By Reidar Visser.
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.
Reports out of the Iraqi parliament are getting more and more extraordinary. The summary of events relating to its session on Monday is no exception.
Among the items on the agenda that were taken up for debate was nothing less than the “questioning of the minister of sports in absentia”. The sports minister, a Turkmen Shia Islamist and an ally of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, has been accused of misconduct relating to the affairs of his ministry, including a major sports city project. The questioning went ahead headed by a Sadrist, whereas Maliki’s minister of parliamentary affairs called for legal procedures before the federal supreme court (relating to recent limitations on the rights of parliament to question ministers) to run their course before any questioning.
In another challenge to Maliki, a second reading for a bill intended to limit the terms of the “three presidencies”(i.e. the president of the republic, the “president of the cabinet” which is Arabic for the prime minister, and “the president of the national assembly”, i.e. the parliament speaker). The move, initiated with a first reading just a week ago, is seen as an obvious attempt to curb Maliki’s ambitions for a third term.
It is noteworthy that whereas term limits for the president of the republic exist in the constitution, there is nothing in the Iraqi charter that prevents a prime minister for continuing for unlimited periods as long as he wins parliamentary support to accede to the position each time. Maliki allies have pointed out this, and claim that any attempt to impose limits without fixing the constitution itself (that requires supermajorities) would be unconstitutional. It is also unclear how the federal supreme court would deal with any passage of the law since it is a mere “proposal” rather than a cabinet-sponsored “project”, a legal distinction that limits the possibilities for the Iraqi parliament to initiate legislation.
Finally, Parliament Speaker Usama al-Nujayfi formally communicated a decision by the presidency of the parliament to withhold the voting rights of Maliki ally Hanan al-Fatlawi until she has apologized formally to Nujayfi for insults thrown at him. It is noteworthy that the parliament presidency is dominated by Nujayfi (Iraqiyya) and his two deputies – a Kurd and a Sadrist. In the case of Fatlawi, at least, these forces are standing firm against Maliki, and it will be interesting to see whether Maliki will use the upcoming annual budget law to expand his parliament support base somewhat, or whether he will persevere with his current strategy of a de facto minority government as the local elections of 20 April come closer.