Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for September, 2014

The Iraqi Parliament Fails to Approve New Security Ministers

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 18:35

New Iraq PM Haydar al-Abbadi kept his promise to present ministerial candidates for portfolios not included in the recent vote on his new cabinet, but the Iraqi parliament proved uncooperative. As a result, only one minister, for water management, was approved in today’s session. Crucially, all key security ministries remain vacant.

The most contentious nominations related to the defence and interior ministries. With respect to defence, the name of Jabir al-Jabiri, an Anbar politician with considerable popular backing and past ties to the former finance minister, Rafe al-Isawi, has recurred for some time as the nominee of the Sunni coalition in parliament. Conversely, it was something of a surprise that Riyad Ghrayb, a Shiite chameleon who has gone from a past with ISCI to the State of Law bloc and the faction of Hussein al-Shahristani, was put forward in the last minute. Before that, it had largely been thought that Badr would present a candidate, even after their original nominee, Hadi al-Ameri, was found by most other parties to be too unpalatable in such a sensitive position. As late as yesterday, a modification of the Badr proposal was presented in the shape of “independents” that might be acceptable to Badr, such as Ahmad Chalabi and Qasim Dawud. Today, the Shiite alliance held a last-minute meeting before the parliament session without being able to agree internally on a candidate.

There are regional and international dimensions involved, too. It has been suggested that the Iraq interior ministry struggle is a reflection of the contradictive relationship between the United States and Iran in the region as a whole, with Iran backing Badr candidates in Iraq and the United States – finally in possession of some real leverage because of the ISIS threat and Iraqi requests for American military assistance, and tacitly in alliance with Iran against ISIS – strongly objecting to this.

It is noteworthy that during the parliament session today, Abbadi implored the chamber to approve the nominees whereas parliamentarians of the Shiite alliance (whom Abbadi himself represents) voiced opposition to a vote, saying the interior minister at least should be internally approved in the Shiite alliance first. Deputy speaker Humam al-Hammudi of ISCI at one point tried to stop the vote according to the official parliamentary record.

Whereas the voting record hasn’t been tied down to individual MPs or even parties, the patterns suggest that parts of the Shiite alliance may have voted No and possibly that there was a revenge No in the vote on the State of Law nominee for tourism (Ali al-Adib). Interior minister Riyad Ghrayb got 117 out of 245 votes, Jabir al-Jabiri 108 out of 251, and Ali al-Adib got only 78 out of 250 votes. By way of contrast, a Sadrist nominee for the water ministry was approved with a more resounding 162 out of 250 votes. Altogether 285 MPs were in attendance, probably a reflection of the realization that a simple majority could have settled the matter of the security ministers and have them approved if those who were against Jabiri and Ghrayb had simply absented themselves.

Parliament adjourned until Thursday 18 September but it is unclear whether Abbadi will come up with new nominees by then. It cannot be stressed enough that these final components of the Abbadi cabinet are among the most important decisions relating to the new Iraqi government as a whole – and as such far more significant than the plethora of international gatherings that are currently going on in the name of defeating ISIS in Iraq. Experiences from Yemen suggest that airstrikes will eventually hit someone that shouldn’t have been hit. In that kind of context, only a durable political coalition in Baghdad can prevent the situation from fragmenting completely. The absence of agreement on security ministers was a key reason the second Maliki government remained so shaky throughout its term, and it is likely this issue, more than anything else, that will seal the fate of the new, so far partial, government put in place by Haydar al-Abbadi.

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The Iraqi Parliament Approves the Abbadi Cabinet

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 9 September 2014 1:40

The new Iraqi cabinet headed by Haydar al-Abbadi has been approved by the Iraqi parliament. Abbadi has 3 deputies and 23 ministers, with some portfolios still not named.

The programme of the new cabinet, approved by 177 votes, is very general. Still, it goes further than past governments in terms of underlining the need for decentralization as well as implementing reform in the Iraqi armed forces. All of this seems to represent recognition of past failures, which at least constitutes a good first step. It seems clear, though, that no major promises have been issued along the lines of the pompous Erbil agreement of 2010. In itself, perhaps not a bad thing. Also the timing of the whole process is admirable, for the first time entirely consistent with the Iraqi constitution.

In terms of ministries, Shiite Islamist parties have taken the lion’s share, including several particularly important portfolios. These include Ibrahim al-Jaafari as foreign minister and Adel Abd al-Mahdi of ISCI as oil minister. In addition to the premiership, the State of Law bloc of former PM Maliki also has the portfolios of health, education and work. Fadila continues to control the ministry of justice. Whereas ISCI was awarded additional ministries, Badr and the Sadrists seem to have only two each, though the Sadrists also control one of the three deputy premier positions. Badr was at one point on the verge of boycotting the entire session after they were denied the interior ministry portfolio. As in previous government formations, the PM kept these portfolios for himself, though promising to present candidates within a week.

Sunni and secular representation is largely by individuals affiliated with the broad coalition associated with current parliament speaker Salim al-Jibburi and previous speaker Usama al-Nujayfi. Together, they hold around 7 ministries, all of them service-oriented (plus Saleh al-Mutlak as deputy PM). The movement of previous Iraqiyya leader Ayyad Allawi, which has remained separate, does not seem to have more than one portfolio.

As in previous government deals, the Kurds have a relatively low number of portfolios, around 3, but these include the heavyweight ministry of finance. They also have one deputy PM as before.

A separate chapter relates to three vice presidents approved today as part of the package. The Iraqi presidency proper is a mostly symbolic position, whose main responsibilities largely end with the successful formation of a new government. The vice presidents have even less power, and it is an ironic sight to now have three major players in the previous term – Nuri al-Maliki, Ayad Allawi and Usama al-Nujayfi – in these sinecure-like positions.

On a legal and constitutional note, parliament speaker Jibburi made it clear during the vote that he intends to follow a supreme court ruling that says “absolute majority” in the Iraqi constitution means “absolute majority of those present” as long as “absolute majority of parliament membership” is not expressly mentioned. After the new deputy premier Saleh al-Mutlak got less than an absolute majority of the total members, Jibburi simply stopped specifying the exact number of votes received, only referring to the fulfilment of a majority of those present. Exactly like in the sessions to vote for parliament speaker and his deputies, though, the votes that were counted, including the approval of the government programme, were in the range of 140-180 Yes votes, out of altogether 289 MPs reportedly present. This seems to indicate that whereas all blocs may have supported their candidates and made a strategic decision to be inside the government, wholehearted enthusiasm is still not widespread.

The international community has largely welcomed the new government as somehow being more “inclusive” than past ones. This is largely inaccurate as far as ministerial appointments are concerned. The ethno-sectarian balance, which seems to be the prime interest to these commentators, remains largely the same as in the Maliki II government. Security portfolios remain unoccupied. Those who care about sectarian balances will also note that the Sunnis have lost the sole “sovereign” ministry they held (finance, now held by the Kurds). What has improved somewhat, though, is the size of the government (it has been reduced in size by at least 25% compared with past governments), as well as the political language emphasizing the need for reform.

To what extent Abbadi means business will be seen over the coming week, when candidates for the key positions of defence and interior ministers have been promised. Maliki in 2010 also issued such promises, only to keep the portfolios for himself or close friends acting as ministers without parliament approval for the duration of his term. That, in turn, formed the basis for many of the accusations of over-centralization and mismanagement of the Iraqi security forces that ultimately prevented him from a third term.

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