Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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The Iraqi Supreme Court Annuls Article 23 of the Provincial Elections Law Regarding Kirkuk

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 30 August 2013 11:19

Somewhat in the shadow of the recent decision by the Iraqi federal supreme court to strike down a law limiting the terms of the prime minister, another crucial decision has been taken by the court in relation to the disputed city of Kirkuk.

Technically speaking, this latest decision consists of a ruling that deems one article of the provincial elections law from 2008 unconstitutional. The article in question is number 23, which stipulated arrangements of quotas and power-sharing in the local government as well as a procedure whereby a parliamentary committee would arrive at special electoral arrangements for Kirkuk, which has not held local elections since January 2005. These stipulations have now been struck down, reportedly after a complaint from the Kurds filed only a month ago.

Since the court decision itself remains unpublished, exactly as in case of the ruling on the terms of the prime minister, we may only second guess the court’s rationale for acting the way it has. However, the most likely official reasoning for striking down the law could relate to the court’s past outspoken dislike of quota arrangements, which it considered before the great debate on the parliamentary elections law in 2009 when Kirkuk was also an issue. According to the court, the only quota arrangements that are sanctioned by the Iraqi constitution are for women as well as minorities – and crucially, the latter means minorities only when they are very small minorities that would risk no representation at all if quotas were abolished. There is of course a special irony if the argument against quotas is now being used in Kurdish favour in Kirkuk, since the Kurds have been the most consistent advocates of quotas in Iraqi politics since the 1990s. However, in Kirkuk it wanted to persevere with the same electoral arrangements as in every other governorate, thereby using its increasing demographic clout. The court’s latest decision will make it easier for the Kurds to have it their way.

There is an historical and symbolic dimension to the cancellation of article 23 that should not be lost upon us. That article, when it was passed in 2008, represented some sort of pinnacle to the Sunni-Shiite reconciliation in the name of Iraqi nationalism that eventually opened the space for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to temporarily achieve some distance from Iran. Article 23 was fought over for many months, mainly with opposition from the Kurds and ISCI. Now it is gone.

This is sufficiently dramatic that it is difficult to study the decision by the court away from Iraq’s and indeed the regions political complications as a result of the Syria crisis. Why is the pro-Maliki court suddenly issuing a ruling that is so clearly in the favour of the Kurds? In the past, the  supreme court has not been particularly supportive of the Kurds, and for example in October 2010 rejected the idea of linking the Iraqi census to article 140 regarding the final status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories.

Could it be that the pressures of the Syria conflict have made it more important for Maliki than before to have good relations with the Kurds? Could it be that Iran also favours an even stronger Shiite-Kurdish alliance in Iraqi politics? With the increasing targeting of Kurds by Al-Qaeda friendly elements in Syria, the maintenance of a Shiite-Kurdish alliance may perhaps seem more important and achievable to Maliki than before.

There are regional complexities to take into consideration as well: Kurdish-Sunni rapprochement in recent years has been associated with Turkey, Barzani of the KRG and  Nujayfi and Allawi of the Sunni-secular Iraqiyya . By way of contrast, Kurdish-Iranian rapprochement has been linked to President Talabani, Vice-President Khuzaie, PUK, PKK and Syrian Kurds generally. Barzani’s credibility as a Kurdish leader is increasingly under pressure from his alliance with Turkey which seems to do nothing to protect Syrian Kurds from atrocities by Al-Qaeda friendly elements.

Kurdish interests in post-2003 Iraq were first focused on grand settlements on Kirkuk and oil, and more recently on revising administrative boundaries. Maybe this recent change of status of Kirkuk elections arrangements through a court ruling represents a more mundane and achievable bargain with Maliki?

Posted in Kirkuk and Disputed Territories, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

The Iraqi Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Limiting Prime Minister Terms

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 13:41

The Iraqi federal supreme court has this week made a decision that renders invalid a law passed by the Iraqi parliament earlier this year that attempted to block a third term for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

First, two notes on the general debate about this latest decision are in order. Firstly, the supreme court has not “vetoed”  the law, or “rejected a draft” as AP put it. No one vetoes laws in Iraq after the transitional presidency council disappeared in 2010. The law was already published, and, theoretically, in force. In striking it down, the court deemed it unconstitutional after a specific challenge had been mounted against it by  supporters of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Second, it should be noticed that the Iraqi supreme court has become rather erratic in its official communications lately. In a trend that has afflicted several Iraqi government websites (including most recently that of the parliament), what was formerly a useful website has become the victim of a fancy upgrade that severely restricts its readability (and the access to past rulings). Accordingly, information about this latest ruling must at the current stage be glanced from secondary reports in the media.

