Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for May, 2014

Maliki’s Kurdish Dilemma

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 28 May 2014 14:16

A world without Usama al-Nujayfi, Ayyad Allawi, Ammar al-Hakim and Mutqada al-Sadr. Surely that must be one of the most pleasant dreams that could happen in the head of Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki these days?

In fact, given political developments during the weeks since the announcement of the uncertified election result, Maliki has quite good chances for such a dream to become reality. Crucially, though, that dream would have to include a personality Maliki probably would have preferred to shut out along with the others: Masud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish federal region.

What has happened is as follows. In the uncertified election result there were 92 straightforward State of Law winners and another 3 State of Law affiliated people running on various pan-Shia lists in the Shiite-minority provinces in the north. Subsequently, Maliki has been formally joined by smaller Shiite parties such as Solidarity in Iraq (1 seat in Dhi Qar), the Just State (1 seat), Professionals and Masses (2 seats), Loyalty to Iraq (2 seats in Najaf). Additionally, support for Maliki from the Sadiqun movement affiliated with Asaeb Ahl al-Haqq (1 seat) is a foregone conclusion since probably no one else wants to have anything to do with that controversial movement.

That’s 102 seats. For their part, the combined parliamentary strength of the Kurds is mostly assessed to be above 60 seats, certainly if pro-Kurdish minority representatives from the north are included. Accordingly, Maliki and the Kurds are now so close to securing the absolute majority needed to seat a new government (165 seats) that it would be very easy for them to secure a few extra MPs without having to involve any other big bloc. Also, by virtue of their relatively disciplined parliamentary contingent, the Kurds are probably in a better position to deliver actual votes to Maliki in parliament than any combination of smaller Arab-dominated parties would be able to. All of this is different from 2010, when State of Law plus the Kurds would have fallen short of 163 votes, the absolute-majority mark in the 325-member parliament back then.

This scenario offers a potential negotiation dynamic that is very different from the outcomes that have dominated the discussion thus far –  i.e. a political majority government of pro-Maliki centralists against decentralizers among the Kurds, ISCI and Nujayfi; or a quasi political-majority government of Maliki and at least one of the big parties (Nujayfi, Allawi, Hakim, Sadr) that would be prepared to join him bilaterally in opposition to the others; or an anti-Maliki coalition along the lines that challenged him in the first part of 2012; or a decision on the next PM inside a reconstituted grand Shiite alliance, perhaps followed by another oversized partnership government.

Nonetheless, despite all the talk about these scenarios (and perhaps a revived Shiite alliance in particular), the only thing that has actually happened on the ground since the election result was announced  is that State of Law has continued to grow steadily, attracting also some parties with more secular leanings that wouldn’t fit particularly well in the Shiite Islamist National Alliance at all. Indeed, it is likely that such smaller parties on the Sunni side could also be subsumed by the State of Law alliance.  It is noteworthy that despite the strong regional tensions, parties favouring dialogue with Maliki instead of maximizing the sectarian conflict won multiple seats in key Sunni governorates such as Anbar. Indeed, it could be argued that the vote for the smaller pro-sahwa lists and the secular Iraq coalition in Anbar – altogether 130,000 votes and 6 seats – was a vote in favour of rapprochement with Maliki. If movements like these get included in the next Iraqi government, the contention frequently seen in Western media to the effect that “Iraqi Sunnis lost the elections” would lose even more of its limited relevance. True, the option of Maliki’s enemies forming some kind of grand coalition against him still exists, but with Maliki’s recent growth they are running out of time: Once Maliki reaches around 125 deputies, it will be near mathematically impossible for his adversaries to form a bigger parliamentary bloc without the Kurds. With trends like these, the chances of Maliki acting bi-laterally instead of multi-laterally in the government formation process certainly go up.

Of course, the Kurds will not sign up to a a third Maliki premiership just for the sake of forming a slimmer government. Like in 2010, they will have specific demands, including the general relationship between Baghdad and the Kurdistan federal region, oil policy issues, payment for Kurdish armed forces as well as disputed areas.

