause for transfer of service ministries to local control epitomises the decentralisation extremism of these latest amendments. One small potential hindrance remains – the federal supreme court. Technically, the law is a “proposal” emanating from parliament rather than a “project” driven forward by the government, and the supreme court has in the past struck down attempts by the legislature to circumvent the executive in the legislative process. Indeed, in 2010, the supreme court veto related to a far more modest decentralisation attempt to sever the ties between a couple of service ministries and the governorates. However, this year it is noteworthy that after initial protests, Maliki’s State of Law list has remained silent about the controversial law limiting the terms of the prime minister following its publication in the official gazette on 8 April. Similarly, there has so far not been any loud indication that they intend to protest this latest law on a technicality.

Amid all of this, deputy speaker of parliament Qusay al-Suhayl, a Sadrist, has resigned. That should give Iraqi politicians ample opportunity to do what they do best – disregard questions of governance and instead focus on petty personal struggles over top positions.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraq and soft partition, Iraq local elections 2013 | 6 Comments »

12 Iraqi Provinces Have New Governors; Anbar and Nineveh Hold Delayed Local Elections

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 20 June 2013 14:56

Things are not going too bad in local politics in Iraq: As of this week, all governorates that held provincial elections on 20 April have formed new local governments following certification of the final results in late May – hence more or less on time and in accordance with the legal framework. During the past few days, on top of the councils that were formed last week, new local governments have been seated in Karbala, Muthanna and Diyala.

As with the first batch of new governorate councils, a variety og government-formation dynamics prevailed in the last three councils. Karbala saw the emergence of a “political majority” government led by the State of Law alliance of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and various local blocs including that of the sensation from the 2009 elections, Yusuf al-Hububi. The Sadrists and ISCI remained on the sidelines. Conversely, in Muthanna, Maliki’s allies cut a deal with ISCI to keep the governor position for themselves whereas an ISCI politician became council speaker. Finally, Diyala saw a particularly interesting deal whereby Kurds and a local Iraqiyya list formed the government with the support of the Sadrists – but not the other Shiites with whom they had run on a joint pan-Shiite ticket (mainly State of Law councillors including several from Badr and Fadila).

This makes for the following table of all the new 12 councils elected on 20 April:


Beyond the broad three-way classification of “consensus” and “political majority” (pro-Maliki and anti-Maliki), there are further nuances in this picture. For example, in Basra, ISCI in principle held the votes to exclude Maliki and more or less dictated the terms whereby the popular governor from Maliki’s list was given the consolation prize of the council speakership. In Maysan, perhaps the governorship given to the Sadrists more than anything reflects a longstanding association between the Sadrists and that governorate.

In sum, the outcome of the local government formation is a mixed bag for Maliki. He keeps control of the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala and consolidates his position in Mid-Euphrates governorates where ISCI was formerly strong. On the other hand, the loss of Baghdad and Basra must be painful, and with additional marginalisation experienced in Wasit and Diyala there should be plenty to think about as the parliamentary elections of 2014 approach.

Meanwhile, delayed elections for local councils in Anbar and Nineveh are being held today. Much is a stake in an area that is sandwiched between rising Sunni militancy in neighbouring Syria and a Baghdad government with which attempts at rapprochement have so far been quite ambiguous. Provisional results should be expected next week.

Posted in Iraq local elections 2013 | 12 Comments »

The First Batch of New Iraqi Provincial Governments

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 17 June 2013 16:35

Since the final results of the Iraqi local elections were certified in late May, Iraqi local politicians have moved with reasonable speed towards forming new councils and appointing new governors. There has been much speculation about the way alliances are shaping up, but as of today, 8 out of 12 provinces that held elections on 20 April have actually completed the formalities of establishing new local governments.

In an echo of what happened in 2009, coalition formation has been a process full of surprises and not always in line with the most obvious predictions that emerged from the results themselves. Generally speaking, there has been a tendency of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s own concept of a “political majority” being employed against him, mostly after fellow Shiites from ISCI and the Sadrists decided to join forces to challenge his dominance in several provinces. Often these political majorities are based on little else than strong personal enmity towards Maliki and his State of Law Alliance, but this sentiment has proved sufficient to create anti-Maliki coalitions in some, if not all, the Shiite-majority governorates.

Perhaps the best way to typologise the new local governments is to sort them according to the level of conflict between the main blocs in settling the governorships and other top positions (of which the speakership is the most important).

First, there are consensus-based governorates where the Sadrist-ISCI deal at the national level gave way to local agreements and did not succeed in marginalising Maliki completely. These include Basra (ISCI governor, State of Law speaker), Maysan (Sadrist governor, State of Law speaker), Qadisiyya (Fadila governor, ISCI speaker). In Basra, the competition started out as a ISCI-Sadr coalition but Maliki’s State of Law eventually agreed to take the speakership, perhaps as a face-saving mechanism. It is a remarkable outcome that ISCI with only 6 seats won the governor position, and that the previous pro-Maliki governor – perhaps one of Iraq’s most popular politicians with more than 130,000 personal votes – was demoted to the speakership position. For its part, Maysan has seen Shiite grand coalitions before and the Sadrists simply retain their pre-eminent position, whereas the emergence of a pan-Shiite consensus government in previously contested Qadisiyya is a new phenomenon.

Second, there are competitive governorates. These include Najaf (local parties backed by State of Law in both top positions), Wasit (ISCI governor/Sadrist speaker), Baghdad (Sadrist governor/Mutahiddun speaker) and Dhi Qar (State of Law in both top positions). In these governorates, the votes on new government were characterised by boycotts and loud protests by the losers, highlighting the extent to which competition among the Shiite parties remains intense. The Baghdad outcome – where Maliki’s candidates also received a strong popular mandate in the shape of personal votes and a large number of seats – is another particularly interesting example that ISCI and the Sadrists are prepared to go to lengths to challenge Maliki. The inclusion of the Sunni-secular Mutahhidun bloc of parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi makes the development even more interesting in that it approximates the logic that has sometimes manifested itself at the national level in challenges to Maliki’s premiership. Conversely, though, there is the example of the Sunni-majority Salahaddin – one of the first governorates to elect a new government after the latest elections – where a governor from a local bloc with a reasonably good relationship to Maliki was confirmed in power despite challenges from more anti-Maliki forces in the various Iraqiyya factions.

What remains are Karbala, Diyala, Babel and Muthanna. It will be interesting to see which of the two tendencies above – consensus or political majority – will prevail. As the table of results so far shows, there is no neat and easy correlation between seat results, political fragmentation and who gets the governorship:


So far, it seems ISCI in particular is finding back to the dexterity in coalition-building that characterised the party in 2005, when relatively modest electoral performance was translated into massive political influence through key positions in local government. That said, ISCI was also the party that got most heavily punished at the next local and national elections (2009 and 2010 respectively), meaning it may not be the biggest catastrophe for Maliki to have fewer incumbent governors come parliamentary elections time in 2014. Perhaps more crucial to the future of his premiership will be the outcome of delayed local elections in Anbar and Nineveh who vote on Thursday 20 June. Here, given the Sunni majorities, Maliki’s stakes are more indirect. However, the extent to which Sunni radicalism prospers in these areas as a spillover from the Syria conflict may be a key factor in Maliki’s chances of forming a viable electoral coalition for 2014.

Posted in Iraq local elections 2013 | 9 Comments »