The chief question regarding the court’s decision is what argument was used for striking the term-limit law down. Most reports cite an argument used by Maliki’s supporters that no such term limit exists in the constitution as far as the prime minister is concerned, whereas a specific limit occurs with respect to the presidency of the republic. Had the framers of the constitution wished for a limit, the argument goes, one would have been explicitly included.

The second argument that has been cited as a possible justification for the court in striking down the law, is the distinction the court has made in past between law “projects” (that have passed through the cabinet before being considered by parliament) and “proposals” (draft laws passed without any cabinet interference). The court has previously argued that the Iraqi constitution maintains a sharp distinction between these two, and that “proposals” need to be transformed into “projects” through cooperation with the cabinet before they can be considered a fully-fledged law, i.e. in practical terms severely limiting the right of the Iraqi parliament to act independently of the cabinet. Sadrist Bahaa al Aaraji, not always the most trustworthy of sources, claim this argument was reiterated by the court in its most recent ruling on the term-limit law. That would certainly be significant since there has been an increase of attempts by parliament to circumvent the cabinet through “law proposals” in recent years.

Whatever the exact wording, the ruling is clearly a pro-Maliki one, and thus confirms the continued influence of Maliki allies on the court including supreme court chief Midhat al-Mahmud (whom Maliki adversaries had earlier tried to get rid of). One of the next thorny issue for the court and Iraqi politicians to consider will likely be the elections law, where the pro-Maliki court in 2010 made a ruling that deemed unconstitutional the largest-remainder seat distribution mechanism that was in force in the last parliamentary elections. The law was changed to a more proportional formula, but after their relative decline in the local elections earlier this year, Maliki supporters have now found out they disagree with the supreme court on the issue!

The changes to the election law  could be an interesting quandary for the court and Maliki. In the past, court has shown a remarkable ability to contradict its own previous rulings. Maybe they actually don’t mind the latest changes to their website where the rulings of the past are becoming more and more difficult to retrieve.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, Uncategorized | 19 Comments »

Anbar and Nineveh Form New Provincial Governments

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 2 August 2013 8:26

Through last-minute maneuvering this week, both Anbar and Nineveh managed to get new provincial councils seated before the end-of-Ramadan holiday begins in Iraq. This means the process of forming local governments following the local elections earlier this year is complete across Iraq (with the exception of the KRG and Kirkuk where no elections were held).

The Mutahhidun bloc of the Nujayfi brothers (Parliament Speaker Usama and Governor of Nineveh Athil) expressed satisfaction with both these new local governments, reflecting the fact that they played a key role in forming them. That is something of a comeback for the Nujayfis, who had seen a substantial drop of votes on their home turf in Mosul in the elections themselves. Whereas it seems clear that much wheeling and dealing has been involved and Mutahhidun among other things were forced to cooperate with the Kurds in the Nineveh council (they had marginalized them in 2009), Mutahiddun now clearly does emerge as something of a leading party in the Sunni-majority parts of Iraq from Anbar via Nineveh to Diyala, and with some decent representation in the Baghdad council as well.

What happened politically is that the Nujayfis in both governorates managed to win people from the Karbuli and Mutlak factions over to their side in order to neutralize potentially hostile blocs.  This is a significant victory for the Nujayfis since these are precisely the factions of Iraqiyya that have been more disposed to cooperating with Maliki in the past. Other parties with a greater potential for working with Maliki than the Nujayfi camp – including the bloc of former Anbar governor Fahdawi and the list of the Yawer clan in Nineveh – in the end remained marginal and on the sidelines of these new local government formations. Maliki can now probably only count on Salahaddin among the Sunni-majority governorates for some potential support.

