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Towards a Theory of a Rule of Law Society

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 17 May 2015 13:07

After having suffered in silence for many years now, I wanted to write up some general and academic thoughts on the extrajudicial punishment operation that I have been exposed to since 2011.

In the most general terms possible, my diagnosis of so-called modern Western civilization following years of harassment is that we do not have a “rule of law society”. By this I mean two things. One, the rule of law is not guaranteed institutionally. Second, the rule of law is not enshrined in culture, to the point where culture could act as a counterforce in the event that institutions should fail. With these two combined shortcomings, Western ” democratic” credentials aside, there is very little in the way of checks and balances in place if and when a government elects to trespass on the fundamental principles of habeas corpus, equality before the law and the presumption of innocence.

Let me give an example. Let’s assume that the police in a given country – in my case Norwegian police – decides to pursue a strategy of extrajudicial punishment against an individual whom they may dislike for whatever reason. In a true rule of law society, citizens would promptly reject any kind of involvement in an extrajudicial operation, simply because such an operation constitutes the very antithesis to the rule of law. If a citizen in a rule of law society were asked by police to harass another citizen – however trivially it may seem, such as for example by driving with peculiar lights on their car, or making particular comments to the targeted individual – they would immediately refuse, and ideally warn the police officer in question that he or she will be reported to the relevant authority for investigating complaints against the police. They would reject any role for the police in morality questions that are not addressed by the laws in force, because morality is the domain of priests and philosophers and not for the police. They might ask the police questions. For example, “if what you are trying to do is legal, why can’t you write about it publicly and confess to it with your full name? Why does it have to be secret?”. Or, “how do you even know where this targeted individual is?” (The answer would be, ” illegal supervision”. ) Or, “How long has this been going on (four and a half years in my case) and, apart from underminig our democracy in the most serious way imaginable, what is this operation costing the taxpayer?” (millions of Norwegian kroner in my case). “Who are you protecting, and against what specific crime?” (Umm, casual street photography. But it IS illegal in Sudan!) And so on and so forth. In short, members of the public in a true rule of law society would immediately understand that a police officer engaged in extrajudicial punishment is perfectly comparable to priests energetically screaming “Satan” from their pulpits: Extrajudicial punishment is the deadliest sin in a rule of law society, because it undermines the rule of law and perverts the role of the police, throwing its unique legitimacy into disrepute. Citizens in a true rule of law society will understand these most holy and unalienable principles. If they don’t, then we are not in modern Western civilization anymore, but in North Korea.

Many terms can be used to describe members of the public that take part in such extrajudicial operations. Most obviously, in most democratic countries such participants will be criminals, since typical extrajudicial punishment operations of the police-stalking kind is illegal in any country that has passed laws against torture including psychological torture (for example Norway, the UK and New Zealand), or has adopted stalking laws (for example the Netherlands). Even in democratic countries without such specific legislation, the invasive surveillance upon which any police stalking operation rests will at the very least be illegal, and thus those who cooperate with the operation will ultimately be accomplices of a crime, one way or another. It is also reasonable to describe citizen participants in extrajudicial punishment operations as uneducated, since the basic principles of the rule of law and the total impermissibility of police acting in a punitive role is part and parcel of the most basic education curriculum in any democratic country, at least at secondary school. Still,, the most fitting and academically satisfactory term for citizen participants in extrajudicial punishment is “medieval”. These are individuals who still today accept what was accepted in the Dark Ages, when priests or police-like entities could rhapsodically administer justice with no or scant reference to courts of law and other basic judicial processes. The punishment that was meted out was frequently inhumane and degrading , and not at all aimed at societal reintegration. Public humiliation was a prime goal (public exposure in stocks being a case in point). Of course, with the radical developments that took place in Western justice following the French Revolution, all of these inhumane practices have in theory been abolished. But all those key developments in Western humanism over the last three centuries have been completely lost on people who still think the police has any right to judge or punish. Such people simply do not comprehend that only the courts are entitled to any decisive opinion about misgivings police may have about an individual, and that every second extrajudicial persecution goes on, the police only adds to its own catalogue of crimes. In my case, of course, in the laws and legal tradition of all Western democracies, to casually photograph random people on the street is not a crime, and to persecute someone for engaging in this kind of activity is a crime. Thus, the only aspect of my case that has any legal dimension to it is the Norwegian police’s own criminal steps against me. Even if I were Osama bin Laden and they succeeded in taking me out using those methods, they would be the ultimate losers because of the scale of the treason of democracy that results from the use of extrajudicial punishment. In short, only the worst enemies of democracy would engage in, or assist in, extrajudicial punishment.

