Nujayfi, Maliki, and the Seats of the Iraqiyya Breakaway Factions

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.

The dust has still yet to settle after the recent shrinking of the Iraqi government. That process – and the question of what to do with the sacked ministers – is intertwined with the lingering conflict about the validity of the parliamentary membership of several deputies who gained their seats through a messy process of replacement when party members became ministers in the Maliki government in December 2010.

In August this year, the Iraqi press widely reported an alleged decision by the consultative assembly of state – a somewhat shadowy administrative court – to the effect that the sacked ministers could revert to the seats they formerly held in parliament if they so desired. More recently, this description of the situation has been modified somewhat through the publication of the actual court ruling, which is in fact more limited in scope. In its ruling 85 dated 16 August 2011, the court says former ministers can return to their seats provided they remain unoccupied (shaghir). It should be added that the jurisprudence behind the decision seems somewhat Delphic. Most of the points listed have absolutely no relevance to the decision (such as the reference to the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of parliament), and the argument that is used to settle the case is somewhat extraordinary: There is no law that prevents the sacked ministers from returning to vacant seats!

To give someone a seat in the assembly simply with the reference to the absence of laws explicitly forbidding such allocations certainly seems somewhat contrived as long as there are very specific constitutional provisions governing the allocation of those seats. In theory, the sacked ministers are Iraqis like everybody else. One might even argue that their sacking in late July was implicitly a verdict of incompetency on behalf of the national assembly.

At any rate, in accordance with the ruling, one of the ministers of state, Falih al-Sari who belongs to the Hizbollah in Iraq party within the broader ISCI/Badr coalition of parties, recently got his seat back and was sworn in again as a deputy. There had been rumours last winter that he was about to be replaced in parliament by someone else from his party but this apparently never happened. Accordingly, in this case the action by parliament was at least consistent with the ruling by the consultative state assembly.

Most others of the sacked ministers will not become members of parliament, either because they were never deputies in the first place, or because someone else was given their seat during the first half of 2011. There are however at least two other cases that remain in focus because of inconsistencies in the way parliament – and parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi in particular – has opted to deal with them. Firstly, there is Ali al-Sajri, whose replacement in parliament, Jawad al-Bulani, recently lost his seat based on a court ruling. Accordingly, that seat remains just as “vacant” as that which was given back to Sari and it seems unclear why parliament should have any legal reason not to give it back to him. Secondly, there is the problematic case of Jawad al-Batikh, who was recently replaced in parliament by Ammar Hasan Abd Ali from Iraqiyya. That decision by parliament has been challenged by White Iraqiyya, the breakaway faction from Iraqiyya that was formed by Batikh and others around the time he was promoted to minister of state in the Maliki government. They say that subsequent to the split between Iraqiyya and White Iraqiyya, Batikh and Ammar Hasan belong to different blocs. Like Sajri, Batikh is demanding his seat back.

It cannot escape notice that both Sajri and Batikh belong to the secular circles that have opted to remain separate from the rest of Iraqiyya. They are now complaining that Usama al-Nujayfi, the parliamentary speaker from Iraqiyya, is deliberately preventing them from returning to parliament based on political motives. The sudden promotion of Ammar Hasan to replace Batikh in parliament just days before the ruling of the consultative assembly of state is cited as particularly suspicious in this regard, given that Batikh would have automatically regained his seat had not Ammar Hasan won it so suddenly in August (the seat had remained vacant since March). To some extent, then, this whole matter seems to be about Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki relying on the court system to get potential allies back in parliament (his adviser Tariq Harb recently lauded the ruling of the consultative assembly of state), whereas Nujayfi is trying to oppose these moves by applying the rulings selectively and manipulating the agenda of parliament to this end.

On the balance, one can certainly argue that the decision by the consultative assembly of state to reinstate the members is in itself legally problematic. But if Nujayfi wants to protest it he should at least do so in a consistent fashion. If dirty tricks are used on either side of the divide between the executive and legislative in Iraq, it will be even more difficult to develop healthy political alternatives to a government increasingly described by its opponents as “authoritarian” in nature.

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