Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for August, 2013

The Iraqi Supreme Court Annuls Article 23 of the Provincial Elections Law Regarding Kirkuk

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 30 August 2013 11:19

Somewhat in the shadow of the recent decision by the Iraqi federal supreme court to strike down a law limiting the terms of the prime minister, another crucial decision has been taken by the court in relation to the disputed city of Kirkuk.

Technically speaking, this latest decision consists of a ruling that deems one article of the provincial elections law from 2008 unconstitutional. The article in question is number 23, which stipulated arrangements of quotas and power-sharing in the local government as well as a procedure whereby a parliamentary committee would arrive at special electoral arrangements for Kirkuk, which has not held local elections since January 2005. These stipulations have now been struck down, reportedly after a complaint from the Kurds filed only a month ago.

Since the court decision itself remains unpublished, exactly as in case of the ruling on the terms of the prime minister, we may only second guess the court’s rationale for acting the way it has. However, the most likely official reasoning for striking down the law could relate to the court’s past outspoken dislike of quota arrangements, which it considered before the great debate on the parliamentary elections law in 2009 when Kirkuk was also an issue. According to the court, the only quota arrangements that are sanctioned by the Iraqi constitution are for women as well as minorities – and crucially, the latter means minorities only when they are very small minorities that would risk no representation at all if quotas were abolished. There is of course a special irony if the argument against quotas is now being used in Kurdish favour in Kirkuk, since the Kurds have been the most consistent advocates of quotas in Iraqi politics since the 1990s. However, in Kirkuk it wanted to persevere with the same electoral arrangements as in every other governorate, thereby using its increasing demographic clout. The court’s latest decision will make it easier for the Kurds to have it their way.

There is an historical and symbolic dimension to the cancellation of article 23 that should not be lost upon us. That article, when it was passed in 2008, represented some sort of pinnacle to the Sunni-Shiite reconciliation in the name of Iraqi nationalism that eventually opened the space for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to temporarily achieve some distance from Iran. Article 23 was fought over for many months, mainly with opposition from the Kurds and ISCI. Now it is gone.

This is sufficiently dramatic that it is difficult to study the decision by the court away from Iraq’s and indeed the regions political complications as a result of the Syria crisis. Why is the pro-Maliki court suddenly issuing a ruling that is so clearly in the favour of the Kurds? In the past, the  supreme court has not been particularly supportive of the Kurds, and for example in October 2010 rejected the idea of linking the Iraqi census to article 140 regarding the final status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories.

Could it be that the pressures of the Syria conflict have made it more important for Maliki than before to have good relations with the Kurds? Could it be that Iran also favours an even stronger Shiite-Kurdish alliance in Iraqi politics? With the increasing targeting of Kurds by Al-Qaeda friendly elements in Syria, the maintenance of a Shiite-Kurdish alliance may perhaps seem more important and achievable to Maliki than before.

There are regional complexities to take into consideration as well: Kurdish-Sunni rapprochement in recent years has been associated with Turkey, Barzani of the KRG and  Nujayfi and Allawi of the Sunni-secular Iraqiyya . By way of contrast, Kurdish-Iranian rapprochement has been linked to President Talabani, Vice-President Khuzaie, PUK, PKK and Syrian Kurds generally. Barzani’s credibility as a Kurdish leader is increasingly under pressure from his alliance with Turkey which seems to do nothing to protect Syrian Kurds from atrocities by Al-Qaeda friendly elements.

Kurdish interests in post-2003 Iraq were first focused on grand settlements on Kirkuk and oil, and more recently on revising administrative boundaries. Maybe this recent change of status of Kirkuk elections arrangements through a court ruling represents a more mundane and achievable bargain with Maliki?

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Posted in Kirkuk and Disputed Territories, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

The Iraqi Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Limiting Prime Minister Terms

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 13:41

The Iraqi federal supreme court has this week made a decision that renders invalid a law passed by the Iraqi parliament earlier this year that attempted to block a third term for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

First, two notes on the general debate about this latest decision are in order. Firstly, the supreme court has not “vetoed”  the law, or “rejected a draft” as AP put it. No one vetoes laws in Iraq after the transitional presidency council disappeared in 2010. The law was already published, and, theoretically, in force. In striking it down, the court deemed it unconstitutional after a specific challenge had been mounted against it by  supporters of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Second, it should be noticed that the Iraqi supreme court has become rather erratic in its official communications lately. In a trend that has afflicted several Iraqi government websites (including most recently that of the parliament), what was formerly a useful website has become the victim of a fancy upgrade that severely restricts its readability (and the access to past rulings). Accordingly, information about this latest ruling must at the current stage be glanced from secondary reports in the media.