In my experience, the most important player undermining rule of law societies and taking us back to a medieval state of minds are pseudo-intellectuals. No number of police can construct a police state on their own, and if participation in extrajudicial punishment were limited to the uneducated classes, real intellectuals would be able to act as a buffer capable of restoring the rule of law even in the case of institutional failure. Pseudo-intellectuals, however, will profess loyalty to the most noble democratic ideals when they lecture in auditoria or write their books, and then go on to collaborate in the most horrible police-state crimes when they encounter members of the police in a face to face situation and are asked to contribute to an extrajudicial punishment operation. Why so many educated people are able to live with such contradictions inside themselves is an open question. In my experience the preponderance of young families in extra-judicial punishment operations suggests that parenthood represents a particular challenge for intellectuals, perhaps reigniting more basic protective instincts that prompts them to unreservedly embrace anything the police might do on the presumption that it protects their children from something horrible, regardless of the severe transgressions of civil rights that are involved in such operations. Pseudo-intellectuals seem to have a particular problem with alternative sexualities, and will not tolerate any kink except general homosexuality, which has achieved status as the “accepted sexual otherness” among most pseudo-intellectuals. Pseudo-intellectuals react to kinkiness in a xenophobic way instead of insisting on the universality of human rights, including the rights of sexual minorities and micro-minorities (hence the often forgotten Q and the frequently ambivalent T in discussions of LGBTQ rights). Beyond their avid protection of sexual orthodoxies, another truly stupefying aspect of pseudo-intellectual behaviour is they don’t seem to realise the amount of secret supervision police likely carry out against them themselves in order to verify that they are indeed genuine pseudo-intellectuals suitable for participation in illegal extrajudicial punishment, and would not dream of doing the right thing and go straight to a judge or independent police monitoring body to complain about the illegalities of the police! In sum, extrajudicial punishment constitutes a rejection of Western modernity and liberalism, and Western intellectuals who play any part in it are a rejection of themselves.

In the absence of rule of law societies, police state tendencies can thrive. In my experience with the Norwegian police, an apt parallel for those police units that engage in extrajudicial punishment operations is the Islamic State terror organization (Daesh). Organized crime units in countries like Norway and the IS organization are so similar in their principles – if not their precise modalities – that terms like “Daesh within” are highly appropriate. Exactly like in the case of IS, Norwegian police, officials working for organized crime units have in my case declared themselves judges in an ad hoc fashion without having the slightest formal credentials to justify their lawless behaviour. Like IS, they do not care what the law or the court say; rather they make up their own rules and implement them as judges, jury and executioner in a single institution. In my case, the persecution of a member of an identifiable sexual minority by Norwegian police is comparable to the persecution of gays in areas of IS control, with targeting simply because of sexuality and sexual orientation rather than a specific crime.

Of course there are differences of modality between IS and Norwegian police. IS extrajudicial punishment tends to end brutally and fast, with literal decapitations frequently the outcome. But individuals can also be destroyed more slowly, as in my case with an operation lasting for four and a half years, involving expulsion from my home in Oslo, removing me from my job at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, and finally openly interfering with my attempts to find new gainful employment. And when the destruction of an individual is the same underlying motive, consider also some of the stunning structural parallels. Take the widespread employment of children in punishment operations, the strictures on unusual sexual practices, and the medieval ethos of public exposure of vaguely defined evil-doers. All of this echoes common extrajudicial or quasi-judicial proceedings in areas under IS control. The organized character of the attack and the targeting of identifiable members of a minority group and the deprivation of one or more of their fundamental human rights clearly satisfy the definition of a crime against humanity as it is described in all relevant legal texts and conventions.
In short, when sexual intolerance in the general population gets married to state-sponsored extrajudicial punishment it becomes very difficult to describe the structural differences between our own societies and that of Caliph al-Baghdadi. The irony of my case is that one of key strategists in in the organized crime unit of Oslo me that targeted me was eventually jailed and is still under investigation for very serious crimes of corruption and drug dealing in Norway, yet his juniors continue to carry out other aspects of his “untraditional” repertoire against my photography abroad, with the full support of the Norwegian government. This officer was eventually himself targeted not for his role in developing extrajudicial punishment methods, but for suspected involvement in common drug crime. Such crime may still represent a red line for police units in desperate need of sacrificial lambs to cover up their own widespread human rights abuses.

In this way, my case speaks volume about the medieval and premodern character of our supposed modern society and the fictional nature of modern liberalism. How can this terrible situation and the acute threat to our democracies and Western way of life be best rectified? The degree to which extrajudicial methods have become widespread differ from country to country. In places like Norway and New Zealand, these practices are concentrated in so-called organized crime units that can be targeted for prosecution and replaced by new forces. In the case of Norway, though, it will be imperative to restructure the entire judiciary, which in comparative perspective is currently dominated by the police to an unusual extent, probably acting as a permissive factor conducive to the widespread use of extrajudicial punishment. In others countries, like the Netherlands, the problems seem more widespread and more comprehensive reform of the entire police is needed, perhaps in the direction of demilitarization and building a new cadre of public safety assistants.

What must be clear is that in a rule of law society there simply is not much space for what police like to euphemistically describe as “disruption methods”. Once such methods get individualized and targeted, they will almost automatically violate the presumptions of innocence, habeas corpus and the ban on extrajudicial punishment, three of the most fundamental principles on which our democracies rest. Individualised disruption methods are the lobotomy of policing – popular and widespread but deeply wrong and completely unacceptable from a democratic point of view. Practitioners of such methods must be approached in the same way that practitioners of lobotomy were approached in psychiatry and police must get back to its primary role as an instrument of transportation between society and the courts, which are the only place where justice is legitimately served. Whenever police strays from that basic role as a transportation agency between society and the courts – and in practice usurps the role of the latter – democracy is under threat. It is to that basic role the police must return in order to continue to serve as a vital foundation of our liberal democracies.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Haydar al-Abbadi Is the New Iraq PM Candidate

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 11 August 2014 13:48

Today, what remains of the pan-Shiite National Alliance formally presented Haydar al-Abbadi of the Daawa party as their PM candidate. Abbadi will be charged by President Fuad Masum to replace the current PM, Nuri al-Maliki.

The political realities behind this move can be summarized as follows. For some weeks, pressure has been building inside Maliki’s State of Law coalition to have him changed. Finally today, factions led by Haydar al-Abbadi of the Daawa and Hussein al-Shahristani, the current deputy PM, broke with Maliki to nominate Abbadi for PM. Early reports suggests 38 Daawa MPs and 12 members of the Shahristani bloc abandoned Maliki, leaving him with the backing of only around 45 members of the original 95-member State of Law bloc. It is worth noting that the traditionally pro-Iranian Badr organization has not been enumerated among the 128 or so supporters of Abbadi.

Constitutionally and legally, today’s developments also clear the air. Until yesterday, Maliki could plausibly plead the case that the president should have charged him with forming the government before the official deadline expired. However, today’s action by the Shiite alliance showed that Maliki’s claim to represent the largest bloc no longer has any basis, because State of Law has disintegrated. The focus on the first session of parliament in the ruling of the federal supreme court from 2010 has now been superseded by events, and in any case was not based on the Iraqi constitution itself. It only reflected the opinion of the court. Accordingly, Maliki’s promise to bring the case before the Iraqi federal supreme court will be of academic interest only. Any attempt by him to challenge the nomination through other means than the court will be profoundly anti-democratic.

Haydar al-Abbadi is a former finance minister who is well liked by groups outside the Daawa and State of Law, who elected him as deputy speaker for the new parliament earlier. He will now have 30 days to present his cabinet for approval by the Iraqi parliament with an absolute majority.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Uncategorized | 23 Comments »

Iraq Elects Fuad Masum as New President

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 24 July 2014 18:07

There was both irony and symbolism in the air as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Iraq today. In his address upon arriving, Ki-moon highlighted the importance of the Iraqi parliament adhering to constitutional timelines for forming the new government. For its part, apparently unaware about the visit, the Iraqi parliament was already in session. In order to accommodate Ki-moon, it had to postpone its planned vote on a new president by more than an hour.

Once the voting got underway, things went rather faster than expected. Parliament speaker Salim al-Jibburi announced that a committee had considered more than 100 candidates and made some disqualifications based on formal criteria such as age, education and de-Baathification status. He then proceeded to call a vote on several dozen candidates.

There is a case to be made that the way the election was carried out was illegal. This is so because the law on presidency candidates distinctly stipulates that rejected candidates, of which there were several, have a 3-day right of appeal to the federal supreme court. This was not honoured. Sadly, during the procedural discussion prior to the vote, Iraqi MPs wasted their time on political arguments instead of these important legal questions. As for the speaker himself, maybe it was too much to expect that he should take any interest in putting the law above the interests of big political parties since he himself acquired his seat in the previous parliament in an illegal fashion in 2010? And given that Jibburi is a darling of the US embassy, it would perhaps be too much to expect them or the UN to care about these little details of legality.

What happened instead was that a first vote was held in which the candidate of the unified Kurdish blocs received 175 votes – convincing and indicative of the broad political consensus that was also achieved when the new parliament speaker was elected, but of short of the 218 absolute-majority required for the president in the first vote. The second best vote-getter was Hanan al-Fatlawi of the bloc of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who had launched her candidacy “in a personal capacity”. She got 37 votes, whereas several other candidates got a handful of votes each (no verified statistics are available since the Iraq parliament website remains offline).

Following rather unseemly interventions by Shiite alliance figures Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Baha al-Aaraji, Fatlawi was intimidated into withdrawing her candidacy. The third best vote-getter, Faiq al-Sheikh Ali also withdrew, leaving it to the judge Hussein al-Musawi, who also challenged Talabani in 2010, to stand against Masum in the largely ceremonial second vote (since he was absent from parliament, he was unable to withdraw). Of course, the optics of all of this represented a miserable rupture with positive tendencies in the direction of more mature, non-sectarian politics seen in the run-up to the presidential vote. There was something distinctively impotent over the way presidential candidates gave inspired speeches defending their choice to stand as candidates in a protest against the ethno-sectarian spoils system, only to withdraw and leave the field open to the candidate largely decided by one of the Kurdish parties (PUK) in its closed meetings.

Iraq is now actually ahead of the constitutional timeline for forming its next government. But the potentially most problematic task remains: Agreeing on a prime minister. The president has got 14 days to nominate the PM candidate of the largest bloc in parliament, and exactly like in 2010 there are questions about the identity of that bloc and its candidate. In general, much of what has been said publicly about this matter has been futile. The opinion of the new parliament speaker has been quoted, as has the federal supreme court – with claims and counterclaims about its position. The truth is, it is for the new president to identify the largest bloc and ask its PM candidate to form the next government. Whereas the pan-Shiite alliance has declared itself the largest bloc repeatedly, there is a case to be made that as long as it does not have an agreed PM candidate it doesn’t exist in a way that is interesting to the Iraqi government formation and that the State of Law bloc of PM Maliki – whose candidate  is Maliki – is the biggest bloc. It is being reported that Masum will meet soon with the Shiite alliance to clarify these things. Unless a PM candidate emerges, Maliki could legitimately complain to the federal supreme court that Masum is wasting his time with a non-existent political alliance.

One additional interesting aspect of today’s sessions: Iraqi MPs apparently forgot about ueseless vice-presidential positions altogether! Hopeully the PM question will now remain their preoccupation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Iraq Elects Fuad Masum as New President

For the First Time in Iraq, a Large Field of Presidential Candidates

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 22 July 2014 18:29

Following positive developments in the Iraqi parliament and the election of a speaker before agreement was reached on other leadership positions, it is more difficult to evaluate the posturing for the next constitutional step: The election of the largely ceremonial office of president of the Iraqi republic.

For starters, one very key source has been missing for days: The Iraqi parliament website is offline, apparently due to a site subscriber or maintenance issue, or potentially to do with a hacker attack. This prevents insights into the details of the ongoing process of nominations to the presidential post. According to the law on candidacies for the Iraqi presidency, candidates are to submit their credentials within 3 days of the election of the speaker, whereupon the speaker has got 3 days to vet them for formal criteria (age, education, de-Baathification status etc.) before a 3-day appeals window for any candidate excluded during the initial part of the process.

With reports about a large field of candidates, it is very hard to see how due process can be adhered to if an attempt to elect the president will go ahead on Wednesday, as press reports suggest. The legal adviser of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Tareq Harb, has suggested that adherence to the timelines of proper vetting and appeal possibilities would take us to August before the president could be voted on. By way of contrast, though, at a presser today, the new parliament speaker, Salim al-Jibburi, nonetheless seemed to indicate that a vote would go ahead, which seems legally problematic.

Beyond the legal aspects, there are potential procedural and practical problems relating to the election of the next president following the explosion of the number of candidates this year. In 2006, Jalal Talabani was the only candidate. In 2010 he was challenged by a judge who presented himself as candidate in protest against the ethno-sectarian spoils system. This year, more than 100 candidates have reportedly registered. As a minimum, a vote on the president should feature a brief presentation of each candidate, meaning the presentation of candidates alone could go on for many, many hours. And we have not even talked about vice presidents yet.

Of course, in general terms, the multiplication of presidential candidates seems to be a good thing for Iraq’s democracy. There has been a stark contrast between the official discourse of  a contest that is open to all (with potential contestants ranging from those who protest the ethno-sectarian spoils system to those who think the presidency should go to particular ethnicities), and what many believed was the real decision-making process: A debate about which member of the Kurdish PUK party should have the job, maybe with the president of the Kurdish region as supreme arbiter.  Eventually, though, even the PUK came up with more than one candidate as both Fuad Masum and Barham Salih registered for potential election.

In general the greater openness seems to have a liberating effect on Iraqi politics – if only Iraqi politicians can manage to find a way of getting the formalities right for the much larger field of presidential candidates than usual.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The New Iraqi Parliament Opens

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 1 July 2014 20:39

So the new Iraqi parliament met today after having promised Iraqi voters, the Shiite religious authorities, and the international community that they would do so.

Unsurprisingly, they did little else than meet. Following the inaugural formalities, Mahdi al-Hafez, the “speaker of age”(the oldest MP who chairs the first session), introduced the only point of substance on the agenda: The election of a parliament speaker and his two deputies. At that point, a Kurdish MP found the time had come to complain about the refusal of Baghdad to  compromise on the KRG share of the budget. This rather blunt violation of the official agenda prompted heckling and even blunter derogatory verbal counter attacks. Speaker Hafez, who represents the small and secular Iraqi coalition with both Sunni and Shiite members, proposed a half-hour break to calm tensions and explore the opportunities for electing a speaker.

When the session resumed, many of the 255 deputies that had  been present at the outset failed to show up. It was suggested that there was no longer a quorum (165 MPs); indeed some reports suggested the number of deputies present had fallen as low as 70-100. What apparently had happened was that Kurds and Sunni Arabs deliberately boycotted – the Kurds probably to some extent offended by the verbal altercation about its attempt to put budget issues on the agenda, but also with suggestions that both protested what they saw as a failure by the Shia alliance to come up with a replacement candidate for Nuri al-Maliki as premier. What was clear, at any rate, was that there was no speaker candidate.  Accordingly, there wasn’t much to do except agree the next session, and it fell to the mainly Shiite Islamist MPs that remained in the session to work this out together with Hafez, the temporary speaker. To Hafez’s credit, he did not go along with suggestions by Ibrahim al-Jaafari that this could wait until after Ramadan. Instead, another meeting next Tuesday, 8 July, was fixed.

A couple of comments on the constitutional and legal aspects of this. Firstly, there has been much talk about the ability of the Iraqi supreme court to speed up the government formation process, based on its intervention back in 2010. Sadly, though, the ability of the court to do much in practice is probably limited. In 2010, its ruling against parliament was focused on its open-ended and everlasting (jalsa maftuha) session. Iraqi politicians have found an easy solution to this by simply ending today’s session without results and then calling a new one. The truth is, the supreme court cannot force Iraqi parliamentarians to remain within the parliament building until they find a solution, papal conclave-style. What actually happened in 2010 was not that the court suddenly became extremely powerful, but that its ruling coincided with the first real signs of progress on the political front after the Sadrists agreed to a second Maliki term.

Second, it should be stressed that constitutionally speaking, the only thing the Iraqi parliament needs to agree on at its first meeting is the speaker. The practice of agreeing on all three top positions – i.e. speaker, president and premier – is not rooted in the constitution. Rather, it is a tradition that has come into use on two previous occasions in 2010 and 2006. Sunnis and Kurds who are using this precedent to force the Shiite alliance to come up with a replacement of Maliki should be aware of this aspect, since for the first time the Shiites in the new parliament hold the numbers (170 plus) to proceed with elections of a speaker to suit their own interests even if the main Sunni and Kurdish parties continue to boycott. (It should be noted, though, that the debate about quorum or no quorum is immaterial to the speakership vote, which explicitly demands an absolute majority to be valid in any case per the Iraqi constitution.)

This point is also important because there seems to be a gross disconnect between the actual Iraqi political process and the media description of it. Consider, once more,  the move to squeeze out Maliki, which is seen as a foregone conclusion in all Western and most Arab media. Compare it with the composition of the last key Shia alliance meeting on the subject on Monday, where those present consisted of 6 potential Maliki loyalists (Maliki himself plus Khudayr al-Khuzaie, Hadi al-Ameri, Hashem al-Hashemi, Faleh al-Fayyad and Ibrahim al-Jaafari) whereas only 2 (Ammar al-Hakim and Karar al-Khafaji) are known to be wholeheartedly against a third term. With a situation like that, a more realistic interpretation is that the tug-of-war inside the Shiite alliance may take rather longer than some on the outside seem ready to admit.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, UIA dynamics, Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

Maliki Responds to the ISIS Attack on Mosul

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 13 June 2014 19:55

My piece for Foreign Affairs on Maliki’s response to the ISIS offensive in northern Iraq, with some comments about how it relates to the enduring tension between sectarianism and Iraqi nationalism in Maliki’s political thought:

Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments »

Maliki’s Kurdish Dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

The Iraq Elections Result: Maliki’s Complicated Win

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

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

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


*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 »