The council formations in Anbar thus cements the role of Nujayfi  as some kind of unifying figure in the Iraqi north-west, and to some extent compensates for lost prestige resulting from the marked decline in votes in Nineveh itself. Even though it is debatable whether the Nujayfis personally enjoy the same level of influence in Anbar and Diyala as in Nineveh, this turn of events does seem to signify the return to the agenda of some of the radical rhetoric that characterized protest movements in Anbar earlier in the year. With Nujayfi stronger, these parts of Iraq are inevitably drawn closer to Turkey, the Kurds and Sunni oppositionists in Syria than what might have happened with an Anbar governor closer to Maliki.

Still, these were local elections only. There has already been talk about the emergence of a potential alternative to Maliki in the shape of an inter-sectarian alliance between his opponents; yet back in 2009, many tentative alliances that were floated during local council formation never grew into anything enduring for the subsequent parliamentary elections. It is that crucial stage of national elections, scheduled for 2014, that will henceforth take centre stage in Iraqi politics.

Posted in Iraq local elections 2013, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Anti-Maliki Forces in the Iraqi Parliament Reach Another Milestone

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 26 July 2013 10:42

In many ways, the approval by the Iraqi parliament this week of a Sadrist nominee as head of the country’s de-Baathification board is significant also as an indicator of the shrinking parliamentary support base of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Ever since his accession to the Iraqi premiership in 2006, Maliki’s strength has been the ability to avoid outright showdowns with the Iraqi parliament despite persistent and growing frictions. In some cases, this has been done simply by letting parliament quarrel among themselves regarding key legislation whereas Maliki governs based on Baath-era laws: The oil and gas law is a case in point. In other cases of problematic legislation, Maliki has relied on the judiciary to strong-arm the national assembly into obedience. This approach proved itself successful in a number of cases – and perhaps most spectacularly so when the supreme court struck down early attempts to decentralize the provincial powers law in 2010, as well as in Maliki’s moves to attach the independent commissions administratively to the executive and to limit the right to question ministers. And again other potential conflicts have been defused in the last minute by the resuscitation of sectarian alliances, sometimes with reported Iranian support. First, there was of course the last-minute détente with the Sadrists that largely helped save Maliki’s premiership in early summer 2012 when things almost reached a critical level. As late as January this year, only months before the provincial elections, Shiite parties similarly sided with Maliki and failed to attend an emergency session of parliament intended as a show of support for growing political unrest in Iraq’s provinces. In sum, whereas Maliki is dreaming a lot about rather unrealistic visions of a “political majority” government, he has actually been quite successful in surviving with what is often not the “power-sharing” he posits as the lamentable reality, but rather a “political minority” government.

There have of course been exceptions, i.e. votes that were lost for Maliki or turned out in ways that were antithetical to his vision for Iraq. At the first such vote, the October 2006 law on the formation of federalism, one could argue that the Daawa had not consolidated its parliamentary base in any shape or form, and incongruously ended up supporting legislation which it would later bitterly oppose. Perhaps the most serious losses was the ascendancy of Ayyad al-Samaraie to the speakerhip in 2009, which was vigorously contested by Maliki but to no avail. More recently, Maliki twice tried to influence the formation of the Iraqi electoral commission – first by prematurely attempting to sack the incumbent one in July 2011, then by a failed attempt at inflating the number of commissioners in 2012. This was a harbinger of more serious things to come: Term limits on the premiership in January 2013, and provincial powers law revisions in June. There are reports Maliki allies are challenging some of these laws before the supreme court (and he may potentially have some success with the limitation of the premiership terms) but so far no clear decision has emerged.

Earlier this week, on 22 July, another such milestone for the critics of Maliki was reached. In a parliament session attended by no less than 243 deputies, a proposal to confirm the Sadrist Falah Hasan al-Shanshal as de-Baathification head was approved. Details on the vote are few, with some sources claiming “unanimity” and others suggesting some Maliki allies rejected it. Whatever the actual voting patterns, Maliki supporters have already indicated that they may once more complain to the federal supreme court.

