Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for the ‘Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election’ Category

IHEC Gets Extended Tenure; Maliki Gets One More Problem

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 19 April 2012 18:46

Amid bombs and dust storms in Baghdad, the Iraqi parliament today exhibited some of the key features that help explain the political paralysis of the country.

On the one hand, there were signs that critics of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki are in the ascendancy within the assembly. It was ISCI, Iraqiyya and “some Kurds” who reportedly left the chamber in protest against a proposal to have a no-confidence vote on the Baghdad mayor (an ISCI member) by electronic voting (instead of a show of hands). That radical change of procedure had apparently been supported by the Sadrists and possibly by Maliki’s State of Law who had played a key role in the campaign against the mayor – the intention behind the “invisible vote” presumably to allow Shiite deputies to break sectarian unity to settle some internal differences. The vote was however postponed. Also, an important measure supported by Iraqiyya, ISCI and the Kurds was adopted: The tenure of the current board of the Iraqi electoral commission (IHEC) was extended with three months or until the formation of a new one, “whichever happens first”.

It is no big secret that Maliki has opposed the IHEC extension and is pressing for a new board to be confirmed by parliament before any new elections take place. IHEC is very much a relic from the period in Iraqi politics that antedated his own rise to real power – i.e. 2005–2007 when Shiite parties like SCIRI/ISCI, Fadila and the Sadrists dominated Iraqi politics along with the Kurds and the Sunni Islamist Iraqi Islamic Party. Those parties still remain influential in the current IHEC, and the recent allegations of politicized arrests of IHEC members are but the latest in a string of apparent attempts by Maliki to get rid of or undermine the credibility of the commission.

Last summer, Maliki even made an attempt at sacking IHEC via parliament, which failed. Back then, he managed only to obtain the support of a handful of deputies outside his own State of Law alliance. Today made for a similar situation, with the Kurds, Iraqiyya and ISCI prevailing.

Muqtada al-Sadr recently presented a rather fierce criticism of Maliki with respect to his alleged “dictatorial” handling of the IHEC member arrests. For his part, Iraqiyya leader Ayyad Allawi is continuing to push alternatives to Maliki – although most of them remain unconstitutional, including the idea that the Shiites can just agree on a replacement PM without sacking the entire cabinet.  But here is the perhaps most important snag: Whereas Kurds, Iraqiyya and ISCI are talking tough about unseating Maliki these days, it really doesn’t matter that much whether they win battles in an Iraqi parliament that is less than two-thirds full (as it was today with 197 deputies according to the official report). Withdrawing confidence in the prime minister requires an absolute majority of 163 deputies and the anti-Maliki forces have some considerable way to go before they reach that level.

Maliki is travelling to Iran to Sunday for consultations, ostensibly to do with Syria and “border issues”. He may be under pressure at home, but has just been handed yet another major event that will likely keep distracting his enemies: The meeting of the P5+1 with Iran in Baghdad now scheduled for 23 May.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election | 19 Comments »

The New Political Balance of the Iraqi Parliament

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 20 February 2012 12:42

There are numerous reasons to try to make an update on exactly how many deputies each of the main political blocs in the Iraqi parliament really controls. Subsequent to the resumption of meaningful parliamentary business in November 2010 – 8 months after the parliamentary elections in March that year – the Iraqi national assembly has seen a string of replacements of candidates for a variety of reasons, as well as cases of very public defections from some of the biggest entities in parliament. With a showdown about the annual budget right around the corner, it makes sense to take stock of the new political balance… Full story here.

Posted in Iraq parliament membership, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election | 7 Comments »

The Arbil Agreement and the Real World: Time for Some Cold Water

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 11 February 2012 19:45

Tomorrow, Sunday, Iraqi leaders will once more meet to make preparations for their next big get-together. When, or if, there is ever a national conference-style gathering in Iraq – possibly to downgrade expectations it is now officially just called a “national meeting” – it is unlikely to turn into the implementation of the far-fetched and shadowy Arbil agreement. At most, the meeting will end in renewed agreement in  principle to legislate non-implemented aspects of Arbil (strategic policy council, oil and gas law etc.) whereupon those pieces of draft legislation will come up against the usual stalemates when they actually reach the floor of the Iraqi parliament.

