Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Intra-List Struggle in the State of Law Coalition: The Baghdad Parliamentary Contingent, the Shahristani Faction, and the Independent Deputies

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 1 June 2014 22:46

In the middle of the long wait for the certification of the Iraqi election result, speculation about the viability of PM Nuri al-Maliki’s bid for a third term has intensified. One of the recurrent questions concerns possible challenges to Maliki from within his State of Law coalition, especially from deputy PM Hussein al-Shahristani, who according to some sources has increased his influence because of the election result.

A frequent contention is the idea that the Shahristani bloc should have received no less than 33 seats in the latest election, making it the biggest bloc in State of Law – ahead of Badr and with double the seats as Maliki’s own Daawa party faction.

Whereas observers are right in pointing out the potential significance of a big Shahristani win, there are some problems with these rumours. Firstly, they are exactly just rumours: Nowhere has a list of these alleged new Shahristani deputies published. On the Facebook page of the Shahristani bloc it is virtually impossible to find any article that does not focus on extolling the virtues of the personality of Shahristani himself. For its part, the party’s homepage shows a list of deputies from the previous parliamentary session.

In fact, most reports about Shahristani’s ascendancy seem to go back to a claim made by Hassan al-Sunayd, a former Maliki ally who lost his seat in the election and in one interview shortly after mid-May said Shahristani had won 33 seats. Sunayd is reportedly estranged from Maliki and in the process of establishing a new political party.

While the possibility of a large Shahristani bloc in the next Iraqi parliament should not be rejected out of hand, a search of some of the constituencies for which coalition sub-entities are specified makes you wonder who exactly these 33 Shahristani deputies are. They do not appear to be in Basra, where a good State of Law source indicating bloc affiliation exists, and where most of the Shahristani candidates appear to have lost. (Additionally, frequent acting minister for Maliki Safa al-Din al-Safi left the party and ran independently: He received no more than 1,500 votes). Recently, other lists from Wasit and Baghdad have also been released, showing only 3 Shahristani deputies in Baghdad. The Baghdad list is particularly important since it concerns no less than 30 deputies, most of whom appear to be independents. It can be controlled independently against an analysis of the Badr winners in Baghdad, with which it squares 100%.

So where exactly is this monster Shahristani delegation of 33 deputies? Not in Basra,  not in Baghdad (4 deputies at most) and not in Wasit as we have seen.

Other known Shahristani deputies include one in each of Maysan, Dhi Qar, Najaf and Karbala. That’s eight. Where are the rest? They surely aren’t in the Shiite-minority provinces, where all the factional identities of the State of Law winners are known. Are there really 25 Shahristani partisans hidden in the new parliament contingents from the mid-Euphrates areas? That’s hard to believe. Remember that many members of his bloc in those parts lost their existing seats, including some embarrassingly prominent cases (like Khalid al-Attiya, once a deputy parliament speaker).

What can explain these major discrepancies? Semantic problems should not be ruled out, as they have appeared in the past as well. Shahristani’s bloc is named Independents (Al-Mustaqillun). That is the same term that is used for an unaffiliated MP, although the latter terms is always used in the singular and mostly without the definite article (al-). Thus, in parliament lists of members of the National Alliance in the past, some formally independent and unaffiliated State of Law members were listed as (mustaqill or mustaqilla as an adjective that is conjugated in accordance with the gender of the MP), whereas members of Shahristani bloc are listed with the bloc name (Al-Mustaqillun). It is thus very easy to mix up the two categories and erroneously add truly independent MPs to the Shahristani bloc.

Pending the publication of the names of the new Shahristani bloc, this kind of explanation should not be ruled out. Once things get published by Arab newswires – often with sources far removed from Iraqi realities and with anti-Maliki voices prominent – they tend to get repeated endlessly. By way of example, in 2012 some of these sources persistently insisted that 164 (rather than 163) MPs constituted an absolute majority in the then 325-member parliament.