The really important point though is that according to the accountability and justice law, the decision on the head of the de-Baathification committee must be made by an absolute majority, i.e. 163 out of the 325 parliament members. We must assume the decision was made in this way, and that an absolute-majority opposition to Maliki is beginning to consolidate in the Iraqi parliament. That is a threatening proposition even to a prime minister who has expertly sidelined the assembly in the past. Going forward to the parliamentary elections of 2014, he must especially be wary of the burgeoning coalition of Shiite Islamists (Sadrists and ISCI) and Sunnis/secularists (the Nujayfi bloc in particular) that reportedly pushed forward Shanshal’s approval.

Beyond the numbers, there is the strong symbolism of the personalities involved. Shanshal, of course, was sidelined by Maliki earlier this year after having attempted to remove Midhat Mahmud – the supreme court chief and a key Maliki ally in his efforts to keep the Iraqi parliament at an arm’s length. Now Shanshal is being reinstated, suggesting more criticism of Maliki’s regime of the deeper kind focusing on his relations with the judiciary could be coming up.

On a more humoristic note, the abnormally high attendance rates in the Iraqi parliament in July, in the middle of Ramadan, raise some questions about what is going on. Could it be related to superior provision of air condition at a time when most other Iraqis suffer in the 50 degrees Celsius heat? Surely, if the trend continues like this, the assembly might actually get things done, which would be a welcome change from the recent past in Iraqi politics.

Posted in De-Baathification, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

The Iraqi Factor in the Syrian Crisis: Catalyst or Inhibitor?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 19 July 2013 17:32

Iraqis who cast their votes in postponed local elections in Anbar and Nineveh on 20 June had a lot on their plates. Beyond issues relating to the provision of services locally, the last weeks before the elections saw massive protests against the central government in Baghdad. The many angry slogans on display included calls for greater autonomy for the Sunni-majority areas of Iraq as well as expressions of solidarity with the mainly Sunni Syrian opposition movement. Some commentators even suggested momentum was building toward an “unmaking of Sykes-Picot,” the World War One British-French agreement that significantly impacted the delineation of borders between the modern states of Iraq and Syria. 

The results of those elections in Anbar and Nineveh are now final, and they indicate that in the end, local concerns firmly trumped the more radical and regional agendas in the Iraqi northwest… [Full piece can be read at the Middle East Institute blog]

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Personal Vote Results from Provincial Elections in Anbar and Nineveh: The Decline of Nujayfi and the Fragmentation of the Political Landscape

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 5 July 2013 10:33

Following the announcement of the final results on 27 June, the Iraqi elections commission (IHEC) has now also released the personal vote results from Anbar and Nineveh for the postponed provincial elections that were held on 20 June. The results add some interesting information on political dynamics in the two north-western Iraqi provinces.

In terms of comparison with the rest of Iraq, it is clear that politicians in Anbar and Nineveh are struggling in terms of building relationships with their voters. Despite running in  the most populous governorate after Baghdad, politicians from Mosul and Anbar mostly fail to make it into the top 15 list of the best vote getters nationally. The five exceptions are Nineveh governor Athil al-Nujayfi of Mutahhidun (40,067 votes), the two top Kurdish politicians in Nineveh (14,218 and 13,672 votes respectively), ex Nineveh governor Ghanem al-Basso (12,716 votes), and Anbar governor Qasim al-Fahdawi (14,503 votes). Additionally, beyond national comparisons, it is clear that for some of these politicians, personal vote numbers that may come across as decent actually look worse when compared with results in the previous local elections of January 2009. This is above all the case with regard to Nineveh governor Nujayfi. Reflecting his party’s stunning loss of more than 300,000 voters since 2009, his own results declined from around 300,000 personal votes to only 40,000. And whereas it is clear that Mutahhidun has done a good job nationally in terms of transforming the original Hadba party in Nineveh of 2009 to  the dominant force within the Sunni and secular camp from Basra to Diyala, the reversal of its fortune in Mosul itself may suggest that Athil al-Nujayfi’s governorship of that area may have become something of a liability for his brother Usama’s national ambitions (or, alternatively, that the move towards rapprochement with the Kurds is hurting them more there).

