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Chaos in the Iraqi Parliament article by Reidar Visser – Maliki, Iraqi Government and more – brought to you by Iraq Business News

Full List of Election Candidates


By Reidar Visser.

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. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The Iraqi election campaign formally began Tuesday, but the official candidate lists weren’t published until Thursday evening, just before the start of the Iraqi weekend. Altogether, the lists contain the names of 9,045 candidates.

A noteworthy general point is that unlike previous years, no provisional list was published pending appeals regarding de-Baathification and other candidacy problems. In other words, the current list purports to be the final. IHEC maintains that, after its latest showdown with parliament (in which it prevailed after parliament decided to backtrack), all appeal options have been exhausted.

As for the characteristics of the main lists, at least a few tendencies can be noted in this material.

Starting with the Shiite Islamists lists, there is the State of Law list of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (277). Many of its top candidates run in Baghdad: In addition to Maliki himself at top of the list, deputy PM Hussein Shahristani is second and Haydar al-Abbadi is third.

In Basra, former governor Khalaf Abd al-Samad is the top candidate, and several prominent provincial council members are now trying their luck as MP candidates. In Qadisiya, Khalid al-Attiya, the former deputy speaker of parliament, is the State of Law candidate number one. A notable cooption from Sunni-secular circles is Iskandar Witwit (formerly Iraqiyya deputy; now State of Law candidate no 9 in Babel).

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Analysis of IHEC Resignation


The following  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.

On Tuesday, the members of the Iraqi electoral commission IHEC collectively presented their resignations to the head of the commission.

If the mass resignation becomes effective, it will leave Iraq without the required institutional framework to carry out parliamentary elections scheduled for 30 April. First a word on the legal aspects of the resignations.

It has been suggested by both Sadrists and ISCI leader Ammar al-Hakim that the resignations are subject to approval by the Iraqi parliament. This view does not seem to square with law no. 11 from 2007 that regulates the work of the commission.

In article 6, first, it is stipulated that the membership of commissioners can be terminated upon presentation of a resignation according to the bylaws of the commission.

There is no mention of parliament at all. The bylaws of IHEC, adopted in 2013 (PDFhere, starts on p. 21), stipulate that any member can present their resignation to the commission and that it will become effective after 30 days unless other action is taken.

The collective resignation presented to the head of the commission does seem somewhat unorthodox in that respect, but there seems to be no doubt that legally the matter remains within the commission itself. <!–-nextpage–-> As for the substantive context, it is fairly clear that the resignation of the IHEC members comes as a response to the latest legislative action by the Iraqi parliament. This aimed at enshrining a particular interpretation of the Iraqi election’s law concept of “good conduct” as a criterion for election candidacies.

Specifically, through its focus on the presumption of innocence parliament effectively negated IHEC’s past practice of using multiple legal charges against an individual (without conviction) as basis for banning them from standing in elections. Of course, to what extent it is within the power of the Iraqi parliament to adopt a simple “decision” in order to rectify the vagueness of its own past legislative efforts is open to debate.

In the past, such decisions have materialized from time to time, for example in December 2009 when it was used to enshrine the exact distribution of seats between provinces (conversely, in November 2013 when the new election law was passed, an attachment to the law itself stipulated the seat distribution).

Conceivably, a more correct (but more time-consuming) method for challenging what is  perceived as IHEC highhandedness in banning election candidates would be to complain the procedures to the administrative court (rather than the supreme court), which deals with the application of laws in force, and which could in theory address the methods used to determine what constitutes “good conduct”. <!–-nextpage–-> In any case, the comparable parliament “decision” from 2009 on seat distribution was adhered to, of course, not least because it reflected a consensus that had emerged after months of parliamentary wrangling.

This time things are very different. It is fairly clear that the parliament action to define “good conduct” was taken by enemies of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in parliament (chiefly the bloc of parliament speaker Nujayfi along with some Shiite discontent support) who were concerned about possible collusion between the PM and the Iraqi judiciary in excluding political enemies from the next elections.

For his part, Maliki has responded to the parliamentary move by questioning its legal status, describing it as an “incomplete” legislative act, thereby evoking past supreme court rulings that basically stipulate that every legislative act in Iraq should pass through the cabinet before becoming law.