It could be argued that only two items in the Arbil agreement stand out as having some realistic chance for implementation: Cabinet bylaws and the distribution of the security ministries.

Maliki knows perfectly well that the inclusion of the cabinet bylaws as a separate item at Arbil was aimed at restraining himself as a potential strongman. However, unlike many of the other items in the Arbil agreement, on the bylaws one Maliki cannot easily hide behind the claim that the proposed mechanism is outside the constitution. In fact, the constitution specifically demands the adoption of bylaws for the cabinet (85), and not even a parliamentary decision is needed.

What Maliki can do, of course, is to rely on the proven ability of Iraqi politicians to quibble forever over even the most inconsequential details, making it a safe bet to assume that no early adoption of cabinet bylaws is terribly likely.

That aspect should be kept in mind also by those who want to use the upcoming meeting for the purpose of modifying what they see as highhandedness on the part of Maliki. Perhaps they may want to have a look at the second implementable item instead: The allocation of the security ministries.

For more than one year, the security ministries have been in the hands of acting ministers – Maliki himself for interior, with close allies at defence (Dulaymi) and national security (Fayyad). Two main attempts at having them filled through parliamentary procedure (March and May 2011) both failed. There is general agreement that the jobs should be filled by professionals nominated by the secular Iraqiyya (defence ministry) and the Shiite Islamist National Alliance (interior ministry) respectively, although attempts have been made to Maliki to define the defence ministry as reserved for a Sunni rather than an Iraqiyya candidate, which could enable him to impose a figurehead instead. Critics of Maliki claim the current acting (Sunni) defence minister is precisely such a figurehead.

The dynamics of the security ministries have changed somewhat over time. Initially there was considerable intra-Shiite conflict between Maliki’s State of Law and the other Shiite parties, and the Sadrists in particular, about who should become interior minister. The Sadrists at one point wanted Ahmed Chalabi for interior minister; Maliki favoured Shiite professionals who had worked for the old regime.

More recently, there has been renewed focus on the Shiite candidates for the interior ministry, with a more consistent chorus of voices suggesting Tawfiq al-Yasiri, who was once in the Iraqi army but fled after 1991, is now the consensus candidate of the Shiites and that he also enjoys some support from Iraqiyya and the Kurds. The problem now is apparently that Maliki has rejected a string of defence ministry candidates from Iraqiyya, citing de-Baathification in ways that look inconsistent with how he himself is in the habit of employing Shiites with a Baathist past. In fact, it seems Maliki is actually quite happy with Dulaymi as acting minister. It is not entirely unlikely that Maliki is using the candidacy of Yasiri mainly as a fig leaf and that he is actually also happy with his close ally Adnan al-Asadi continuing to exert de facto control at the interior ministry.

If that assumption is correct, probably the only way Iraqiyya can obtain support for one of their own candidates at defence is to think outside the box. What Iraqiyya could do in order to make Maliki change his mind is to remind him of the fact that the Sadrists are waiting in the wings with a claim for a deputy interior minister. If they want to reach out to Maliki, Iraqiyya could make sure to support an interior ministry candidate that the other Shiites detest. There is precedence for this: In the second half of April 2011, Maliki reportedly offered Iraqiyya to support their candidate for defence if they would give him the necessary support to get rid of Ahmed Chalabi as the interior ministry candidate of the Shiites. Maliki has similarly resisted other candidates for the interior ministry considered too close to the Sadrists such as Abd al-Karim al-Sudani. As recently as September 2011, Maliki was in trouble in Maysan when he imposed a police chief (Ali Ghazi al-Hashemi) with a military and Baathist background against the wishes of ISCI and the Sadrists.

Alas, Iraqiyya is apparently not thinking along those lines at all. In a sad repeat of their manoeuvres to obtain Shiite support for their Ayyad Allawi as premier candidate in summer 2010, Iraqiyya leaders have once more been courting ISCI and Sadrists in order to “challenge” Maliki. As has Turkey. As has the United States (minus the Sadrists). These players just don’t see that the “challenge” to Maliki will never tip the balance.