These are of course two radically different interpretations. Whereas “Independent Bloc members” loyal to Shahristani may conceivably constitute a threat to Maliki, true “independents” are actually more likely to be loyal to Maliki rather than to anyone else since their inclusion on the State of Law list came outside of the competing factions and most likely through the general effort of the prime minister’s office to cultivate ties to a broad range of Iraqi professionals from all spheres. This is important since many analysts tend to focus much on the fact that relatively few of the new State of Law parliament bloc appear to be full members of the Daawa party,

Of course these questions are also bound to have an impact on larger issues. As an alternative to the various majoritarian constellations that are being discussed, a return to the old model whereby an enlarged Shiite alliance essentially decides the PM and then invites Sunnis and Kurds in to form an oversized partnership government – arguably the antithesis to Maliki’s political majority concept – is also receiving much attention. Clearly the question of finding a replacement for Maliki inside State of Law (a parallel to the sidelining of Ibrahim al-Jaafari in 2006) is correlated to the question of the relative size of the coalition subunits: In the internal Shiite alliance contest, political elite relationships count more than the popular vote. For example, in a fascinating image of an Iraq between majoritarian and consociational democratic models, Maliki with 720,000 personal votes is being challenged as PM candidate by people like Ahmed Chalabi with 10,000 votes.

Shahristani is also in that segment of around 10, 000 personal votes. However, unless the rumours of his new-won mega contingent of parliamentary deputies are accurate, it seems highly unlikely that Shahristani should be able to upend people like the well-connected Chalabi or, for that matter, the highly popular Maliki.

26 Responses to “The Intra-List Struggle in the State of Law Coalition: The Baghdad Parliamentary Contingent, the Shahristani Faction, and the Independent Deputies”

  1. Pervez said

    Can you please tell me the strength of Shia , Sunni, Christian and other minority members in 328 member assembly…

  2. I can, but I’m not going to.

    The whole point about this blog is to venture beyond the simplistic cliches of Iraqi politics that dominate the mainstream media and the writings of many armchair pundits. They excel in the kind of exercise you’re describing and they will no doubt be able to provide you with an answer.

    For my part I see no point in counting Iraqis only with reference to their ethno-sectarian identity. So secularist Ayyad Allawi is a Shiite. That adds one to the total number of Shiites in the Iraqi parliament. Is that interesting? No. Can it lead to a simplistic and erroneous interpretation of the composition of the Iraqi parliament? Yes. Qutayba al-Jibburi: Ditto. The pro-Sahwa lists of Anbar: Same problem again.

    This article, by way of contrast, is focused on the size of sub-entities within one of the three main Shiite Islamist coalitions.

  3. Pervez said

    I wanted to compare with sectarian representation of 2010 Parliament for some academic work; anyway it’s your choice. Yes, Allawai & Jibbouri are cross sectarian realities….

  4. Forgive me if my attempts at analysis and understanding appear naïve and simplistic. I am a novice at this process.

    Zamili: The bylaw of the National Alliance will be passed within the next two days

    03/06/2014 12:45:00

    BAGHDAD / NINA / MP, of the Ahrar bloc, Hakim al-Zamili said “the bylaw of the National Alliance will be passed during the next two days and will be binding on all political forces within the Alliance.”

    He told the National Iraqi News Agency / NINA / that “the continued statements about the candidate to head the next government and its formation is beyond the commitment to the agreements within the National Alliance, which is the tent and the main sponsor of the blocs within it .”

    Zamili added, “We hope the political blocs within the National Alliance are committed to the bylaw and the basis of dealing with other blocs and the mechanism of choosing the next prime minister and other things.”

    On the candidate of the Ahrar bloc and other blocs, within the National Alliance, for the post of the next prime minister he explained, ” after approving the bylaw of the National Alliance, the political blocs will submit their candidates within the Alliance and will be agreed on a single candidate.” It is mentioned that the spokesman of the citizen bloc, Balik Abu Kalal said, “The National Coalition will hold an important meeting today to address the prime minister and other political issues.”