It should be stressed that these negative results do not reflect disinterest in the personal vote option among electorates in Nineveh and Anbar. Unlike the results for the other governorates, IHEC has helpfully calculated total personal votes in these latest results. In Anbar there were 404,218 personal votes whereas the total of approved votes was 414,554, indicating a 98% use of the personal vote. Interestingly, in Nineveh there were 596,603 personal votes whereas the total of approved votes is given as somewhat less, 581,449! This could either indicate that the personal vote numbers fail to eliminate dismissed ballot papers (which would suggest the existence of some deeper problems in IHEC’s final ranking of the candidates) or that IHEC has miscalculated in this particular case. In any case, it seems clear that Anbar and Nineveh voters have used the personal vote amply; it is just that the local politicians are struggling to gain the attention of their electorates.

With the extreme fragmentation of the vote, it is not really worth commenting on the coalition forming process pending certification of the final results which is not yet complete (and before which no new local government can be elected). With the large size of these councils (30-40 seats), the absence of any blocs with more than around 25% of the seats and a plethora of small parties with 1-2 seats, predictive efforts will be mostly useless. For Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the decent result of Governor Fahdawi in Anbar may come across as good news, somewhat similar to what happened in Salahaddin (which voted in another governor who is on reasonably good terms with Maliki). For their part, the Nujayfi brothers will have to sort out the contradictions between their attempts to pose as Iraqi nationalists and their increasing closeness to KRG and Turkey in an attempt to stem Maliki’s growing power – a contradiction that will be highlighted by the fact that the Kurds are the biggest seat winners in Nineveh.

At the very least, one can hope that the necessities of building viable local coalitions for the new councils may play a role in preserving a reasonable political climate in Iraq’s northwest. After months of angry protests – some of it in solidarity with anti-Assad forces in Syria – it does seem that local, Iraqi concerns determined the choices of the electorate in the end, and that performance on such concerns will continue to determine the fortunes of the local politicians there in the future.

Posted in Iraq local elections 2013, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The Iraqi Prosecutor General Asks the Iraqi Parliament to Replace President Talabani

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 13 May 2013 16:03

Much more will likely be written about this in coming days and weeks, but it is already now worth taking note of a letter sent from the Iraqi prosecutor general to the presidency of the Iraqi parliament, asking them to replace Iraq’s current president Jalal Talabani due to his prolonged absence for health reasons.

The letter was first reported by media leaks, but it is now published on the website of the Iraqi judiciary, meaning it is definitely official and enjoys the support of the judiciary as an institution.


The question of when, during a period of prolonged absence, the Iraqi president needs to be replaced is not well defined by the Iraqi constitution. Nor is there bylaws for the presidency that govern this question. The major issue concerns interpretation of article 72, which says a new president must be elected if the incumbent president “vacates” his post for any reason.

The question then is, who should decide that the president’s absence is so prolonged that it satisfies the criteria for replacement as per article 72? The Iraqi judiciary today gives us the answer by referring to article 1 of the law of the state prosecution service, dating from the Baath era. That law, slightly amended in 2006,  gives the prosecution service the job of defending the order of the state, and it is presumably in such a capacity it now deems itself capable of intervening.

This latest step by the Iraqi judiciary raises the question of whether replacing Talabani may finally have received the support of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has seen Talabani as a friend among the Kurds, and whose own political ally  Khudayr al-Khuzaie has effectively controlled the presidency in the absence of Talabani and with the other vice-presidents either resigned (Abd al-Mahdi) or in exile (Hashemi).

Barham Saleh, also from Talabani’s PUK,  is reported as a possible replacement candidate. The Iraqi parliament will vote on a replacement; the aim is a two-thirds majority but if no one reaches that level, a simple-majority run-off vote will be held.

Posted in Iraqi constitutional issues, Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

Patterns of Electoral Behaviour in Iraq: The Use of the Personal Vote in the April 2013 Provincial Elections

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 9 May 2013 12:20

Whereas the IHEC press conference announcing the results of Iraq’s 20 April local elections was merely a readout of the names of the winning candidates and their political affiliations, a second batch of useful information, giving the numbers achieved by each candidate, has now been published. This material makes it possible to analyse how the Iraqi electorate uses the “personal vote” option, whereby voters alongside their vote for a particular political entity can indicate their candidate of choice on that slate. When the votes are counted, the pre-set ranking of the candidates done by the party leadership is ignored altogether, and only specific personal votes garnered in the election count as the ordering of candidates on a particular list is done all over again.