If Iraqiyya proceeds like this, one of the few likely results of the upcoming national meeting could be the appointment of a Sadrist deputy interior minister. How wonderful.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 23 Comments »

One Year On, Still No Iraqi Spring in Sight

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 7 February 2012 16:28

With the approaching one-year anniversary of the first tentative Arab Spring demonstrations around Iraq (25 February), Iraqi politicians appear unhurried and unworried.

Maybe lackadaisical is a better term? Iraqi leaders certainly seem to be “lacking in life, spirit or zest” these days. Yesterday saw yet another preparatory conference designed to reach agreement on the forthcoming and much anticipated “national conference” which will address problems inside the current cabinet that the cabinet members themselves cannot solve. It turned to be yet another pre-preparatory conference: Essentially nothing was agreed. To add insult to injury, the delegates nonetheless had the audacity to produce a “concluding statement” that reaffirmed opposition to terrorism, agreement on the constitution as the key to solve Iraq’s political problems, consensus that all components of Iraqi society need to be represented in the political process, and respect for the neutrality of the judiciary. Mashallah.

There was reportedly a fifth point, but early media reports failed to identify it. The bigger point is this: These are just generalities that every Iraqi politician will say s/he supports all the time. Upon closer inspection, the definition of terrorism, the interpretation of the constitution, the operalisation of inclusiveness in the political process and the meaning of a neutral judiciary are all disputed.

This is nothing new. The same problem pertains to the elusive Arbil agreement whose implementation is the supposed topic of the planned conference: If the agreement exists at all, it is extremely ambiguous and so dependent upon subsequent action by the Iraqi parliament, constitutional changes and approval of them in referendums that it means next to nothing. This is why the national conference, if it ever comes into existence, is likely to be a redo of the “strategic policy council” that occupied many highbrow commenters in 2010 – i.e. either it never happens, or, if it actually happens, it will have no power and real meaning.

The remarkable thing is the patience of the Iraqi electorate in the midst of this procrastination. On 25 February we will have the one-year anniversary for the limited Arab Spring tendencies that were seen in Iraq in 2011. It is plausible to attribute the shrinking of the oversized Iraqi cabinet in summer 2011 to heightened popular pressure, but other than that there was no revolutionary impact on Iraqi politics. The cabinet is still much too big and incoherent.

As for the ongoing quest for a national conference, there is everything to suggest that it will never become the  frank discussion of the Arbil agreement that some have been demanding. In particular, it has become clear that the document presented by the Shiite alliance to the leadership conference yesterday deliberately included a much broader scope of issues than that hoped for by Iraqiyya. Not least, there was specific emphasis on the relationship between Baghdad and Kurdistan, with the portfolios of oil and peshmerga financing highlighted. This seems like a clear strategy by Maliki for bringing an end to tendencies of rapprochement between dissatisfied Kurds and the secular Iraqiyya by inviting the Kurds to come over to his own side.

It is natural that the Iraqiyya leadership should be in for some criticism these days, since their 6-week boycott produced few results and mainly served to underline internal fault lines. The boycott ended today with the return of the Iraqiyya ministers to cabinet. Nonetheless, it should be stressed that Maliki has not done that much to exploit the situation either. Had he been truly versatile, he would have rushed to adopt defecting Iraqiyya members to his own bloc and made sure to get the budget passed in parliament with Iraqiyya on the sidelines. This didn’t happen, and Maliki still needs the budget to pass. Parliament has adjourned until 14 February.

Some commenters will probably say it is wonderful that Iraqi politicians are talking instead of killing: Half full not half empty. But with some of the world’s biggest oil resources, Iraqi citizens deserve better than this. Maybe over coming weeks, as the 25 February anniversary moves closer, there will be greater debate among Iraqis about the relative merits of passing the annual budget versus the multitude of other issues their politicians want to discuss at their great conference.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election | 36 Comments »

After a Futile and Counter-Productive Boycott, Iraqiyya Returns to Parliament

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 30 January 2012 12:54

The return by the secular Iraqiyya coalition to parliament, announced yesterday, seems like a logical albeit long overdue move.

