By John Lee.
The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford. 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.
Until now the struggle over the 2014 Iraqi budget has mainly shaped up as a conflict between the central government and the Kurds.
The Shiite parties have generally supported PM Maliki, with the Sunni Nujayfi bloc forming the main support for the Kurds outside their own parties.
For this reason, it had been expected that the second reading of the budget bill would pass on Sunday. Prior to the scheduled session, MPs from most of the Shiite blocs had vowed to be present and make sure the budget bill made the necessary progress. However, in the event no parliament meeting took place because no quorum was achieved.
How could that happen? The Shiite parties alone account for around 159 MPs and are thus very near to constituting a quorum (163) on their own. It is also clear that a number of Sunni and secular MPs outside the Nujayfi bloc – Ahmad al-Jibburi of the Wataniyun being a case in point – have been attending, meaning that some of the explanation must lie within the Shiite bloc itself.
In a remarkable press statement, Baqir al-Zubaydi of the ISCI bloc in parliament has claimed that the reason quorum was not achieved on Sunday was the large number of absent MPs from the Sadrist and State of Law blocs. Claiming that all of ISCI was present, Zubaydi says that altogether 147 deputies attended, missing the quorum by 16.
Other sources say only 48 of the around 90 State of Law deputies attended – around half of the bloc. Similar percentages of absentees were reported for the Sadrists whereas it was claimed that Badr showed up in full force alongside their former ISCI allies.
So far, the State of Law deputies have been in the forefront in calling for the annual budget to be passed. The reported number of absentees is larger than what can plausibly be reduced to practical and logistical problems, even by Iraqi standards.
With the electoral campaign ahead of the 30 April elections starting this week (and the conflict over IHEC reportedly solved after Nujayfi backtracked from his original position), they may have some major explaining to do to their electorates if they continue to stay away from parliament in the way claimed by their political opponents.