Before discussing patterns of electoral behavior, some basic information about how the ballots are cast in an Iraqi election can be useful.Technically speaking, Iraqi voters do not actually receive ballot papers that include the names of the candidates, only the entity names and numbers. Accordingly, in order to make use of the personal vote option, they need to know the number of their preferred candidate and then fill in that candidate’s number after they have checked the box for their party vote.  In theory this can happen in two ways: Either by knowing the candidate’s number beforehand (and remembering it at the voting booth), or by checking a register of all candidates available at the polling station. In practice, most personal votes are probably the result of beforehand knowledge. Electoral propaganda for individual candidates almost invariably includes the key two numbers that voters require, i.e. party list number and candidate number.


Typical Iraqi election poster showing political entity (419) and candidate number (2)

Then, to the actual use of the personal vote in the 20 April 2013 provincial elections. The first point that is worth making is that the personal vote option is indeed being used by the electorate – a lot. The following quick calculations are meant to provide a cross-section of contexts and electorates and show that across parties and governorates, from Iraqiyya to Shiite Islamists and from rural Maysan to the capital Baghdad, a large majority of Iraqi voters indicate their preferred candidate when they vote. Most of the examples indicate above 90% use of the candidate vote, and nowhere is the percentage less than 84%:

Hakim list Maliki list Nujayfi list Sadr list Iraqiyya
Basra 91.5%
Muthanna 98.2% 97.3%
Wasit 89.7% 93.6%
Baghdad 84.1% 84.3%
Salahaddin 97.6% 98.9%


As for the individual results, the following is a list of Iraq’s 15 most popular provincial politicians, indicating personal votes achieved, list and position on list:

1 Khalaf Abd al-Samad 130,862 Basra 419 1 (Basra governor)

2 Salah Salim Abd al-Razzaq 68,895 Baghdad 419 1 (Baghdad governor)

3 Umar Aziz Hussein Salman al-Humayri 52,219 Diyala 458 58  (Diyala governor)

4 Adnan Abad Khudayr 41,006 Najaf 441 1 (Najaf governor)

5 Ali Dayi Lazim 38,605 Maysan 473 1 (Maysan governor)

6 Riyad Nasir Abd al-Razzaq 21,446 Baghdad 444 1

7 Kamil Nasir Sadun al-Zaidi 18,870 Baghdad 419 2 (Baghdad council speaker)

8 Muin al-Kazimi 17,927 Baghdad 419 5 (leading Badr figure)

9 Adil al-Saadi 16,686 Baghdad 419 6 (top candidate Fadila)

10 Muthanna Ali Mahdi 14,225 Diyala 501 3 (Badr)

11 Majid Mahdi Abd al-Abbas 14,147 Basra 411 1

12 Ammar Yusuf Hamud 13,048 Salahaddin 444 1

13 Saad al-Mutallabi 12,604 Baghdad 419 10 (prominent State of Law politician)

14 Muhammad Mahdi al-Saadi 11,502 Diyala 501 1 (Fadila)

15 Ahmad Abd al-Jabbar 11,470 Salahaddin 475 2

Several points are worthy of note here. Firstly, many of these seat winners, especially those with the highest votes, are governors. Presumably, the number one candidates on the various lists have an advantage in terms of the ability of voters to remember who they want to vote for (note though that the Diyala governor humbly put himself at the bottom of his list, only to be promoted to the top with a safe margin by his grateful electorate). But a closer look at the new councils indicate that the personal vote has done more than just provide a bit of symbolic backing for top candidates whose seats were never under threat anyway. Crucially, a very large proportion of the new Iraqi provincial councilors have been promoted through the personal vote results, rising from positions on their party lists where they would not have received seats according to the preset formula decided by party leaderships.