Reflecting the changing of the political colour of the commission seated in September 2012, thought to be more favourable to Maliki than the previous one, IHEC has implicitly come out on the side of Maliki in this debate. (Possibly due to laziness, some pundits have construed the current conflict as a case of IHEC standing up against Maliki: They should carefully study the chronology of events and how the recent parliament decision immediately prompted an IHEC escalation, as well as this interview with one of the commission members, which at one point goes far in criticising parliament interference with the electoral judicial panel).

The decision by parliament itself should be appealable to the federal supreme court as a matter of constitutional interpretation. Indeed, if Maliki wants to avoid speculation that he is sincere about having elections on time, he should probably file such a complaint in any case. <!–-nextpage–-> In all of this is it is noteworthy how the battle lines have changed somewhat from 2010, when there was also a pre-election struggle related to candidacy qualifications.

Back then, the struggle related to de-Baathifcation, and the tension increasingly took on a sectarian nature. So far, despite heightened sectarian tension regionally, de-Baathification has been in the background this year, with the MPs complaining about exclusion from the upcoming elections representing both Sunni and Shiite-leaning political parties.

But the elections lists must be published soon if there is to be any time left for campaigning, and there could of course be surprises hidden in them. All in all, Iraq is beginning to look dysfunctional. The president is incapacitated, the annual budget has not been passed, and now the threatened IHEC resignation. And yet there is something quintessentially Iraqi about resignation threats – a staple of Iraqi politics since the days of the British mandate.

It will be remembered that half of the Sunni and secular politicians in parliament  recently threatened to resign without following through. There may still be possibilities for compromises ahead of 30 April, but time is fast running out.

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Budget Reading Goes Ahead Amid Boycott


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.

In a significant move, the Iraqi parliament has completed the first passage of the 2014 annual budget despite boycotts by the Kurds and the Mutahhidun bloc loyal to the parliament speaker, Usama al-Nujayfi.

The sheer arithmetic behind the successful quorum at Sunday’s session speaks volumes about shifting political winds in Iraq ahead of the 30 April parliament elections. In order to go ahead with the first reading, 163 MPs needed to be present to reach the legal minimum requirement for taking parliamentary action. According to the official parliament record, 164 deputies attended. In the context of boycotts by Kurds and Mutahhidun alike, this is a remarkable achievement.

It means, firstly, that the Shia bloc in parliament is exhibiting internal discipline at a level not seen since 2005. Altogether the three main Shiite factions – State of Law, Muwatin and the Sadrists – command around 161 deputy votes. The numbers suggest that despite internal turmoil among the Sadrists (or because of it?) a majority of these deputies will have been present during the budget reading.Whereas previous occasions involving Kurdish opposition to Maliki have seen widespread ISCI solidarity with the Kurds, no such major Shiite challenge to Maliki appears to have materialized this time around. But beyond this, importantly, there must have been some MPs from the Sunni and secular camps attending as well.

The numbers don’t lie: even on a good day, there are no more than aroundd 160 Shiite Islamist MPs, and most of the handful of minority MPs from small non-Muslim groups and ethnic micro-minorities are loyal to the Kurds. Accordingly, in the context of continued criticism of PM Maliki by Iraqiyya leader Ayyad Allawi, it makes sense to assume that at least some of the breakaway elements of Iraqiyya that materialized in 2012 were present to secure the necessary quorum.

Substantially speaking, the conflict involves primarily Kurdish opposition to proposed measures of control regarding oil export from the Kurdish areas. For their part, the Sunni Mutahiddun appear to be boycotting more out of personal opposition to Maliki than a coherent anti-centralism agenda (although the tendency in the latter direction is more pronounced today than it was a couple of years ago).

It is interesting that Maliki is using the issue of the budget and the question of Kurdish oil exports to mobilize popular opinion ahead of the elections. This is unprecedented: In 2010, neither the question of Kirkuk nor the budget tension was brought to the fore in a big way. At the same time, when seen within the context of the election campaign more generally, this is Shia chauvinism within a shell of Iraqi nationalism, quite different, for example, from the 22 July movement of 2008 focused on representation issues in the Kirkuk provincial council.