    He told the National Iraqi News Agency / NINA / “The citizen coalition is committed to the National Alliance and the National Coalition and our decision about the prime minister is still united with our brothers in the Ahrar bloc and we cannot negotiate with any other party away from our partners.”

    He added, ” We reject the third term as a principle not as a person and we deny any meeting or communications with the state of law and they have come with us to the advanced stages in this regard, we did not meet them just only one meeting, which was the meeting of Hakim with al-Maliki and our meetings take place within the National Alliance “.

    He explained that “the Iraqi National Coalition will release important statement and decisions today related to the post of prime minister and other political issues.”

    Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that “the majority needed to form the next government is almost achieved.

    A statement for the Prime Minister’s Office quoted him as saying in an interview with the semi-official al-Iraqiya TV yesterday that ” there are now 175 secured votes , but we want more partners who agree with us in the program and principles to be adopted in the next government .”

    Maliki has called for all forces and political blocs to understanding and dialogue in order to form a government as soon as possible and go towards work and construction.…ar95_VQ=HEKGDH


  5. Salah said

    with Daash running the show now, Maliki calling for state of emergency now in the news The Shia Cleric Ali Sistani has given his recommendation to lead the next Iraq government.

    So what the outcome will be?

  6. For now, I think that part about Sistani recommending a member of the Hakim family as PM is mainly propaganda from ISCI (or even Sadrist) sources. Not his style at all to intervene so closely in the politics of personalities.

  7. JLG said

    Daash could have now missiles and aircraft capabilities if it is true they took over of Mosul Airport and security arms depots. Malik could try to send his Golden brigade full of Hezbollah and League of Righteous elements…(Iran boots on the ground).
    Under the current emergency situation do you see any chance of reviving the Erbil agreement and get Sunni back with Allawi, Mutlegh and Nujafi in key positions within the government?

  8. Just don’t see that power-sharing govt re-emerging under Maliki again. He has invested too much in criticising some of these guys, in particular Nujayfi. Even as Iraqi soldiers were fleeing Mosul, Maliki partisans were quick to blame Nujayfi.

    And as long as ISCI says it will work through the pan-Shia National Alliance to find the next PM, it is hard to see a solution along those lines you indicate on the horizon anytime soon, I think.

  9. Salah said

    Ok we hear all Ali Sistani have nothing with politics and he stand in equal distance between Iraqi politicians……

    Today just in the news:
    المالكي يشكر المرجع السيستاني لاصداره بيانا يدين ما حدث في الموصل
    What this mean really with these sort of fipflop by Sistani?

  10. The difference concerns the sources. The first was just a rumour reported through unnamed informants. The second related to a public, signed declaration by Sistani.

  11. Salah said

    Is this also ” just a rumour” or “related to a public”?

    U.S. Embassy in Baghdad Preparing for Possible Evacuation

  12. JLG said

    Iran has stopped flights to Baghdad airport. The Ministry of science and technology building office in Baghdad have been evacuated. Some foreign companies already are evacuating their staff in Baghdad. IA withdrew from Kirkuk and Syrian border…Hashemi out of mind seems like supporting what is ongoing in Mosul, Tikrit and Anbar. Ayad Allawy seems out of the picture during these days…Maliki calling for Iranian proxies militias terrorist support like League of righteous and Hezbollah brigades. Obama thinking new approach considering new possibilities, mulling over new plans…and ISIL Helicopters hovering Mosul…

  13. Aryan said

    Is it not Ironic that the first to celebrate Mosuls downfall was none other than Tariq al-Hashemi , was Maliki wrong? I doubt this now looking at what Tariq al Hashemi said and is part of ISIL. We ,Kurds gave him sanctuary and then he went to Turkey and we cut a deal with Turkey on oil-all to cause major issues with the ICG.

    Why did Turkey refuse to accept that Jabhat al Nursa was a terrorist until last week. Playing politics now like the partys opposed to Maliki are doing-leads to more problems for all Iraq’s.