There are key differences from 2010, though. Firstly, the Kurdish demands have grown more radical. No longer are questions about the validity of contracts of foreign oil companies most prominent on the agenda. The Kurds have recently opened up separate pipelines to Turkey and want Baghdad to approve this move without any interference. Second, the Kurds have already seen what happened with lofty promises in the Erbil agreement of 2010, which largely remains unimplemented. Surely they will fashion their demands to Maliki in ways that can prevent a repeat of that disappointment this time.

In practice, it will not be too difficult for Maliki to reverse much of his anti-Kurdish political majority rhetoric if he instead can form the new government on the basis of some kind of landmark agreement with the Kurds that can lead to satisfaction on both sides. The problem though, given the increasingly radical nature of the Kurdish demands, is to find concessions that are in the spirit of the Iraqi constitution of 2005 as a union between Iraqis, rather than practical guidelines for the implementation of a divorce.

Some such potential concessions within the framework of a federal state still exist. Firstly, there are things Maliki could offer on disputed internal boundaries that would involve one-off concessions to the Kurds in some of the less disputed of the disputed territories in the north, though without Kirkuk and a comprehensive article 140 settlement (which is likely to take many years to be implemented even under the rosiest of circumstances). Second, there is the recurrent issue of payment for the Kurdish security forces. Since these forces also serve in domestic and internal roles, their payment over the federal budget is not particularly logical. Still, if such an arrangement can serve as glue in the Iraqi federation, it is far better than deals that would remove the oil sector entirely from Baghdad’s sphere, effectively making Kurdistan an independent country but without a suitable legal and constitutional framework. Thirdly, there are the oil contracts with foreign companies operating in Kurdistan, which Baghdad have yet to formally approve. It could be argued that one-off approval of these contracts could be a suitable concession if an appropriate framework for cooperation for future foreign contracts could be established as part of the compromise.

All of the above are compromises that would retain the essence of the Iraqi constitution of 2005 and would be sellable also to Maliki’s domestic audience (which should not be forgotten after they gave him more than 700,000 personal votes). Above all, though, if Maliki and the Kurds want to cut a separate deal, it is important that both sides exercise realism in order that another Erbil paper tiger, and the concomitant dysfunctional government it produced, can be avoided.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories, Oil in Iraq, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

The Use of the Personal Vote Option in Iraq’s 30 April 2014 General Election

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 27 May 2014 1:37

After it was introduced in 2008, the personal vote option has become a success in the Iraqi democracy, contributing significantly to shaping election results in unpredictable ways, often against the wishes of the party leaderships.

Firstly, it can be concluded that using the personal vote has become the norm in Iraqi elections. The numbers in the results clearly suggest a majority of Iraqi voters indicate a candidate preference in addition to party preference when they cast their votes. Just to take one example from the 30 April 2014 general election: Out of 27,800 Sadrist voters in rural Muthanna, more than 25,900 used the personal vote option, in line with high figures reported in previous elections. Iraqi voters use the personal vote despite the fact that technical modalities of voting still militate against its use: Voters must take the trouble of remembering the name of their preferred candidate since this is not indicated on the ballot papers.

In analyzing data about the personal vote, it is also important to be alert to its many possible uses. These include pure stunts by a small number of senior politicians who feel so secure about their popularity that they deliberately place themselves far down the lists in order to demonstrate their ability to be promoted to the top by the popular vote. The most spectacular example in the recent general election is Hummam Hammudi of ISCI in Baghdad, who deliberately put himself at the rock bottom position of the list as candidate 138, only to be gracefully lifted to a seat-winning third position through the personal votes of some 10,000 devoted supporters.

Mostly, though, the personal vote use affects the overall outcomes in ways that reflect real struggles between party leaderships and electorates as to which individuals are the best representatives to send to the Iraqi national assembly in Baghdad. A good way of getting an impression of the degree of internal fighting going on, already tested out with respect to the local elections last year, is to tabulate the data of some main lists according to their numbers of successful candidates initially placed on winning positions, followed by numbers of those promoted to winning seats from non-winning positions based on the wishes of the electorate (i.e. personal votes outnumbering those who initially held these lists positions), as well as the numbers of women promoted to winning positions because of the female quota (technically speaking “against” the preferences of the electorate, though it should be noted that more than 20 female Iraqi deputies this time won their seats without help from the quota thanks to strong personal votes).