In the first place, to boycott parliament was in itself a tactic that above all signalled isolation: Iraqiyya was unhappy with the general direction of Iraqi politics but was evidently unable to change the political game, whether through its representatives in parliament or through its participation in cabinet.

More recently, there has been evidence that Iraqiyya was also hurting itself through its actions. Since the start of the boycott, the frequency of defections from the coalition in both Sunni and Shiite areas has increased. Still, it is noteworthy that Wataniyyun, one of the recent breakaway groups who promised to never rejoin Iraqiyya, yesterday hailed the decision of the leadership to return to parliament.

The lingering question is whether Iraqiyya will withdraw its ministers permanently from cabinet. In that respect, there have been even clearer indications of a substantial renegade trend headed by Iraqiyya ministers wanting to keep their cabinet jobs despite having been ordered to boycott by their party leaders. In particular, the ministers who have continued to attend meetings despite the official boycott are from the Karbuli bloc of Iraqiyya called Al-Hall as well as a Turkmen minister for the provinces.

At the same time, there are signs that Maliki and State of Law also have shortcomings with respect to their ability to benefit from the situation. For example, their deputy Fuad al-Dawraki yesterday expressed satisfaction of the return of the Iraqiyya “since it represents a certain component” of the Iraqi people. That is not only tantamount to falsely claiming Iraqiyya is a Sunni party; it also indicates the limits to the prospect of the (mainly Shiite) State of Law successfully co-opting breakaway elements from Iraqiyya as much-needed additional parliamentary support.

What will probably define the struggle in the weeks to come is not the elusive national conference or any real attempt at implementing the Arbil agreement, but instead the fight for the annual budget – the only item parliament is constitutionally bound to deal with, and also the only item where Maliki truly needs the active support of parliament.  In recent sessions it seemed Maliki would have to navigate between Kurds seeking concessions for their emerging energy sector and Sadrists with populist demands about citizen petrodollars. With the return of Iraqiyya, there will be the third alternative of compensating Iraqiyya deputies in Sunni-majority areas with budgetary pork barrel.

A potentially cross-cutting and complicating issue in all of this is the continued struggle over the general amnesty law. On this issue, Sadrists and Iraqiyya see eye to eye in wanting a more liberal regime, whereas Maliki’s State of Law coalition is more restrictive towards wide-ranging amnesties. In the past, there have been attempts by politicians to bundle several bills with the budget in order to maximise their own leverage in negotiations, though not always successful – the law on electoral conduct proposed in December 2009 being a case in point. Chances are Maliki will press for a separate budget deal with whomever is prepared to negotiate with him on his terms.

Iraqiyya are trumpeting the initiatives from Sadrists and ISCI (as opposed to the stance of Maliki) as reasons for returning to parliament. If there is to be more than rhetoric to this, they will need to find agreement on issues (and agendas) when parliament reconvenes tomorrow, 31 January. The budget is now the number one item on the agenda.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election | 29 Comments »

After One Month of Boycotting: Iraqiyya at a Crossroads

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 18 January 2012 19:27

It is exactly one month since the secular, increasingly Sunni-backed Iraqiyya coalition began boycotting  the Iraqi parliament, followed by the withdrawal of its ministers from cabinet sessions. It has been a dramatic month full of heated verbal exchanges with political opponents; nonetheless it is high time that Iraqiyya stands back and reflects on what exactly it has achieved so far.

In terms of practical results, Iraqiyya’s actions have at least managed to put the subject of some kind of “national conference” on the agenda. Iraqiyya are hoping that such a conference will deal with the fulfilment of promises made by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki during the process of government formation in November–December 2010. But doubts remain about the exact agenda, location and date of the conference.

More fundamentally speaking, it is the unequivocally negative results of Iraqiyya’s boycott that stand out. The boycott has clearly accelerated a trend of defections from the Iraqiyya coalition by individual politicians and groups of politicians that are more interested in taking part within the system than in boycotting. Examples include prominent politicians from Babel and Nineveh – the latter showing that this is a phenomenon that includes Sunnis as well as Shiites from Iraqiyya. The defectors are not necessarily openly pro-Maliki, but they tend to agree with Maliki on some issues, including an aversion against the recent pro-federal trend among some Sunni politicians.

