Questions for Maliki and Nujayfi

The following article was published on Monday 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.

The 25 February popular protests across Iraq have generated some interesting fallout. Yesterday, parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi [Osama al-Nujaifi] called for early provincial elections. (His own brother Athil, the governor of Mosul, had been a target of the demonstrators there. ) Today Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki reiterated Nujayfi’s call, but went on to call for the resignation of Athil al-Nujayfi as Mosul governor, saying he himself had personally supported the decision of State of Law governors in Babel and Basra to resign because the population demanded it.

These are interesting reactions, not least from Maliki who had earlier described the demonstrations as a “Baathist plot” at the time when they were being planned. Of course, Iraq had provincial elections as recently as January 2009, and those elections were deemed perhaps the most progressive in post-2003 Iraq in terms of an atmosphere focused on bread-and-butter issues rather than sectarian bigotry. The resultant governorate assemblies are operating according to the provincial powers law and the provincial elections law that were both adopted in 2008. The assemblies are supposed to sit for four years, and, needless to say, there are no mechanisms for early elections/governor resignations based on popular protests as such.

The statements by Nujayfi and Maliki prompts some interesting questions. Is there anything to suggest that the current national assembly itself – i.e. the parliament in Baghdad – is any less dysfunctional than the provincial assemblies? Symptomatically, it is on holiday for another week right now! Should it, too, perhaps be re-elected as a matter of urgency, with maybe a new premier and a new speaker? And of course, Maliki says governors across Iraq should resign since the people demand it. What will he do if protestors start asking for his own resignation?

The most readily understandable takeaway from the protests as articulated by Iraqi elite politicians is the demand for early elections at the sub-governorate level. Those local assemblies were supposed to be elected six months after the governorate elections according to the elections law adopted in 2008, but that just never happened and many local-level assemblies are still operating with people who have been in their positions since the Paul Bremer days. Unlike the calls for new provincial elections, the demand for sub-govenorate polls is at least clearly in conformity with the established legal framework. Also, there are procedures in place for changing governors at the local level if needed, but again, the legal way of doing this would be for the existing assemblies to make the necessary moves.

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