A Healthy Revulsion Against Presidential Inflation

The following article was published on Wednesday by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford and currently based at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Finally, there are at least some limited signs that also Iraqi parliamentary deputies are reacting against the attempt to solve problems between politicians by making the government ever bigger, at the expense of the Iraqi citizens: Today, a proposal from President Jalal Tabalani to expand the number of vice-presidential deputies from three to four was rejected by a big majority in parliament; some say by as many as 80 percent of the deputies present.

Not all of the opposition to the proposal is equally interesting from the point of view of Iraq’s uneasy journey from an identity-oriented form of politics towards a more issues-based one. Indeed, some of the opponents are simply personal opponents of the all-Shiite National Alliance nominee to one of the vice-presidencies, Khudayr al-Khuzai. Similarly, some Iraqiyya deputies indicate they intend to freeze out Khuzai by having a vote on only three deputies individually, adding however that they want to have a Turkmen to fill the third position, thereby reiterating Talabani’s original ethno-sectarian quota logic, just in a slightly different format. The same pretty much holds true for a proposal by the Iraqiyya deputy Kazim al-Shammari to further expand the number of deputies to five in order to accommodate a Christian representative.

However, some of the protests against today’s proposed amendments are couched in more interesting terms. Shammari’s proposal for five deputies was in fact accompanied by a demand for lowering the salaries of the president and his deputies since the positions are “ceremonial” (tashrifi) only. Others have gone further. Mustafa al-Hiti, also of Iraqiyya, has claimed that a fourth vice president would be a waste of public money, and also added that the president himself holds only ceremonial powers so it would be better to spend the money on schools and hospitals than on unnecessary deputy positions. Zuhayr al-Aaraji, another Iraqiyya deputy, said positions should not be created for the purpose of satisfying individuals unless there was a real need for them. Sabah al-Saadi, an independent ex-Fadila member of the National Alliance, and the Kurdish Goran party also joined the criticism.

Perhaps the strongest condemnation of Talabani’s proposal came from Jawad al-Hasanawi, a Sadrist. He expressed his opposition to the current law of three deputy presidents and said there should be one only (the constitution demands only one), emphasising budgetary constraints. He also indicated the potential for ridicule if the logic of vice-presidential inflation is taken to its logical conclusion, with one deputy president for each of the 18 governorates, and later the whole people becoming vice-presidents: “We’re all vice presidents!!”

This tentative constellation of deputies who finally try to put the demands of the people for services higher than the demands of the politicians for jobs for themselves is a healthy trend in a parliament which has just experienced a government-formation process based on the well-known, retrograde quota-sharing principle, and whose pressing budget process again failed to move forward today. They are, unsurprisingly, to a large extent people who are shunned by Western and Iranian diplomats, who both systematically reiterate and strengthen the ethno-sectarian quota system through their choice of conversation partners. It deserves mention that in early 2009, Mustafa al-Hiti was the parliament speaker candidate for the 22 July front, the previous promising trend in parliament that was largely undermined by Iranian efforts to recreate a broad Shiite alliance and American efforts to keep Kirkuk off the agenda during 2010. Today, Qusay Abbadi from Basra, another Iraqiyya deputy, is talking about constructing a broad opposition alliance instead of focusing on ministerial positions for their own party. That would be a welcome addition since the Kurdish Gorran is the only real opposition to speak of today, and a timely one as well, since governorate buildings are already burning in Kut in Wasit governorate in the most serious manifestation of Egypt-style protests so far – indicating to Maliki and his allies the extent to which he may be mistaken when he says “the system” in Iraq is immune to challenges from the people. Could it be that the system is indeed part of the problem?

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