The net effect of all the defections from Iraqiyya since early 2011 may be a loss of around 5 deputies so far. That may not sound like a lot, but every single defection does bring Maliki closer to his dream of a so-called political majority government.

So what are Iraqiyya doing at this momentous juncture? Alas, very few new ideas were presented by coalition leader Ayyad Allawi during his speech today. In fact, all three alternative ways forward proposed by Allawi involve constitutional problems that have been debated before.

Firstly, the suggestion by Allawi to have new elections under an interim government is unconstitutional. This goes back to an idea which has consumed a ridiculous amount of energy both among Iraqiyya leaders and the Americans since 2009, to the effect that there could be some kind of neutral “caretaker” administration during the run-up to elections. Unless the prime minister resigns or is voted out of office, there is no such thing as a transitional caretaker government in the Iraqi constitution, period. The legal status of the government remains exactly the same until a new government is formed. Additionally, any call for early elections would of course reopen the stalemated debate about the composition of the Iraqi elections commission and the electoral law, probably ensuring that actual elections would not happen until 2013 at the earliest.

The second suggestion by Allawi to have the dominant partner in the government, the Shiite National Alliance, change its prime minister (i.e. sack Maliki) is also unconstitutional as long as he means changing the PM only. As per the constitution, once the PM is voted out of office, the cabinet as a whole is considered resigned and it is the job of the president to identify the biggest bloc in parliament and charge its PM candidate with forming a new government. Constitutionally speaking, then, there can be no smooth and easy transition from Maliki to whoever may be waiting in the wings – Allawi is probably thinking of Adel Abd al-Mahdi; Iran of Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Thirdly, the alternative of trying to enforce an implementation of the Arbil agreement itself would also be unconstitutional, as Maliki has rightly reminded us lately. Things like the national council for high policies, the idea of “balance” in the ministries of government, and the re-establishment of the presidency council are all unconstitutional. One of the few specific points of the obscure Arbil “agreement” that actually resonate with the constitution is the demand that bylaws for the cabinet be adopted. In the current political climate, early agreement on such a complex piece of legislation seems entirely unrealistic.

The real alternatives for Iraqiyya seem very few at this point in time. They may of course opt for the pro-federal course, as some have attempted, but this might also end up with a bloody nose as well. Examples of Sunni resistance towards federalism continue to manifest themselves, and might well surge considerably if an actual referendum were to be held.

A far more realistic course of action would be to forget about most of the acrobatics of the Arbil agreement and instead focus on something very basic: The security ministries that are still run by acting ministers not confirmed by parliament (the interior one being of course Maliki himself). Although the constitution does not expressly deal with the question of acting ministers, the idea of having ministers confirmed by the national assembly is so central to all variants of parliamentary democracy in the world that Maliki would be in for severe international criticism if he should opt to continue with acting ministers indefinitely.

What Iraqiyya could and should do is to make a deal with Maliki on the security ministries that appeals to his desire to be in a dominant position vis-à-vis competing Shiite Islamist factions. It is well known that the Sadrists, Fadila and ISCI are all critical of some of Maliki’s nominees for the interior ministry. What Iraqiyya should do is to give Maliki support for an interior minister that is unpopular with the other Shiite factions in exchange for a defence minister acceptable to Iraqiyya. That could, over time, bring about the rapprochement that the Arbil agreement will never be able to produce.

For Iraqiyya, the real alternative to rapprochement with Maliki is none of the three options discussed by Allawi today. Rather, it is an inevitable process of internal disintegration, eventually leading Maliki to establish a more narrow governing coalition that will likely exclude many Iraqiyya politicians entirely.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 30 Comments »

Kurds Challenge Maliki Ally in Parliament

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 3 January 2012 14:09

As Iraqi parliamentarians reconvened for their first session of 2012 today, the full spectrum of ongoing political crises were on display.