Alongside assertiveness on the part of the central government in oil issues comes new governorate proposal clearly speaking to Shia Turkmen minorities, as well as the cabinet’s recent passage of retrograde Shia personal status law that would enable underage marriage – an apparent concession by Maliki to hardliners in the Fadila party ahead of the elections.

Still, this is only the first reading of the budget. Parliament speaker Nujayfi will be able to stage filibuster-like obstacles to delay the second reading and the decisive vote. It is however noteworthy that Nujayfi himself chose to be present and chair the budget first reading on Sunday, quite despite his own bloc’s boycott.

Three further parliament meetings are scheduled for this week. For now, the second budget reading is not on the agenda.

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Biden Plan Re-Enters US Policy-Making Debate


By Reidar Visser.

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. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

With Iraqi political turmoil once more making headlines in the United States, an article in the National Journal has appeared with the headline, “Turns Out, Joe Biden Was Right about Dividing Iraq”.

The article uses as its point of departure the claim made by former defence secretary Robert Gates that Biden was wrong about every single important issue in US foreign policy. It then goes on to counter this by referring to the various “plans for Iraq” that Biden propagated as an oppositionist during the days of the Bush administration, particularly between 2006 and 2008.

These plans are difficult to characterize because they changed a good deal over time as Biden’s ideas developed, and as a consequence they have also been misrepresented. In their minimum version, the plans involved an internationally sponsored conference that would somehow use the framework of the Iraqi constitution to subdivide the country into federal provinces. Biden claimed he kept an open mind about the eventual number of provinces.

He “guessed” it would be three (a Kurdish, a Shiite Arab and a Sunni Arab one) but he gradually became more open-minded regarding the exact number and has often been misrepresented on this. Rather, the most noteworthy characteristics of the Biden approach to federalism in Iraq was that he expected a settlement that would take place as a one-off conference of political elites, and that it would be “comprehensive”, thus subdividing the entire country in federal entities.

Among the many problems with the Biden plan back then was that it usurped the provisions for federalism outlined in the Iraqi constitution adopted with US support in October 2005. The whole point of the federalism clauses in the Iraqi constitution is that development towards federal entities will be an uneven process, with different timelines for different parts of the country according to their level of economic and institutional development.

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Details of Coalitions Contesting April Elections


By Reidar Visser.

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. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

IHEC Publishes the List of Constituent Elements in Coalitions Contesting Iraq’s 30 April Elections

At long last, following publication of certified entities as well as the numbers of entities and coalitions, the Iraqi electoral commission has released the list of the constituent elements of the 39 electoral lists in the 30 April Iraqi parliamentary elections that are coalitions of more than one party. The list is to some extent helpful in forming a more precise picture of the strength of the various lists and the competition between them.

With regard to the big and well-known lists, there aren’t that many surprises. The core line-up of the State of Law alliance of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is confirmed as the two main Daawa branches, the Shahristani bloc and Badr. The new list confirms that the Risali movment of ex-Sadrist Adnan al-Shahmani is also on the State of Law ticket.

The Turkmen minister for the provinces who played a central role in the recent announcement of new governorates is also on Maliki’s list. Another noteworthy minority representative is a Shabak politician, Hunayn al-Qaddo. Qaddo was previously an advocate of the territorial integrity of Nineveh governorate in the context of Kurdish expansion. He has however congratulated the Shabak on the news of the establishment of the Nineveh plains governorate.

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect regarding the Shiite Islamist Muwatin alliance associated with Ammar al-Hakim and ISCI is the inclusion of a former Maliki ally, Ali al-Dabbagh. Ahmad Chalabi is also here (rather than with the Sadrists, whose election alliance with ISCI in 2009-10 he played a key role in forging), and Fawaz al-Jarba of the Shammar tribe constitutes a mostly symbolic Sunni representation. Basra is particularly well represented in the ISCI alliance, with the party of Shaykhi leader Amir al-Fayiz alongside businessman Tawfiq Abbadi and others.

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List of Coalitions and Entities in the Elections


By Reidar Visser.

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. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Following the lottery yesterday in which participants in the 30 April parliamentary elections were given ticket numbers, the Iraqi election commission has released an official list that also provides the first official overview of coalition and entities that will take part in the election.

