Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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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.


*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 »

De-Baathification and Criminal Charges: Patterns of Candidate Exclusion in Iraq’s Parliamentary Elections, 2014

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 21 April 2014 11:57

Unlike previous years – and in particular the parliament elections of March 2010 and the provincial elections of January 2013 – the dispute about candidate exclusion ahead of elections has been somewhat limited with respect to Iraq’s upcoming parliamentary poll on 30 April. And to the extent that there has been a debate, it has focused on the question of whether candidates are of “good reputation” – a candidacy requirement enumerated in the Iraqi elections law – rather than on de-Baathification. Accordingly, whereas heated debates about the legacy of the former Iraqi ruling party made its mark on the past two elections (and especially so ahead of the vote in 2010), the focus this year has been on a dispute between parliament and the Iraqi elections commission regarding the interpretation of the requirement that candidates be of “good reputation “ – a dispute in which IHEC ultimately prevailed over parliament’s suggestion for a more restrictive interpretation.

The dual focus on de-Baathification and “good reputation” reflects the fact that legally speaking, apart from the basic age and educational requirements, there are two ways in which an election candidate can be  delisted from an Iraqi election. Either the candidate is excluded because he is subject to de-Baathification according to the de-Baathification law from 2008, or the candidate does not meet the “good reputation” requirement – something that in practice has been operationalized as the existence of multiple legal charges against an individual. This year, around 400-500 candidates were initially excluded because of de-Baathification, whereas around 70 were delisted because of a failure to fulfill the good reputation requirement.

Unfortunately, the source situation for analyzing how pre-election disqualification plays out in Iraq this year is far more problematic than previously. This is so because IHEC has departed from its past procedure of first publishing a provisional and then a final candidate list – a practice that allowed for statistical analyses of lacunae in the candidate lists resulting from procedures of exclusion. This year, only the final list has been published, meaning that the electoral blocs in many cases will have replaced excluded candidates with new ones, thereby effectively covering over the lacunae that enabled quantitative analysis in the earlier elections. Even though there are some lacunae also in the final list as well, it does not provide the same insights in the processes of exclusion that the combination of provisional and final lists did in the parliament elections in 2010 and the provincial ones in 2013.

Instead, the available material for 2014 consists of three things. Firstly there are lists of those excluded, around 400 names, which appeared in four separate batches released by the de-Baathification committee in early February . Second, there is a list of those excluded with reference to criminal charges (the first three batches along with the criminal  charges list is here; the separate fourth list is here). Thirdly, there is a list of those who were reinstated from the first two batches of de-Baathification subsequent to the appeals process (in some sources this has erroneously been described as a fifth exclusion batch). Importantly, the lists of those subject to de-Baathification give candidate names only, not list affiliation. It is therefore very difficult to pin down their party affiliation, especially so since many of them are not very prominent figures. Advanced name searches on them on Google in Arabic will rarely return any hits at all, even if a liberal number of name combinations is attempted. However, there remains a key to establishing some links between individual candidates and lists for at least a part of the material. This relates to the 52 reinstated candidates, who appear in the final list of election candidates and can therefore be identified by party affiliation.  Also, although no list of those reinstated in cases not relating to de-Baathification has been published, for the smaller number of reinstated candidates who were initially excluded with reference to the “good reputation” requirement it is possible to search through the final candidate list with the names of everyone who had been reported as excluded. It is noteworthy though, that in both categories – de-Baathification and “good reputation” – a large number of reinstated candidates appear to have opted to remain off the list, despite having regained the right to stand as candidates. One possible explanation, especially for candidate far down on the list, is that their lists may have deemed them to be more of a burden than an asset following the suspicions unleashed by their initial disqualifications.

Although these numbers are too small to conduct any kind of meaningful statistical analysis, they can at least provide a glimpse of the process. Specifically, the data relates to candidates who were attempted excluded by the de-Baathification committee or IHEC (which deals with the “good reputation” requirement in the first instance), and subsequently reinstated during the appeals process before the special appeals board for de-Baathification and the electoral judicial penal respectively. These cases of reinstatement highlight cases where the attempt to legally exclude candidates were found to be unfounded during the appeals process, making them particularly interesting for studying the question of political influences over administrative and judicial processes in the “new Iraq”.

Another general point worth noting is that, with respect to the “good reputation” requirement, the figures of reinstatement are much higher than for de-Baathificaton, with official judiciary reports saying that eventually only 15 out of around 70 exclusions were upheld by the electoral judicial panel. This group also seems less easy to predict according to sectarian variables, with cases arising as often in Shiite as in Sunni areas, and with some of the most prominent exclusions – such as the Sadrist Jawad al-Shuhayli – being of Shiite sectarian identity. Firstly, it should be remarked that exactly like in previous years, the general picture defies the easy, black and white classification schemes prevailing in Western media whereby de-Baathification is seen as something that almost exclusively affects the Sunni Arab minority because of its ties to the Saddam Hussein regime.  In fact, de-Baathification strikes across geographical, sectarian and party lines. As does reinstatement, with which this material deals.  To the extent that some parties stand out for being targeted disproportionately, it is true that the Sunni-secular parties continue to be most preponderant. Note, however,  that this material relates to ultimate reinstatement. It is therefore clear that Sunni-secular politicians in many cases manage to seek legal redress for what is perceived as political targeting by Shiite Islamist circles.

Looking at individual de-Baathification cases, it is interesting to see that some of the cases of reinstatement relate to persons who were excluded in 2010. For example, Saadi Faysal Abdallah al-Jibburi was excluded and his entire bloc struck from the ballot in 2010 because of de-Baathification allegations. Since the de-Baathification process relates exclusively to the judicial interpretation of pre-2003 events in Iraq, his reinstatement this year as a candidate on the list of Saleh al-Mutlak effectively means the Iraqi judiciary has overruled the 2010 decision to exclude him.

Other cases, however, do not inspire confidence as far as the integrity of the process is concerned, especially with respect to the actions of the de-Baathification committee as the initial screening centre for potential candidates. When he was disqualified in February, former Unity of Iraq deputy Shaalan abd al-Jabbar Ali al-Karim (currently a candidate of Ayyad Allawi’s Wataniyya) protested that  he had never been a member of the Baath and never formed part of the Iraqi security apparatus. He said he graduated in Islamic studies in 1991-1992 and subsequently worked in agriculture and commerce until the fall of the regime in 2003. His appeal was upheld by the appeals court, suggesting that the de-Baathification committee may once more have attempted to reach beyond the legal criteria for de-Baathification exclusion, based on a combination of Baath party membership rank (shaaba or higher), rank in the Iraqi bureaucracy  (DG or higher) and sector (for security -related backgrounds there are stricter requirements).

Again other cases are more mysterious and raise the possibility of simple name mix-ups, which has happened before. Many would be surprised that the number 2 candidate of State of Law in Basra, Hasan al-Rashid – a veteran of the Badr corps who spent a long time in exile in Iran – was included in the first list of de-Baathificatons. One possible explanation is that the way his name appears in the official lists – with names of himself, his father, his grandfather and great grandfather (Hassan Kazim Hassan Ali) – makes him identical to  an individual from Babel who has been de-Baathified previously. It is mystifying though, that IHEC should overlook such a basic error with such a prominent politician, but similar problems of name mix-ups have actually been reported in the past.

All in all, after looking at this material it is more tempting to conclude that corruption, capriciousness and the absence of due process are universal in Iraq  and do not discriminate between sects in the ways many outsiders claim. Recent reports of partisans of Ahmad Chalabi being targeted by Maliki-controlled security forces would only serve to underline this point.

Posted in De-Baathification, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election | Comments Off on De-Baathification and Criminal Charges: Patterns of Candidate Exclusion in Iraq’s Parliamentary Elections, 2014

The Intra-List Structure of the State of Law Alliance in Iraq’s New Provincial Councils

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 7 May 2013 14:05

In previous elections in Iraq, the party shares of electoral lists running as coalitions have been important especially at the parliamentary level. In 2005, the internal structure of the all-Shiite United Iraqi Alliance was important and influenced questions like federalism and the relationship with Iran, whereas in the parliamentary elections of 2010, all three main coalitions – Iraqiyya, State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance – featured internal dynamics that would become deeply significant after the elections.

At the provincial level, such intra-list dynamics have been less prominent until now, primarily because there was in 2005 and 2009 a tendency of political parties to contest the local elections as independent entities, or with only minimal coalitions involving a few other parties with which there were already existing ties – SCIRI’s “Islamic Basra” list in 2005 being an example of this. But in this year’s elections, coalitions were indeed significant, above all with respect to the State of Law list headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The reason is that shortly before the elections, Maliki radically expanded his list beyond what had been its core in the previous parliamentary election, i.e. the two main Daawa branches and the Independents movement of Hussein al-Shahristani, the deputy premier. Beyond adding the Jaafari breakaway faction of the Daawa (which had run with INA in parliamentary elections in 2010) Maliki’s new coalition lists now also include entities that historically have been more distant from the Daawa, especially the Badr group that recently split from ISCI after having served as its military wing in the past, as well as the Fadila party, another Islamist parties which emerged from the Sadrist movement after 2003.

Today the question is how this enlarged coalitions looks after Iraqi voters have had their say by picking their favourites from the coalition lists by way of the personal vote option.

One recurrent problem in these analyses is the scarcity of sources that comprehensively document sub-entity affiliations. As of today, only one governorate with a full list of the sub-entities of all State of Law candidates is known (Basra). However, alternate sources help provide a fuller picture. In particular, it seems important that most of the factions that joined State of Law more recently have some sources related to their candidates within the new coalitions. This includes Badr (whose newspaper featured extensive interviews with candidates, in addition to a Facebook page) as well as the Jaafari branch of the Daawa movement that was with INA in 2009 (the Beladi TV station has given extensive coverage to individual candidates). Additionally, the Shahristani branch has published a YouTube video of all its candidates, whereas for the Fadila party it is possible to identify most of the candidates by doing advanced searches on the party’s website of party-related news items.

The problem that remains is to account for the relationship between the Maliki branch of the Daawa, the Tanzim al-Iraq branch as well as truly independent candidates. For this purpose, only incomplete sources exist, and in many places it is impossible to typologise further. However, to some extent, the analytical purpose has been achieved when the other sub-entities have been largely identified. Historically, the Tanzim al-Iraq branch has been quite loyal to Maliki, running with him in local elections in January 2009 and staying with him even in August 2009 when parts of it broke off to join INA as the Tanzim al-Dakhil branch. For their part, truly independent candidates within the State of Law alliance will often be there as a result of personal ties to Maliki. Accordingly, while the following picture may be incomplete (and relies to a large extent on a general heading of candidates that are Daawa, Daawa (Tanzim al-Iraq), or independents without further specification being possible), it does seem to summarise the main zones of insecurity for Maliki as they relate to his own coalitions in the Iraqi provinces.


In recent days, there have been some rumours that Maliki had supposedly lost out to Badr, Fadila and Jaafari in the internal struggle over coalition seats resulting from the electorate’s use of the personal vote. There is zero empirical evidence to suggest that such a trend does indeed exist. Even if we allow for the possibility that a small number of Badr or Fadila winners may have been missed due to the methodological issues mentioned, the material above confirms the picture of the Daawa branches as the pre-eminent force within the State of Law coalition, probably representing more than half of the newly elected State of Law councilors. Following Maliki, Badr and Fadila are the most consistent vote getters, with some notable results for prominent candidates, and Fadila picking up no less than 4 seats in Dhi Qar, a traditional party bastion.

To the extent that internal problems in  circles close to Maliki come into play, it seems more relevant to focus on several political figures with some ties to Maliki and/or the Daawa movement who quite successfully ran independently in ways that could be seen as a challenge to the State of Law alliance. This includes Ali al-Dabbagh (508), Shirwan al-Waeli (516) and Muhammad al-Nasiri (404) which won seats in Dhi Qar and Muthanna. Unlike the situation with respect to the Sadrists – where the existence of 3 additional lists beyond the mainline Ahrar list was officially recognized – it is not known to have been a deliberate Maliki strategy to cultivate these lists as supplements to the State of Law alliance.

Even more important than the challengers to Maliki within State of Law are probably the Shiite lists that ran separately everywhere except in the Shiite-minority areas in northern Iraq – the Sadrists and ISCI. Since the Sadrists share seats with Maliki as part of lists 472 and 501, they have been added for purposes of comparison in the table above. With more than 50 seats in total, they form a substantial challenge to Maliki at the local level, as does the revitalized ISCI, which is still more of a coalition than the Sadrists, but which has almost 60 seats in the new councils.

The process of forming provincial councils is already well under way. In areas like Basra, it looks like the Sadrists and ISCI are toying with the idea of trying to challenge Maliki. And the loyalties of the candidates are truly in flux as well. In Basra there are reports of a defection from the Maliki bloc, whereas the winning Iraqiyya candidate thanked his voters by joining Maliki even before the results haad been formally announced.

Beyond party preferences, something in this material that anyone who cares for Iraqi democracy can be pleased about is the fact that the Iraqi electorate keeps using the personal vote option actively. Popular candidates continue to get promoted from places far down on the list, sometimes making the climb to the top from initial positions lower than 50. Party leaderships may experience this kind of voter behavior as an affront, but it is an aspect of the Iraqi political system that clearly brings greater dynamism and unpredictability to the contest, hopefully reminding Iraqi politicians that they cannot afford to ignore their voters as the next major electoral event – elections for the next parliament in 2014 – get closer.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Maliki Attempts Pre-Emptive Action Against Nujayfi

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 25 June 2012 12:31

Amid continued threats about a forthcoming questioning of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, allies of the Iraqi premier have embarked upon what seems to be a pre-emptive move: A formal request for a parliamentary debate on the performance of parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi, with a focus on alleged “constitutional infractions”.

To some extent, the Maliki-Nujayfi struggle has the characteristics of a tit for tat escalation between Maliki’s Shia Islamist State of Law bloc and Nujayfi’s secular and Sunni-backed Iraqiyya. True, this is not the first time there has been tension between the two. But it was mainly after the issue of a Maliki no confidence vote came on the agenda earlier this spring that the idea of sacking Nujayfi as parliament speaker became a prominent issue.

One aspect to keep in mind regarding a potential attempt to oust Nujayfi is that the modalities for getting rid of the parliament speaker are not covered in the Iraqi constitution. Instead, the process is governed by the law on the replacement of deputies. The relevant clause was adopted in a revision of that law in 2007 and the relevant paragraph says parliament can sack its speaker with an absolute majority based on a reasoned request from a third of its members.

In today’s Iraqi parliament, those numerical requirements translate into 163 MPs for sacking the speaker (same as for sacking the PM) and 109 for calling the vote. It is noteworthy that there is in some ways thus a stricter requirement for introducing a no confidence vote against the speaker than against the PM (the latter can be called by 65 members following questioning initiated by 25 MPs). It is noteworthy also that the request from State of Law that has been filed is not an outright call for a vote on his ouster. Rather they are talking about a debate “preparatory to his sacking”. No more than 25 signatures are required for this (61-7-b of the constitution).

Maliki allies say they will ask Nujayfi about his alleged interference in the Exxon Mobil issue in Nineveh as well as supposed “sectarian partition schemes” for Iraq. It may well be possible that State of Law can successfully call the vote for sacking Nujayfi by garnering the required 109 signatures for a vote. To succeed in reaching the 163 threshold for actually replacing him, however, they need a lot more votes than they currently have. In particular, many of those Iraqiyya deputies who supported Maliki on disputed territories may be reluctant to go as far as voting down their former ally Nujayfi. Indeed, the somewhat cumbersome approach of calling for a debate before a no confidence vote on the speaker (when no such preceding debate is legally speaking required before he can be sacked) seems to indicate that State of Law at present may be unable to even reach the 109 mark needed for a direct, straightforward vote on Nujayfi.

Perhaps the most important gain for Maliki in this relates to initiative. It is remarkable that despite all the talk about questioning Maliki, a formal request for doing so has yet to be filed. This in turn means that the issue of Nujayfi’s own status as parliament speaker is now higher up on the agenda and the parliament presidency will need to come up with reasons if they want to procrastinate the debate about Nujayfi.

Meanwhile, the most promising piece of news from the first session of parliament in the new parliamentary cycle that began on Saturday doubtless relates to numbers: No less than 248 out of 325 deputies showed up. This is actually very high for Iraq; hopefully it signifies a new trend. In today’s session parliament there are no major votes on the agenda but attendance figures are once more reported in the same high range around 250. If this trend stabilises, it could mean more in the long run than the continued war of words between Iraqiyya and State of Law.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 6 Comments »

Is Maliki About to Fall?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 31 May 2012 16:59

Two articles discuss the political showdown in Iraq as critics of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki claim they have the 163 votes needed to bring him down. One focuses on the question of Iran’s interest in Iraq and the possibility that Iran may have fabricated some aspects of the current political crisis to demonstrate its leverage in Iraq for world powers; another highlights the contrast between a government in Baghdad that for all practical purposes remain operative and the multiplication of gatherings of Maliki enemies in the autonomous region in Kurdistan, where many are more focused on the prospect of eventual Kurdish independence than the fate of the rest of Iraq.

Discussion section open as usual below.

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, UIA dynamics | 89 Comments »

After P5 Plus 1: Time to Move on with Iraqi Politics

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 25 May 2012 13:05

As expected, negotiations in Baghdad between Iran and the P5+1 (permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) on the Iranian nuclear file have ended without any major breakthrough.

For Iraq, this means the country can get back to its normal politics, perhaps without the added distractions that inevitably come with a major regional event involving Iran. There has been plenty of speculation as to the causes for the conspicuous synchronicity between the nuclear meeting and the apparent peak of the crisis of the current cabinet headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Has Iran somehow exploited the opportunity to send a not so gentle reminder to international players about its leverage  in Iraqi politics?

Whatever the external pressures, the Iran nuclear file has for now been consigned to Moscow as its next destination in the second half of June. Maliki no longer has any major external event that can remove attention from internal problems and threats about unseating him. And those threats are gaining momentum. On 28 April, an unprecedented gathering of leaders of the Kurds, the Sunni-secular Iraqiyya and the Shiite Islamist Sadrists issued a letter at Arbil calling for Maliki’s own Shiite alliance to make Maliki change his ways within 15 days or else take steps to withdraw confidence in him. The ultimatum wasn’t presented to the parliamentary head of the Shiite faction, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, until 3 May, meaning that it expired on 18 May. One day later,on 19 May, a second summit was held in Najaf. Barzani and Allawi did not elect to descend from their Arbilian heights but the political representation at the meeting was broadly identical to the 28 April summit. After that meeting another letter was sent to Jaafari. It contained a message to the Shia alliance that their previous (very jejune and non-committal) answer to the first ultimatum didn’t really address their concerns. Accordingly, the Arbil signatories now asked Jaafari to identify a new prime minister candidate. It is widely understood that another deadline of 1 week was imposed, although this is missing in the draft of the letter that has been published.

This takes us  on to Saturday 26 May as the new deadline for Maliki. Or, maybe we should say, “for the Arbil signatories”. Their bluff has already been called once and unless there is action this time (the second letter is more of an order than an ultimatum) doubts as to the parliamentary punch of their alliance will set in. Come Saturday and it will be crunch time. Already, there are rumours about a planned third summit of Maliki critics, this time in Mosul.

The problems are however about more than the sheer timing of the no confidence initiative. A second set of issues relates to the modalities for getting rid of Maliki envisaged in the proposal. In the leaked letter the Shia alliance is given the job of finding a suitable replacement, because “it is considered the framework for choosing the prime minister”. Not so fast, please! The constitutional problems here are perhaps best understood through a little bit of prospective history writing. If indeed the Shia alliance votes to change Maliki, it will likely break apart. Now, if all or nearly ally of Maliki’s alliance defects in solidarity with him, the rump National Alliance is no longer the biggest bloc in parliament, and hence has no right to appoint the next PM. Nor has Iraqiyya, which has already dwindled in size to 85 deputies with indications it would be further reduced to at least 75 if an attempt were made to force out Maliki. To avoid Maliki’s bloc getting hold of the nomination of the next PM, Iraqiyya would need to first form a bloc with the Kurds or the Shiite Islamists, agree on a bloc leader and so on. Incidentally, this would imply a negation of their own interpretation of article 76 of the Iraqi constitution on the prime ministerial nomination procedure (which Iraqiyya in 2010 saw as belonging to the biggest electoral list).

Also, there seems to be a prevailing theory that the current Shiite alliance can simply swap Maliki and someone more likable as premier with the rest of the cabinet remaining in place. Again, this is erroneous. Constitutionally, the whole cabinet is considered resigned if a vote of no confidence in the prime minister succeeds. Accordingly, every single member of the cabinet will have to leave their posts and it is for the Iraqi president to identify the next prime minister on the basis of the “biggest bloc”. This is what makes it so hard to understand another bargaining chip used by the opponents of Maliki these days – that of the possible resignation of the current president, Jalal Talabani of the Kurdish alliance. Such a scenario would leave the current deputy president that remains within Iraq, Khudayr al-Khuzaie, in charge for the next 30 days until parliament has elected a new president. Khuaie is a Maliki ally. Also, attention would inevitably be deflected from the prime ministerial question.

The most recent developments have seen Ahmed Chalabi assume a leading role among Shiite critics of Maliki, with frequent meetings of the original half of the Shia alliance known as the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) that was formed in August 2009 with Iranian backing. Some even consider Chalabi a forerunner for replacing Maliki! We should soon find out who they have in mind, because it will be very hard for the Maliki critics to backtrack for their latest string of ultimatums without stultifying themselves in a serious way.

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 84 Comments »

The Hashemi Trial Begins amid Signs the Iraqi Constitution Is Dying

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 15 May 2012 18:30

It was perhaps inevitable. An Iraqi politician would eventually declare the Interpol red flag notice for Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi “unconstitutional”.

There are many good reasons for being critical about the reasons that led to the original prosecution of Hashemi. In particular, the timing of the original Iraqi arrest warrant – just hours after the departure of the last US forces from Iraq in December 2011 – smacked of political opportunism. Subsequent allegations about mistreatment of the imprisoned guards of the Iraqi vice president have been met with unsatisfactory replies from the Iraqi judiciary that have prompted suspicion of  whitewash on more than one occasion.

However, the Interpol red flag notice is in itself not “unconstitutional”. Iraq is an Interpol member and the government has the option of turning to Interpol to request international assistance for bringing suspects to court. The built-in checks and balances in the system in this case have nothing to do with the Iraqi constitution as such but with the ability of other Interpol member countries – including Turkey, where Hashemi is currently staying – to ignore the warrant or deny extradition if they judge its basis to be unsound or the prospects of a fair trial unlikely. This is precisely what Turkey is doing.

Alas, as the trial of Hashemi finally went ahead in absentia in Baghdad today, the meaningless declaration of the Interpol red flag notice as  “unconstitutional” serves as a reminder about much deeper problems in the “new” Iraq. It doesn’t really matter who said it, Sunni, Shiite or Kurd: Today, the Iraqi constitution is merrily being violated by all sides. The term  “unconstitutional” (ghayr al-dusturi) has no real meaning anymore in Iraqi Arabic. It is simply shorthand for  “I wholeheartedly disagree with you (and, besides, I despise you)”.

There are of course numerous indications that the Iraqi judiciary is under severe political pressure from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Over the past year or so it has produced a string of quixotic rulings and constitutional interpretations that leave doubts about its impartiality. Perhaps most noteworthy are the ruling on the independent commissions from January 2011 and the recent ruling on the right of parliament to question ministers (which, symptomatically perhaps, has yet to receive the mainstream media scrutiny it so badly deserves). Maliki’s own refusal to deal in a legal fashion with the various request for federalism referendums over the past year or so is in itself a flagrant constitutional violation – as is his consistent failure to present senior security officials for parliamentary approval.

But the critics of Maliki are not an inch better in terms of adhering to supposed constitutional ideals. With a series of extra-constitutional inventions in the Arbil agreement of 2010 – the centrepiece of their current campaign to unseat Maliki – they, too, are showing scant respect for the Iraqi constitution. In fact, their frequent assertion that they demand adherence to the Arbil agreement and the Iraqi constitution is a contradiction in terms since so much of Arbil involves upsetting the basic balance of power outlined in the constitution and as such should require a popular referendum before being implemented.

It should be added that the international contribution to this anti-constitutional trend in Iraq is generally shameful. The frantic attempts by the United States to get a government seated in 2010 brought about the unhelpful marriage between Iraqiyya and the extra-constitutional strategic policy council scheme, a key ingredient of the Arbil agreement. Similarly, the United Nations agency in Iraq recently issued an unhelpful and naive message of optimism in Iraq, narrowly focusing on security indicators while conveniently brushing obvious political problems under the carpet. Of course, the leverage of both the US and the UN is declining in Iraq as regional players are strongarming their way to fill the vacuum, but the very least they should do after having played such a dominant role since 2003 is to try to emphasize constitutional consistency as a guiding principle for handling political conflict in the country.

Finally, with respect to the green light for the Hashemi trial to go ahead today (it will continue on 20 May), a few comments are in order. Hashemi lawyers had argued that article 93-6 of the constitution gives jurisdiction to the supreme court, rather than to the criminal court, in all cases involving the presidential deputies. On this isolated issue it is possible to agree with the prosecution since said article in fact only mentions the president of the republic (rais) rather than the presidency (riyasa). Another potentially mitigating factor is that Hashemi can appeal the case until it reaches the cassation court, which was recently appointed with at least some new members who were disliked by the Maliki bloc in parliament.

Perhaps the best thing Hashemi’s allies can do going forward is to make sure their own discourse is as loyal to the Iraqi constitution as possible. This, in turn, should make it easier to win international solidarity whenever constitutional infractions become part of the political struggle in Iraq.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 77 Comments »

The 9-Point Letter from Arbil

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 5 May 2012 23:11

Over the past week, much fanfare has attached to a 9-point ultimatum letter that was written by the Maliki critics convening in Arbil on 28 April (Kurdish president Masud Barzani, Ayad Allawi and Usama al-Nujayfi of Iraqiyya, Muqtada al-Sadr) and then sent to the bloc leader of the Shiite alliance, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. It has been clear for some time that the letter demanded Maliki’s adherence to the contents of the letter within 15 days or a move to sack him would be initiated in parliament. However, the 9 points themselves have not been published before they appeared in the hardcopy version of the Sabah newspaper this morning.