The chief question regarding the court’s decision is what argument was used for striking the term-limit law down. Most reports cite an argument used by Maliki’s supporters that no such term limit exists in the constitution as far as the prime minister is concerned, whereas a specific limit occurs with respect to the presidency of the republic. Had the framers of the constitution wished for a limit, the argument goes, one would have been explicitly included.

The second argument that has been cited as a possible justification for the court in striking down the law, is the distinction the court has made in past between law “projects” (that have passed through the cabinet before being considered by parliament) and “proposals” (draft laws passed without any cabinet interference). The court has previously argued that the Iraqi constitution maintains a sharp distinction between these two, and that “proposals” need to be transformed into “projects” through cooperation with the cabinet before they can be considered a fully-fledged law, i.e. in practical terms severely limiting the right of the Iraqi parliament to act independently of the cabinet. Sadrist Bahaa al Aaraji, not always the most trustworthy of sources, claim this argument was reiterated by the court in its most recent ruling on the term-limit law. That would certainly be significant since there has been an increase of attempts by parliament to circumvent the cabinet through “law proposals” in recent years.

Whatever the exact wording, the ruling is clearly a pro-Maliki one, and thus confirms the continued influence of Maliki allies on the court including supreme court chief Midhat al-Mahmud (whom Maliki adversaries had earlier tried to get rid of). One of the next thorny issue for the court and Iraqi politicians to consider will likely be the elections law, where the pro-Maliki court in 2010 made a ruling that deemed unconstitutional the largest-remainder seat distribution mechanism that was in force in the last parliamentary elections. The law was changed to a more proportional formula, but after their relative decline in the local elections earlier this year, Maliki supporters have now found out they disagree with the supreme court on the issue!

The changes to the election law  could be an interesting quandary for the court and Maliki. In the past, court has shown a remarkable ability to contradict its own previous rulings. Maybe they actually don’t mind the latest changes to their website where the rulings of the past are becoming more and more difficult to retrieve.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, Uncategorized | 19 Comments »

Anbar and Nineveh Form New Provincial Governments

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 2 August 2013 8:26

Through last-minute maneuvering this week, both Anbar and Nineveh managed to get new provincial councils seated before the end-of-Ramadan holiday begins in Iraq. This means the process of forming local governments following the local elections earlier this year is complete across Iraq (with the exception of the KRG and Kirkuk where no elections were held).

The Mutahhidun bloc of the Nujayfi brothers (Parliament Speaker Usama and Governor of Nineveh Athil) expressed satisfaction with both these new local governments, reflecting the fact that they played a key role in forming them. That is something of a comeback for the Nujayfis, who had seen a substantial drop of votes on their home turf in Mosul in the elections themselves. Whereas it seems clear that much wheeling and dealing has been involved and Mutahhidun among other things were forced to cooperate with the Kurds in the Nineveh council (they had marginalized them in 2009), Mutahiddun now clearly does emerge as something of a leading party in the Sunni-majority parts of Iraq from Anbar via Nineveh to Diyala, and with some decent representation in the Baghdad council as well.

What happened politically is that the Nujayfis in both governorates managed to win people from the Karbuli and Mutlak factions over to their side in order to neutralize potentially hostile blocs.  This is a significant victory for the Nujayfis since these are precisely the factions of Iraqiyya that have been more disposed to cooperating with Maliki in the past. Other parties with a greater potential for working with Maliki than the Nujayfi camp – including the bloc of former Anbar governor Fahdawi and the list of the Yawer clan in Nineveh – in the end remained marginal and on the sidelines of these new local government formations. Maliki can now probably only count on Salahaddin among the Sunni-majority governorates for some potential support.

The council formations in Anbar thus cements the role of Nujayfi  as some kind of unifying figure in the Iraqi north-west, and to some extent compensates for lost prestige resulting from the marked decline in votes in Nineveh itself. Even though it is debatable whether the Nujayfis personally enjoy the same level of influence in Anbar and Diyala as in Nineveh, this turn of events does seem to signify the return to the agenda of some of the radical rhetoric that characterized protest movements in Anbar earlier in the year. With Nujayfi stronger, these parts of Iraq are inevitably drawn closer to Turkey, the Kurds and Sunni oppositionists in Syria than what might have happened with an Anbar governor closer to Maliki.

Still, these were local elections only. There has already been talk about the emergence of a potential alternative to Maliki in the shape of an inter-sectarian alliance between his opponents; yet back in 2009, many tentative alliances that were floated during local council formation never grew into anything enduring for the subsequent parliamentary elections. It is that crucial stage of national elections, scheduled for 2014, that will henceforth take centre stage in Iraqi politics.

Posted in Iraq local elections 2013, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »