The following article was published 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 question of who will become the next vice-president(s) of Iraq is not particularly interesting in itself, since the office is largely powerless and without any clearly defined prerogatives. Nonetheless, the inability of Iraqi politicians to settle the issue and move on is interesting for what it says about the state of play in Iraqi parliamentary politics more broadly.
The latest development in the saga is a dramatic statement by the State of Law candidate for one of the posts, Khudayr al-Khuzaie, to the effect that the failure of parliament to approve him as one of three deputies would mean the collape of the all-Shiite National Alliance and could prompt an “explosion” in Iraqi politics. For good measure, Khuzaie added that “Baathists and enemies of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki” were behind the moves to prevent him from becoming one of the deputies.
The problem for Khuzaie is that many of those enemies evidently come from the other Shiite parties: His statement prompted angry reactions from Sadrists and ISCI alike, and even Sami al-Askari of the Daawa has suggested that Khuzaie should withdraw. Alternative approaches are also on the cards: The Kurds are promoting a bid to change the law on the presidential deputies in order to reserve it for a female Turkmen (this would clearly serve to entrench the concept of quota-sharing and consociational formulas for government in Iraq), whereas ISCI representative Ali al-Shubbar has even demanded that the top Shiite clergy must be consulted and their views respected on the issue! That sounds very much like a light version of the Iranian wilayat al-faqih concept.
The nomenclature of these debates is interesting in itself. ISCI representatives are complaining that “State of Law” is preventing progress on the VP question. Of course, State of Law is supposed to have merged with the other Shiite parties in an all-Shiite National Alliance, but it is clear that the subdivisions of the past remain as powerful as they used to in 2010. Those same subdivisions are also preventing progress on an issue that is altogether more important – finding suitable candidates for the three security ministries that still remain vacant – and serve as a constant reminder of the flimsy parliamentary basis of the new government that was formed back in December 2010.