Unfortunately, the letter exudes the usual Iraqi grandiosity and abstraction that have also been the main weaknesses of previous “agreements”. The first two points include generalities like providing services to the Iraqi population, adherence to the constitution, striving for consensus and maintaining democracy! Which Iraqi wouldn’t subscribe to that in theory?

The third point is somewhat more specific, in that it calls for the adoption of the Arbil agreement, the 18 recent points of Muqtada al-Sadr (all of which are useless generalities except for a praiseworthy call for Iraqi support for the oppressed peoples of Bahrain and Syria alike), and, apparently added for good measure, the “memorandum of understanding which the Kurdistan Alliance presented and to which the chief of the government agreed”. The latter sounds perhaps like the Kurdish 19 points of autumn 2010 which were augmented to 25 points in bilateral dialogue with the Shiite alliance in late October that year? Maliki is supposed to have said yes to that and possibly signed as well, but this is difficult stuff that is even harder to implement than Arbil.

The fourth point of the leaked letter is a little bit more specific in that it addresses the problems of ministries governed by deputies and acting ministers. It also underlines the independent commissions and the importance of them staying independent. The electoral commission, in particular, is highlighted as an area of concern.

Alas, with the fifth point it is back to hopeless generalities. Revive the role of parliament. Yeah right. Bring it to life! Maybe that is not for the executive to take care of after all. Sixth point, unsurprisingly, bring an end to dictatorial tendencies in government, please. Seventh, avoid a politicized army and security forces.

The eighth point contains the ultimatum: Unless there is adherence (iltizam) to these principles the matter will be left in the hands of the Shia alliance to initiate a move to withdraw confidence in the government and form a new one – a “real partnership government”. Oh, and just one more: Ninth, the premiership will be limited to two terms to secure peaceful transfer of power and democracy and avoid dictatorship. Just an afterthought, apparently.

In a way, the hapless language of the letter rescues Maliki and the Arbil conventioneers alike. What is demanded, after all, is “adherence” not “implementation”. Probably the safest thing for Maliki is to make that declaration before 13 May. “I adhere”. He will probably add, as long as everything is within the constitution. Most of it isn’t, of course, and actually requires several years of special majority votes in parliament, popular referendums and possibly supreme court reviews. But that is a different story. It is one that was conveniently forgotten at Arbil in 2010 and it can be forgotten again.

Both sides will declare victory; Maliki will remain premier as long as the Sadrists don’t get even more exasperated than they already are. Perhaps the one remaining hope now relates to the electoral commission: Maliki is unhappy with the current one and needs a new one. That can only happen via a majority vote in parliament. Maybe that – more than letters from Arbil – can serve as an effective reminder that he also sometimes needs to broaden his alliance beyond its current state.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 8 Comments »

The Cassation Court Vote: A Rare Case of Iraqi Consensus?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 3 May 2012 19:18

At first there appeared to be some good news from the Iraqi parliament today. After several attempts and much discussion, altogether 23 judges for the Iraqi court of cassation received parliamentary approval.

The cassation court vote had previously exhibited the usual problems of Iraqi politics. Sadrists had complained that some of the candidates had Baathist pasts. Iraqiyya had called for individual votes, attacking Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for attempting to impose “political” candidates through his demand for a single vote on the whole batch of candidates. Shiite alliance members had attacked the Kurds for insisting on a Kurdish quota of judges.

So when news broke today that 23 judges had been approved, it seemed to represent a positive development. Reports that a 24th judge had not been approved would seem to suggest that Iraqiyya’s call for individual votes had been respected. Early reports said as “many” as 212 MPs had been present (out of 325 deputies altogether – this pathetic figure is unfortunately above average). If true, it would have meant cross-party support for one of the main pillars of the Iraqi judiciary.

But, alas, there are some problems in the official parliament report. Attendance figures here often differ from initial reports, and today’s number is given as no more than 165. Additionally, news report suggest that the votes on the judges often split along party lines, with some votes splitting the chamber almost in half. For example, one particularly disputed judge supported by Iraqiyya and opposed by Maliki first received 71 votes (less than a majority) but then there was a second vote due to alleged technical issues where he got 99 votes.