Symptomatically, the basic facts of who attended and who did not at times took precedence over the substantial content of the session. In the first place, the secular and increasingly Sunni-backed Iraqiyya party remained absent. A comfortable quorum was nonetheless reached with around 180 deputies present from the Shiite Islamists, the secular White Iraqiyya breakaway faction from Iraqiyya, and the Kurds.

That did not last long, however. Protesting against statements by Hussein al-Asadi, an ally of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the Kurds withdrew from the session, demanding an apology from Asadi. Asadi had accused the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, of illegally providing shelter for the newly indicted Tareq al-Hashemi, the Sunni vice-president, thereby supposedly violating the anti-terrorism law.  

Other members of the Shiite Islamist parties including Maliki’s own State of Law alliance intervened and provided assurances that Asadi would not attend parliament until he had recanted. The Kurds promptly returned to the session.

These developments show two things. Firstly, the Kurds remain committed to the parliamentary process despite the boycott by Iraqiyya. Symptomatically, they did not achieve an outright condemnation of Asadi, but rather a document containing several clauses that would address the matter through parliamentary procedure.

Secondly, there are forces in the Maliki alliance – such as Asadi – that still dream of dominating parliament through a wafer thin alliance with White Iraqiyya, ignoring the Kurds. This trend – which failed to prevail today – should not be underestimated. Already, lawyers in Shiite-majority governorates like Diwaniyya are threatening to sue Talabani for failing to surrender Hashemi.

In another sign of Maliki’s inability to proceed with a bolder course in parliament, no vote of no confidence in vice premier Salih al-Mutlak, also of the Iraqiyya party, was held. The true test, however, will come later in the month with an expected national conference to deal with the latest political unrest. It is noteworthy that Maliki has used the past few weeks to speak out vocally against several power-sharing clauses of the shadowy Arbil framework that led to the creation of his second government in December 2010. This continued a trend seen throughout 2011, when Maliki increasingly sought to evade any discussion of the exact contents of that agreement.

Whether the Kurds attending the national conference will be satisfied with a verbal fudge of the kind seen in the Talabani-Asadi altercation today remains to be seen.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election | 7 Comments »

The Arbil Agreement Versus Daawa Authoritarianism

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 28 December 2011 13:28

After the airport hold-ups, the arrest warrants and the bombs, the political turmoil in Iraq is now beginning to produce political statements focused on competing visions for the future of the country.

In an op-ed in The New York Times today, Iraqiyya leaders Ayyad Allawi, Usama al-Nujayfi and Rafi al-Eisawi bemoan increasingly authoritarian tendencies in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s second government. The accusations against Maliki include overreach with respect to his attempts to control the security ministries as well as manipulation of the Iraqi judiciary for political ends. The cure, as the Iraqiyya leaders see it, is implementation of the shadowy Arbil framework that prepared the ground for the formation of the second Maliki government in November 2010.

For his part, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has also used the opportunity to reiterate his own vision of Iraq. Basically, he is saying that the Arbil agreement contains many unconstitutional provisions regarding power-sharing and that the constitution must prevail. In more practical terms, he is saying that if ministers from Iraqiyya are unhappy with his current approach he is prepared to replace them by acting ministers without pausing for parliamentary approval.

Both Iraqiyya and Maliki have ended up with rather strained arguments. In their NYT op-ed, Allawi et al. say they represent a non-sectarian Iraq, and yet the Arbil agreement is in fact a very clear step towards greater formal sectarianism in Iraq, including calls for ethno-sectarian “balances” in the institutions of the state. Maliki is technically correct in deeming large parts of the agreement unconstitutional. On the whole, the Arbil agreement implied Iraqiyya moving extremely far in a pro-Kurdish, anti-centralist direction as soon as they realised that they themselves would not control the premiership.

But Maliki, too, is on thin ice with his revived “constitutionalism” argument. It is true that the constitution posits a prime minister that is relatively strong vis-à-vis his other colleagues in the executive, and more so after the veto powers of the transitional presidency council came to an end in late 2010. However, Maliki seems to forget that vertically speaking , the same constitution also delegates an incredible amount of power to both governorates and federal regions. It could well be argued that Maliki’s way of centralising power towards the governorates south of Kurdistan is as unconstitutional as the Arbil agreement.

