Complex Alliances in Babel

The following article was published on Sunday 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.

After the local elections in January 2009, Babel was one of the most contested Iraqi governorates when it came to agreeing on a new governor. After a long stalemate, an alliance of State of Law, the Sadrists and Iraqiyya decided to sideline ISCI and formed a coalition with a new governor considered loyal to State of Law and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The Babel governor, Salman al-Zarkani, became one of the casualties of the latest public demonstrations in Iraq when he was instructed by Maliki to tender his resignation. However, it seems that Maliki and his party subsequently lost control of the battle for the next governor. The recently-elected new governor, Muhammad al-Masudi, is thought to be leaning towards ISCI and other smaller blocs independent of State of Law.

One particularly interesting aspect of developments in Babel is the recent selection of a second deputy for the speaker of the council. The council speaker, Kazim Majid Tuman, is a Sadrist, whereas his first deputy, Sabah Abbud Hasan Mahdi Allawi, duly elected in 2009, is from the secular Iraqiyya. Recently, however – and apparently as part of the deal that led to the election of the new governor – a second deputy to the speaker of the council has been elected. The new second deputy to the speaker is also from Iraqiyya: Mansur Hussein Mani Hummadi.

The idea of a second deputy speaker does not have any basis in the law on the powers of the governorates of 2008. In itself, it seems to echo an unfortunate tendency in Iraqi politics called muhasasa or quota-sharing, which often leads to an inflation of deputies as new posts are created basically in order to accommodate appointees of the political parties. Now, interestingly, this latest creation of a second deputy speaker is being challenged by two parties that appear to be on the defensive in Babel: Maliki’s State of Law, as well as the Sadrists, who have promised to send the matter to the federal supreme court.

The court may find it difficult to rule in the matter. It has previously said it does not adjudicate disputes that relate to the interpretation of laws in force as such (only the constitution), and yet on numerous occasions it has in fact used arguments precisely from the law on the powers of the governorates even in cases of constitutional review! There are certain parallels to the recent dispute about the number of presidential deputies, although in that matter the constitution at least offered some guidance and left the issue as basically a political question.

As for the political aspect of the new developments, one can get the sense that ISCI and Iraqiyya in this case are coming closer together again at the local level, but with the Sadrists still sticking to their alliance with Maliki. At the national level, things are looking slightly different right now, with the Sadrists reportedly still supporting Ahmad Chalabi as new interior minister, and with Iraqiyya apparently fighting among themselves about who should be the new defence minister after Khalid al-Ubaydi (reportedly pro-Nujayfi) was recently dismissed as their candidate and replaced with others (Fasih al-Ani and Hikmat al-Jahishi).

Today, an agenda for this week’s last parliamentary meeting (Thursday) was published; once more it fails to include any mention of security ministries. If things continue to drag on like this, Maliki may well end up in a situation where developments in the governorates could ultimately create greater challenges for him at the national level.

Postscript: In a breaking-news update out of Baghdad tonight [Sunday], ISCI’s Adil Abd al-Mahdi says he is no longer a candidate for vice-president. This could further affect the overall political dynamics sketched out above. In particular, it will be interesting to see how the main candidate to another of the vice-presidential positions, Tariq al-Hashemi of Iraqiyya, reacts.

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