It is noteworthy that although the deadline for forming coalitions expired late last year, IHEC has so far refrained from publishing a list of the constituent elements of the various coalitions.

One reason may be that the process of certification of entities continued well into 2014, with constant updates to the official list of individual entities. This means that there is still no official source that can be used for evaluating the potential strength of the various coalitions, but the most recent list is at least helpful in that it authoritatively distinguishes between coalitions and entities that will run on their own, ending some of the speculation as regards the choices of some of the smaller parties.

The key statistics of the new list are as follows. Altogether 107 lists will take part in the 30 April parliamentary elections. Of these, 36 will be coalitions. A maximum of 71 entities will run on their own.

All the main coalitions are well known. With respect to Shiite Islamists, the following main groups are defined as coalitions: State of Law, Muwatin (mainly ISCI), Ahrar (Sadrists), Islah (Jaafari) and Fadila (with some lesser known smaller parties). Smaller “coalitions” include list 238 which is organized by Sabah al-Saadi, an ex-Fadila MP known for his ferocious verbal attacks on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

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44 Iraqi MPs Resign


By Reidar Visser.

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. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

44 Iraqi MPs Resign: Who Are They, and What Are the Consequences?

Following the recent political crisis in Iraq involving the arrest of a prominent Sunni MP from Anbar, 44 Iraqi MPs resigned yesterday in protest. Media seemed content to dwell on their numbers and their Sunni sectarian identity, but questions remain regarding their backgrounds, political affiliations and not least the consequences of their resignations.

Regarding the identities of the resigned MPs, the question can be resolved quite easily. Some media claimed that they all belonged to the bloc of parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi, but that couldn’t be true since Nujayfi does not control that kind of number of deputies on his own.

Thankfully, though, a website affiliated with his bloc has released the names of the resigned MPs. This makes it possible to collate their names with their political sub-entities within the secular-Sunni Iraqiyya coalition in the Iraqi parliament, as well as the governorates they represent.

It should be stressed that the list of resigned MPs is probably based on a statement of Zafir al-Ani as it was delivered, because it contains some obvious misspellings of names and makes it quite impossible to verify the identity of a handful of resigned deputies. Nonetheless, the patterns that do emerge are clear enough.

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In the list above, the category “other” includes a Turkmen representative as well as the reported shock resignation of Hajim al-Hasani, who was given his “compensation” seat in parliament as the Sunni face of the State of Law bloc of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Those listed as “Allawi” tend to state their affiliation as being with the Harakat al-Iraqiyya created in 2009 rather than the older Wifaq sub-bloc of Allawi.

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Additional Political Entities Approved for Elections


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.

Additional Political Entities Are Approved for the Iraq 2014 Parliamentary Elections

The Iraqi elections commission IHEC has now released a second PDF file of political entities approved to run in the April 2014 parliamentary elections. This list seems to be the final one after an initial list presented on the day when the deadline for registering parties expired seemed to contain some lacunae.

The list includes some big players that were absent in the first list. In addition to the Kurdish KDP, there is the Hiwar party of Saleh al-Mutlak from the Iraqiyya coalition and the Reform bloc of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the former Shiite Islamist prime minister.

There are also further indications of persistent sub-division in Iraqiyya and the State of Law bloc of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki alike. Registering as separate tickets are Wathab Shakir (previously Unity of Iraq/Iraqiyya), Umar al-Jibburi (running independently in Kirkuk), Ali al-Sajri (previously Unity of Iraq) and Saad al-Mutalabi (reckoned as a Maliki ally).

Other Shiite players with their own entities include former oil minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, Basra secularist and sometimes autonomist Wael Abd al-Latif, as well as the tribal figure Karim al-Muhammadawi (“Lords of the Marshes”) whose party, Hizbollah, is unconnected with its Lebanese namesake.

The next milestone is now the deadline for forming coalitions next week. It is quite remarkable that despite the regional and sectarian tensions brought about by the Syrian crisis, Iraqi Shiites are in no rush to form a unified alliance, quite unlike the situation in 2009.

As of today, it seems more likely that there will be a Maliki front and one or two challenging coalitions. Such a scenario would in itself send a positive message at a time when political violence continues at an elevated level.

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