Alas, Iraqiyya leaders are probably likely to go on insisting on the implementation of the Arbil agreement. (Not that it matters much anymore, but so will probably the United States.) This is likely to be a frustrated uphill struggle for several reasons. Many of the provisions of the agreement depend upon the passage of additional legislation in parliament, and some of this should arguably be approved in popular referendums since the provisions are unconstitutional in their present shape. Even if it were successful, the Arbil agreement would lead to a fragmented state with ever greater focus on ethno-sectarian identities, i.e. the opposite of what Iraqiyya traditionally stands for. There are signs that at times, even Iran sees this scenario as preferable to an overly dominant Maliki.

With respect to Maliki’s vision of a strongman ruler that speaks a nationalist language, it is pretty much a Shiite version of Saddam Hussein. This in itself may be more in tune with Iraqi tradition than Western observers are prepared to admit; however the question is whether Maliki will be able to implement it in practice. So far he has emulated Saddam strategies with respect to using tribal powers in areas dominated by the opposite sect (the Sunni-dominated Baath carefully built ties to the tribes in the Shiite south). To some extent, he can probably also depend on the fact that many Kurds and Shiites that are flirting with Iraqiyya these days will likely revert to bilateral dealmaking with him if matters should truly come to a head. 

More significantly, perhaps, at yesterday’s cabinet meeting, the presence of three ministers of Iraqiyya (which is supposedly boycotting these meetings) was celebrated by members of Maliki’s coalition. Those present were reportedly the electricity minister Abd al-Karim Aftan al-Jumayli, Izz al-Din al-Dawla and Abd al-Karim al-Samarraie. It is noteworthy that Dawla and Samarraie are from the Iraqiyya factions of Usama al-Nujayfi (Iraqiyyun) and Tareq al-Hashemi (Tajdid) respectively.

This may well represent Maliki’s game plan: To break Iraqiyya and co-opt a limited number of their ministers into a revamped cabinet. So far, his successes in this respect have been only modest: It is noteworthy that Allawi, Eisawi and Nujayfi collectively signed the NYT op-ed today despite persistent rumours about internal wrangling in Iraqiyya. Today, symbolically, while everyone agrees on the need for an urgent “national conference”, the Maliki camp wants it to go ahead in Baghdad, with others including Iraqiyya preferring Kurdistan as summit location.

If Maliki wants to build something sustainable, he will have to be honest with his own “constitutionalism” and admit that the constitution needs fixing if he wants a centralised form of government south of Kurdistan. Recent anti-federalism statements from Sunni politicians in Mosul suggest there is still a Sunni audience for this kind of message. Re-visiting these issues through the creation of a new constitutional review committee may have a more liberating effect on Iraqi politics than reverting to the stalemates associated with the Arbil framework.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 57 Comments »

Testing the Independence of the Iraqi Judiciary: The Batikh Case

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 26 December 2011 14:01

The attempt by the Iraqi judiciary to prosecute Vice President Tareq al­-Hashemi  (Iraqiyya) for alleged involvement in terrorist offences has reopened the contentious debate about the true independence and neutrality of Iraq’s judicial authorities.

So far, the actions and statements of the judiciary in the case of Hashemi do not inspire confidence. After initially issuing an arrest warrant for Hashemi, the judicial authorities subsequently seemed to renege somewhat by saying that the initial investigation had been done by a single judge and would be re-examined by a team of five judges. However, in a rather overt sign of interference with the judicial process, today there are reports that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is rushing to furnish the judiciary with additional evidence!

While the Hashemi case remains lingering, today the Iraqi supreme court has issued a final ruling on another case: The right of former minister of state Jamal al-Batikh of White Iraqiyya to revert to his parliamentary seat. Batikh was one among the several ministers who lost their jobs during the downsizing of the government last summer.

So far, the court has issued only a press release, not the ruling as such. The press release merely says the law on replacement of candidates was violated when Ammar al-Gharbawi of Iraqiyya was given the seat of Batikh in August 2011. However, this in itself is clarifying: Since Gharbawi like Batikh was from Wasit (he was the second candidate on the Iraqiyya list), the court has most likely decided that his affiliation to a different parliamentary bloc than Batikh must have constituted the transgression.

This was not a foregone conclusion because the law on the replacement of deputies features ambiguous language, mixing concepts such as parliamentary bloc (kutla) and electoral list (qa’ima). Also, voters voted for Batikh as a member of the Iraqiyya list (333) and nothing else. Batikh only broke away from Iraqiyya later on in the spring, when he became minister and played a role in forming White Iraqiyya.

Today, of course, White Iraqiyya is seen as pro-Maliki whereas the attempt to have Gharbawi installed as replacement for Batikh in August was seen as an anti-Maliki move by Usama al-Nujayfi, the parliamentary speaker of Iraqiyya. The case is also relevant for another pending conflict regarding the parliamentary seat of Ali al-Sajri – another former minister and Iraqiyya member who is now seen as pro-Maliki and anti-Nujayfi, not least through his anti-federalism statements with reference to autonomist tendencies in his home governorate of Salahaddin.

On the balance, the ruling must be described as pro-Maliki, if perhaps not the bluntest one of this kind that the court has issued during the past few years. Iraqi politicians who really want to test the judiciary should instead challenge the failure of the government to hold federal referendums in Diyala and Salahaddin: Here the legal framework is so crystal clear that any attempt by the judiciary to issue a pro-Maliki ruling would be outright scandalous.

Posted in Iraq parliament membership, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 20 Comments »

On His Uneasy One-Year Anniversary as Premier, Maliki Escalates Iraq’s Political Conflict

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 21 December 2011 13:23

Exactly one year ago, the second government of Nuri al-Maliki was approved by parliament in Baghdad. At the time, the event was celebrated by commentators in the international community as a sign of Iraq’s prospering democracy. The Obama administration was jubilant that a pluralistic form of democracy embracing all of Iraq’s ethno-sectarian groups had prevailed.

What was forgotten by commentators back then was that the formation of the government was only partial. A projected strategic policy council, intended to accommodate the leader of the secular Iraqiyya party which won the most votes in the March 2010 parliamentary elections, remained at the drawing board. No agreement was reached regarding key security ministries. The vice presidencies had yet to be officially appointed since there was no law determining the procedure of their appointment.

One year on, most of this work has yet to be accomplished. Even optimists realise the strategic policy council is not even close to being implemented. The security ministries remain in the hands of acting ministers that are close to Maliki but that have never received parliamentary approval. Three vice presidents were eventually appointed, but one has resigned and another is now being targeted by Maliki in a judicial process that so far smacks of political vendetta.

At a press conference today, Maliki himself seemed unworried about these shortcomings. Indeed, he appeared to be taunting his opponents, saying he expected to appoint acting ministers for Iraqiyya ministers that are boycotting the sessions of parliament, as well as installing a new vice premier and a new vice president to replace Salih al-Mutlak and Tareq al-Hashemi respectively (he is also seeking to extradite the latter from the Kurdistan government). Implausibly, he seems to indicate that he has the power to do these things without parliamentary consent, which is a clear violation of article 78 of the constitution (it requires at least a plurality vote in parliament before any minister can be dismissed by the premier).

Also today, Maliki reverted to his old threat of establishing a political-majority government without Iraqiyya. It seems unlikely that he will go as far as resigning, which would once more give the Kurdish president a kingmaker role. The Kurds are unhappy that their many demands for forming the second Maliki government have not been met, and in particular that the (rather unrealistic) aim of having an oil and gas law passed in 2011 remains unfulfilled. For their part, Iraqiyya are now calling openly for Maliki to be sacked.

A more likely scenario is a move towards a de facto majority government, with a marginalised parliament and ever more acting ministers that have yet to receive parliamentary approval. The Kurds may still be a potential partner, but if parliament remains half full, Maliki can also dominate it by pandering to fellow Shiite Sadrists instead of making compromises with other groups. The Sadrists were the ones who ultimately delivered the premiership to Maliki last year and will likely continue to receive his attention in times of trouble.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 52 Comments »