What these numbers show above all is the continued failure of Maliki critics to get close the magical 163 mark needed to unseat him. At the same time, of course, it shows Maliki himself is far away from reaching the “political majority” alternative his allies sometimes talk about.

Perhaps the first thing all sides should address is the scandalously high number of absent deputies. Simply filling up the parliament chamber could in itself have some valuable impact on this stalemated situation.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election | 9 Comments »

Parts of the Arbil Agreement Are Published: So What?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 30 April 2012 13:41

As if any reminders were needed, the leak of some outstanding issues related to the Arbil agreement over the weekend only served to underline the essentially utopian and completely unimplementable character of that whole concord. The published list is not an “agreement” at all; rather it is a schedule of legislative priorities that includes several items seen as particularly difficult, including the law on the supreme court which constitutionally requires a two-thirds majority. Also, it should of course be emphasized that the released points are not the full Arbil agreement, which also includes a more limited trilateral document which is the only thing signed by PM Maliki, Allawi of Iraqiyya and the KRG’s Barzani (and which among other things deals with the intention of establishing a strategic policy council).

Only emphasizing the amateurishness of the whole thing, some points released from the Arbil agreement amount to de facto rewriting the Iraqi constitution. This includes the ridiculous “consensus” file, which stipulates 100% consensus for certain “fateful” issues including constitutional reform. Never mind that constitutional procedures with lower thresholds are already in place. Another dubious item that comes to light is the concept of “constitutional balance” (tawazun dusturi) – code for ethno-sectarian quotas and supposedly to be implemented for such positions as deputy ministers, ambassadors and governmental commissions. In fact, the Iraqi constitution merely stipulates such quotas for the armed forces/security forces and the constitutional review committee. The only other constitutional balance requirement is in article 105 and relates to the formation of a committee that will make sure governorates and regions (not ethnicities) are given “fair” participation in government.  Again, this depends on future legislation and cannot be implemented by fiat of the political leaders. All in all, the Arbil agreement is simply too big and ambitious – a classic case of political bulimia and nothing more.

Thus, despite these supposedly fateful revelations, the only truly interesting question in Iraqi parliamentary politics these days remains whether the Sadrists are prepared to sack Maliki or not. Everything else – including lofty agreements to implement every iota of Arbil – will play into Maliki’s hands by letting him procrastinate the many proposed pieces of legislation ad infinitum. Meanwhile he will continue along the lines of his preferred strategy: Nominal power-sharing and de facto minority government, reflected in an accumulation of acting ministers lacking parliamentary approval. As long as his enemies appear unable to unite in sacking him, why would Maliki do anything else?

A word on the international approach to the ongoing Iraqi power struggle is also in order. Those who want to get rid of Maliki – especially in Iraqiyya but also in some American circles – tend to portray him as an Iranian stooge. They should keep in mind that it is Muqtada al-Sadr that commands the swing vote in this matter. Whatever Sadr decides is probably what Iran sees as being in its best interest. Consequently, if the Sadrists should after all line up with the others to vote out Maliki, this will probably reflect an Iranian desire to see him go, perhaps in order to have him replaced with a “weaker” Shiite premier. This is why it is so hard to understand those arguing for the sacking of Maliki from an anti-Iranian perspective.

As for the US, two contradictive tendencies are seemingly at work. Some months ago, the Obama administration was accused of promoting a “split Iraqiyya” policy aimed at deeper integration of some Iraqiyya ministers and other government officials while shutting out those parts of Iraqiyya that don’t cooperate with Maliki. The merits of those accusations are disputed. But in any case, it deserves mention that if there is in fact such a policy by Washington, it gets constantly contradicted by the US government’s own insistence on keeping the Arbil agreement as the key to better integration of the government. This is so because as long as Arbil remains on the agenda (instead of, for example, a more limited but implementable deal on security ministries), key “centrist” people in Iraqiyya like Usama al-Nujayfi – the parliament speaker – will continue to take the positions of Allawi and the Kurds and the wide gap to Maliki will remain, without any meaningful integration of secularists and Sunnis in the current government.

There are reports that Barzani, the KRG president, is travelling to the United Arab Emirates today for a high-level meeting, supposedly to heap even more pressure on Maliki. The truth is that Barzani can travel as much as he wants but it doesn’t matter much unless he makes Muqtada al-Sadr actually withdraw confidence in Maliki.

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 58 Comments »