Here are some examples from the State of Law results:

persvotesol

So that’s 27 new MPs from State of Law alone that hadn’t been planned by the party leadership which had placed them far down on the lists!

The tendency of active use of the personal vote in ways that challenge political elites is less pronounced for the Muwatin bloc of Ammar al-Hakim, though not non-existent:

persvotemuwaten

After having played a role in the perhaps most spectacular use of the personal vote in 2010 (when they used it to promote candidates from their own party to top positions on the Iraq National Alliance slate), the Sadrists this time showed less interest in using the personal vote in radical ways to affect the ranking of candidates set by the party leaderships. On the other hand, the personal vote has been used with considerable impact among other lists, including the main Sunni and Kurdish ones.

Here is the example of the Mutahhidun bloc of Usama al-Nujayfi, the speaker of the previous parliament:

persvotenujaifi

That’s just 3 blocs and yet we have no less than 44 deputies in the Iraqi parliament that probably wouldn’t have been there if the party elites had had it their way.

The tabulations above don’t tell the whole story, though.  This is the case especially with respect to the distance travelled by some of the candidates far down on the list who went all the way to the top. This time, the phenomenon of big climbers was most pronounced in the big cities of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, and with some particularly spectacular examples within Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance. They include 3 candidates in Basra who went from positions 29, 30 and 31 to become seat winners, and similar impressive climbs from positions 41, 45, 62, 69, 73 and 77 in Baghdad. Also Muwatin had a candidate who went from 50 to 4 in Basra, whereas Nineveh winners for the  Mutahhidun list of Usama al-Nujayfi included candidates 24, 29 and 53.

All in all, it is the active use of the personal vote among State of Law voters that this time stands out in comparative perspective vis-à-vis previous elections. Incidentally, data about the personal votes may also be useful in evaluating the independence of IHEC. There has been some suggestions that the current commission, considered more friendly to Maliki than the previous one, may have been under pressure to manipulate the vote. But some of the painful exclusions of Maliki favourites following their personal inability to garner enough personal votes tell a different story. If IHEC was so corrupt as its critics claim, it would have been a comparatively easy job to shift internal votes to the advantage of party leadership favourites. Instead, we have seen several State of Law deputies lose their jobs due to poor electoral performance, including people like Ali Shallah, Hassan al-Sunayd, Khalid al-Attiya, Yasin Majid and Walid al-Hilli. Indeed, it can be argued that the personal vote establishes a second tier of accountability in the Iraqi elections since both candidates and voters will have more specific interests to guard and will be doubly aware to attempts to manipulate.  This is important when the elections results are as disputed as they are in Iraq.

Hopefully, after the expiry of the deadline for legal complaints against the results later this week the Iraqi elections commission can soon move forward to certification, thereby sealing some of these important expressions of nascent democracy even under adverse circumstances of regional tension.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014 | Comments Off on The Use of the Personal Vote Option in Iraq’s 30 April 2014 General Election

IHEC Releases Data from the Special Vote in Iraq’s General Election

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 23 May 2014 20:57

In its process of reviewing complaints following the publication of the uncertified elections result, the Iraqi elections commission IHEC has taken the unusual step of publishing data for the special vote for the Iraqi security forces that took place days before the 30 April general elections. In releasing this data, IHEC is presumably responding to a flurry of rumours regarding potential corruption and vote buying for the security forces vote (which amounts to almost 1 million votes and is thus bigger than the expat vote and many governorate votes).

The released data has the form of percentages of the special vote for the main winning lists per governorate. This can be tabulated with the percentages for the total vote as indicated in the second row for each governorate below.

specialvote

It emerges from this tabulation that the special vote differs significantly from the general vote only in a few provinces.

Firstly, there is slightly elevated support for PM Maliki in a number of Shiite-majority provinces, including Dhi Qar, Qadisiya and Babel. This is mostly in the 10-15% range and as such may not be anything than an expression that this is a special segment of the electorate where affection to the commander in chief may be expected to be elevated compared to the general population. A similar situation with a potential explanation relating to the Kurdish peshmerga security forces relates to Dahuk.

