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. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
It may be that Ramadan exhaustion in combination with another hot Iraqi summer has made its impact: In a Byzantine development, the Iraqi parliament today voted “in principle” to continue working on the strategic policy council bill.
The procedure adopted today is in itself extraordinary. Normally a bill advances through parliament by way of two separate readings, each of which is followed by discussions and amendments before a final version of the bill is voted on. Nonetheless, at the end of the reading, parliament found it necessary to vote “in principle” on continuing to read the bill! The move was even misreported in some media to the effect that the bill had already been passed.
The bill itself is as convoluted and ambiguous as the early versions that circulated. A wide scope of operations is outlined for the projected strategic council, with areas ranging from the energy sector to foreign policy. In practice it amounts to a parallel government in everything but the name, except that unlike the government proper it will not be based on the input from specialised ministries. Just to make matters even more confusing, separate items specified as falling within the jurisdiction of the council include vague national-reconciliation tasks as well as making suggestions for the projected federal supreme court. An interesting new focus is the idea of limiting the council effectively to one parliamentary term, which would give it a certain transitional character.
There are however some serious caveats that will limit the power of the council in practice and makes you wonder whether it is worth going through all the trouble of trying to adopt it anyway. Firstly, in order for the decisions of the council to be binding, an 80% majority will be required as per the draft law requirements reported in the press. As is all too well known, 80% agreement on anything is a rarity in Iraqi politics. Secondly, look at the projected composition of the council. It will include the president with his deputies, the parliament speaker with his deputies, and the prime minister and his deputies. Additionally there will be the president of Kurdistan, the head of the federal supreme court as well as two representatives from each of the four major blocs in parliament (incidentally the latter criterion seems to recognise that the so-called National Alliance of Shiite parties is in fact two separate alliances). The point is that these will all be familiar faces that will reproduce the stalemates of parliament rather than bring in new dynamics that can help solve them. And finally, look carefully at the draft law. Early versions seemed to indicate a power to introduce legislation to parliament, making it analogous to the presidency and the cabinet in this respect. However, in keeping with the ruling of the federal supreme court that insists on differentiating between just proposing a law (muqtarah) and preparing it as a fully-fledged project (mashru), the latest draft puts the strategic council on par with the parliament and reserves the right to initiate detailed legislation for the two existing branches of the executive.