The best measure for seeing the effect of the popular vote is to carefully study that second set of tables issued by IHEC, which ranks candidates strictly after their personal votes. Note how almost all the major lists have very high percentages of candidates that moved forward to high positions due to personal votes they accumulated, mostly with more than 50% of the candidates rising to the top of the lists of vote getters being promoted from positions further down on the list (the main exception being the Sadrist, with somewhat lower rates). This is not the whole story, though. Because of the women’s quota, the eventual seat winners are not strictly the candidates that won the most  votes. Given the requirement that every fourth seat goes to a woman – and that women with a few notable exceptions garnered relatively few personal votes – the women’s quota in Iraq effectively continues to serve as a check on the electorate’s will (and as such often tallies with the interests of party leaderships, the obvious advantages of having higher female representation notwithstanding). The following table shows the number of top-candidate councilors who remained in seat-winning positions also after the personal vote had been counted (first number); councilors that were promoted from non-winning positions due to the popular vote (second number); and finally women promoted through quota arrangements (third number). It should be added that there are probably no more than a couple of women in the second group of candidates that were promoted because they outnumbered other candidates (including men) in the personal vote, the best example probably being Aisha al-Masari of the Nujayfi list in Baghdad, who got 11,400 votes and thus almost made it to the national top 15.

Hakim  list Maliki list Sadr list
Basra 2-2-2 4-8-4 2-0-1
Maysan 1-3-2 2-4-2 3-3-3
Dhi Qar 1-4-2 3-4-3 2-3-0
Muthanna 2-4-1 3-3-2 2-0-1
Qadisiyya 2-2-1 2-4-2 2-1-1
Babel 1-4-2 3-3-2 2-1-1
Najaf 4-1-1 1-3-1 2-0-1
Karbala 2-0-1 3-2-2 3-0-1
Wasit 2-3-2 2-3-2 2-2-1
Baghdad 2-2-2 9-5-6 2-2-1


In sum, the personal vote option, favoured by the Shiite clergy when it was introduced in 2008, remains largely successful in shaking up Iraqi politics. To some extent, the  system was ridiculed when the Sadrists used it to the maximum in the parliamentary elections of 2010 by carefully orchestrating large number of personal votes for several Sadrists candidates who could then advance internally within the Iraqi National Alliance at the expense of other entities who saw their personal votes wasted on top candidates or not used at all. Nonetheless, these latest results show that the personal vote is here to stay in Iraq, and that elite politicians who choose to ignore it may be doing so at their own peril.

Posted in Iraq local elections 2013, Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

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.

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For the First Time, the Iraqi Parliament Publishes the Full List of Absent Deputies

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 29 March 2013 6:57

The presidency of the Iraqi parliament has taken the unprecedented step of publishing what it calls the full list of deputies who were absent from the last parliament meeting.

The move comes after a week of trouble with achieving quorum in the Iraqi national assembly. Previously, despite the fact that parliament is mostly only two-thirds full, only names of those who have formally applied for leave of absence have been published. This time, the presidency of the parliament has decided to extend the parliament term with one month in response to the quorum problems, and has vowed to continue to publish the names of the absent MPs on the parliament website.

It is interesting that the list specifically describes the absence of all the deputies of the Kurdish bloc and its allies – altogether 59 deputies, including 2 Chaldeans and 1 Shabak – as relating to a “political boycott”. For the remainder of absent deputies, there are ostensibly other reasons, although a glance at the statistics reveals some interesting tendencies. Starting with the Shiite alliance, out of its 28 absent deputies, no less than 10 are Sadrists, which could perhaps be seen as something of a political protest. But note that the State of Law bloc of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has also 10 deputies absent! Turning to Iraqiyya, again the Wifaq bloc of Ayyad Allawi stands out, accounting for 8 of the 23 absent MPs. But other blocs including more pro-Maliki ones are also absent, with for example 3 from the Mutlak bloc and 2 from the Karbuli bloc. Also noteworthy is the absence of 6 deputies from pro-Maliki Iraqiyya splinter groups like Free Iraqiyya (4), White (1) and Wataniyun (1).

In sum, this latest move seems like a much-needed escalation from the Iraqi parliament presidency against MPs whose general laziness tends to cut across party lines. Whereas some Maliki opponents may be absent in protest, pro-Maliki MPs are perhaps absent in sheer apathy over a parliament which often seems confined to irrelevance. Note also that the list – despite being the most comprehensive overview of absentees at an Iraqi parliamentary meeting published to date – does not count more than 116 deputies, less than the 163 needed to deny quorum. Are we supposed to believe that Ayyad Allawi, who is not mentioned in the list, actually attended?

While the publication of this list is a welcome and long overdue move by the Iraqi parliament presidency, it seems there is still much left to do before there is full transparency in the Iraqi parliamentary process.

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