Second, there are provinces where the special vote differs significantly from the general vote. This includes Diyala (Maliki has almost doubled his percentages whereas the pro-Nujayfi list has its share reduced to the half); Nineveh (where Nujayfi again has only half the percentage of vote in the special votes whereas the Kurdish vote is doubled): Sulaymaniya (where PUK has enormous gains compared to Goran in the general vote); and finally Arbil (where the same phenomenon albeit on a smaller scale relates to the KDP-Goran balance).

It has already been suggested that the Kurdish parties applied pressure to their security forces to vote for them, which could explain the dismal Goran performance in the special vote. The surge for Maliki in the Diyala special vote needs explaining, and it will be interesting to see what IHEC may come up with in this respect. In seeking to address concerns about possible ballot-stuffing in the “Baghdad belt” IHEC has also released individual tallies from the counting centres in that area. The truly hard question, though, is to what extent these numbers will be used to affect and change the final result when it gets sent to the supreme court for certification, hopefully within a few weeks.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The Badr Organization and the Internal Structure of the New State of Law Parliamentary Faction

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 22 May 2014 21:14

There have been several rumours flying around regarding the electoral success of the various subunits that form part of the State of Law coalition of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Some of these stories suggest parties outside the Daawa movement may potentially pose a significant challenge to Maliki’s authority, something that would form a contrast to the situation in 2010 when Maliki did not face any major competing centres of power internally in his coalition.

The rumour that is easiest to verify – and confirm – relates to the relative success of the Badr organization. Badr, which came into existence in the 1980s as a paramilitary organization sponsored  and trained by Iran to fight the Saddam Hussein regime, has won at least 19 seats within the group of parliamentary seats that can be counted as State of Law in the new Iraqi parliament, meaning they make up more than 20% of the State of Law coalition.

Here are Badr deputies in the next Iraqi parliament that can be identified easily, by governorate:

Governorate No of Badr deputies Names
Basra 2 Ahmad al-Khafaji, Hassan al-Rashid
Maysan
Dhi Qar 2 Razzaq Ujaymi, Amal Attiya al-Nasiri
Muthanna 1 Ali Lafta al-Murshidi
Qadisiyya 2 Muhammad al-Shaybawi, Suham al-Musawi
Babel 2 Razzaq al-Haydari, Manal al-Muslimawi
Najaf 1 Muhammad Abbas al-Musawi
Karbala
Wasit 1 Qasim al-Zuhayri
Baghdad 5 Abd al-Karim Yunis, Muhammad Naji, Abd al-Hussein al-Azayrjawi, Hassan al-Saadi, Muhammad al-Ghaban
Diyala 2 Hadi al-Ameri, Mina  Saleh al-Umayri
Nineveh 1 Hunayn al-Qaddo

 

Some of the individual results call for special comment. There are a few prominent vote getters in terms of personal votes, including Hadi al-Ameri with 20,000 in Diyala, though this is really nothing in comparative national perspective . There are some significant climbers such as Hassan al-Saadi in Baghdad who went from an initial 35th place to a seat-winning 21st position, although on the whole Badr winners were mostly placed high on the list by the State of Law leadership in the first place. And the newly declared Badr affiliation of the representative of the Shabak minority Hunayn al-Qaddo can now be confirmed! Qaddo, who is emphatically not a militiaman, has previously wavered between the Hakim and Maliki factions.

Qaddo

Similar stories about the alleged surges of other competitors to Maliki inside the State of Law list have not been possible to confirm as easily. Materials on candidates for the Independents bloc of deputy premier Hussein al-Shahristani and the Tanzim al-Iraq faction of the Daawa is less easily available. An initial superficial count indicated less than a dozen MPs for each of these factions, including some setbacks for prominent figures (like Khalid al-Attiya), though this may be an underestimate.

Of course, historically Badr has been the Iraqi Shiite faction closest to Iran, constituting the premier example of an organization formed for the single purpose of exercising Iranian leadership over Iraqi Shiites. Their strong ties to Iran could prove  particularly important if the question of resurrecting the pan-Shiite National Alliance for purposes of government formation once more moves to the foreground of Iraqi politics.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, UIA dynamics, Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Badr Organization and the Internal Structure of the New State of Law Parliamentary Faction

The Iraq Elections Result: Maliki’s Complicated Win

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 19 May 2014 21:23

The uncertified result of Iraq’s parliamentary elections, released by the election commission today, cannot be described as anything other than a victory for the incumbent prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.