    Moqtada al-Sadr views are clear- and he calls for the Iranians to help.Ali Sistani can call Iran clerics and supreme leadership now

    3 days and Parliament is finished and all sides just think of how to foil maliki not the help Iraq

  14. i am interested in dialogue here, but the thread seems to have lost it’s focus. Perhaps Mr. Visser can reform the issues(s) as there is much news worthy of discussion i think.

  15. The chaos of this little thread is nothing compared to the chaos Iraq is going through! I’m providing running commentary on my Twitter:

    Will write up something on current developments when the time is right and some perspective can be added.

  16. Salah said

    I do agree with Edward with his call, however I love to say which my long time stand of democracy and all political process in Iraq with very best and the helpful analysis by Reidar Visser (with all respects to him) which clearly in my heart is a reflection of western view more than what really on the ground inside Iraq from day one from 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq with US bringing thugs, Iranian proxies to lead Iraq knowingly or unknowingly (I doubted it), with that said the chaos in Iraq is going through! Today telling, what the past 11 years of democracy and freedom seeded by occupation fruiting now, they built a democracy& freedom on spider hall suddenly all collapse and that we seen right now.

    There is no state, there is no military force, there is no institutions nothing just rebels and thugs running the show.

  17. Salah said

    here we go bringing democracy and freedom to Iraqis…….

    Americans being evacuated from Iraqi air base as militants advance

  18. bb said

    Looking forward to your assessment RV. As appears at the moment the only power with the ability and motive to save the shia from an imminent mass slaughter at the hands of the Sunni Baath and Jihadis is Iran – Obama and the democrats having long washed their hands.

    Afghanistan and Pakistan are to come, of course.,

  19. Any comment upon the legality / propriety / practicality of the following statement ?

    ” The Rule of Law: The right (of ) Maliki apply to the Federal Court to declare emergency.”

    Alsumaria News / Baghdad

    Accused the MP for the rule of law, Kamal al-Saadi, on Thursday, the political blocs that did not attend today’s meeting to approve the emergency law, as “enemies of the people”, as he emphasized that the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces Nouri al-Maliki has the right to submit a request to the Federal Court to declare an emergency.

    Saadi said in an interview for “Alsumaria News”, that “the political blocs that did not attend today’s meeting, which was scheduled to discuss the security situation in the country and the adoption of the emergency law, as an enemy of the people and prefer its political gains.”

    Saadi added that “Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces Nouri al-Maliki has the right to submit an application to the Federal Court to declare a state of emergency that could not approve its parliament.”

    Read more :

  20. Query. Is there or is there not American soldier ” boots on the ground ” in Iraq in response to Mosul and more ?

  21. Edward, briefly, to your first query, there is no specific procedure for state of emergency to be declared in Iraq by circumventing parliament, as per the State of Law proposal. They are, in other words, once more making up the law as they go.

    No, there is no added American military presence. If anything, those few quasi-military elements that remained, such as air technicians at Balad, have reportedly been withdrawn to Baghdad.

  22. Salah said

    Reidar Visser
    two questions here:
    1- Is there any affects or deals that SOFA can offer To Iraq chaos today?
    2- what the possibility that UN peace force be deployed,today in Iraq what need to be done for this matter?

  23. Neither scenario is particularly relevant. All depends on will of Obama admin to do something, which remains unclear. And then it will probably be logistical support and/or air strikes at most.

  24. Salah said

    Sistani calling to fights the الغوغاء
    المرجع السيستاني يدعو المواطنين الذين يتمكنون من حمل السلاح ومقاتلة الارهابيين دفاعاً عن بلدهم وشعبهم ومقدساتهم التطوع في القوّات الأمنية

    Looks he taking the lead as The Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces?

  25. RV, My compliments to you, excellent article for ” Foreign Affairs “, still absorbing and contemplating at present. Thank you.

  26. Salah said

    The crisis, ironically, could be a wake-up call to unify Iraqis.

    The above statemnt by siad by Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics in the CSM artical

    he addid:

    Though gaining territory in Iraq, ISIS is already sowing the seeds of their own self-destruction,Gerges says.The question is: How long will it take? And how much damage will it do in the meantime?

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