Compared with 2010, Maliki increased his share of seats in the Iraqi parliament from 89 to 94. This quite despite the fact that Maliki experienced numerous defections from his list before the elections and therefore fielded a much  slimmer electoral coalition than in 2010. His success can hardly be translated as anything other than an indication of his continued popularity among voters despite growing unease about his rule among political opponents.

ntaij

*Asterisk indicating affiliated list

Not only did Maliki manage to increase the size of his parliamentary contingent. His political enemies also look far more fragmented than before. In the Shiite camp, the Sadrist saw their bloc reduced by about a quarter of its previous size, whereas ISCI, despite making something of a comeback, was unable to garner more than 30 seats. Among the Sunnis, parliament speaker Nujayfi failed to emerge as the community leader he had been dreaming of, with Shiite secularist Ayyad Allawi continuing to appeal to secularists of Sunni and Shiite backgrounds alike. Even the Kurds have seen a greater degree of formal fragmentation than before (though a theoretical combined bloc strength of more than 60 seats is possible if they stay united and win over minority representatives as in the past). All in all, the group of parties that were on the verge of succeeding with a vote of no confidence against Maliki in 2012 now look weaker.

The question now, however, is what Maliki can do with this impressive victory.

Prior to the elections, a main debate was whether the next Iraqi government should be a power-sharing or a majority one. Maliki has been vocal in his expression for a smaller, majority government. Theoretically, he can also achieve it with these results, albeit not very easily. If Maliki stayed true to the “political majority” concept, it would involve gathering blocs that agreed with his vision of relatively centralized rule in Iraq, including a degree of central control of the oil sector throughout the country including Kurdistan. In theory, this could involve his own bloc, the Sadrists, smaller Shiite parties (Jaafari, Fadila, Sadiqun etc.), the Sunni party of Saleh al-Mutlak, parts of the Allawi list, as well as the many smaller minority and other lists (an unprecedented mass of some 40 deputies) that could help him reach the 165 absolute majority mark needed to form a government. In practice, though, the personal dislike of Maliki among many Sadrists and members of the Allawi list could make this prospect very difficult. Without them, his majority would be extremely slim, fragmented and vulnerable.

The point is, though, that with numbers like this, Maliki is likely to try hard to form some kind of majority government before considering other alternatives. One possibility he is likely to try is to redefine “political majority” in a looser, more opportunistic way, involving basically a Yes to a third Maliki term. With the right kind of deal he might be able to get the Kurds on board for this, thereby succeeding in keeping Shiite enemies – and Ammar al-Hakim in particular – on the sidelines. The problem, of course, is that much of Maliki’s political majority rhetoric centred precisely on defending the prerogatives of Baghdad with respect to controversial issues relating to foreign oil companies operating in Kurdistan.

Given these potential complications, it cannot escape notice that, in an unprecedented situation, the combined Iraqi Shiite Islamist parties now enjoy a theoretical option of forming a majority government. Together they have more than the 165 votes required for an absolute majority, meaning the question of reconstituting the pan-Shiite National Alliance will inevitably hit the agenda if Maliki fails in his other efforts. Indeed, such movements are already underway, and they could certainly gather steam if Maliki’s majoritarian dreams go nowhere. It has to be stressed though, that with Maliki’s strong showing in these elections compared with everyone else, the option of simply substituting him with someone more palatable to the Hakim and Sadrist camps is less relevant than it was prior to the elections. If everything else fails, Iran may well want to strongarm the Sadrists into accepting a third term for Maliki, which would have a reasonable parliamentary prospect with or without Hakim. It could also invite larger numbers of Kurds and Sunnis in, in which case it might well end up looking somewhat similar to the previous, oversized power-sharing governments formed in 2006 and 2010.

Meanwhile, the election result will be submitted for legal certification. In 2010, that process lasted more than 2 months, significantly delaying the process of government formation. Symptomatically, ISCI has already signaled that it may challenge the counting of the votes – something which will certainly not do anything to bring them closer to Maliki in the short term.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Uncategorized | 21 Comments »