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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

Will Iraq’s Shiites Secede?


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.

After the Rise of ISIS, Will Iraq’s Shiites Secede?

As Iraqi Shiites celebrate the holy month of Muharram and its key holiday of Ashura (3 November), it can be argued that radical sectarian mobilization among them has risen to a level unprecedented in modern Iraqi history since 1927, when a series of episodes prompted calls among the Shiites of Iraq to form their own separate state.

This year, too, visions focusing on the possible separation of the Shiite-majority provinces of Iraq as a separate political entity are back on the agenda.

The last time such ideas were being considered in an even remote way was in 2005, when Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim of SCIRI launched his scheme for a single Shiite federal entity stretching from Basra to Najaf.

It was the first time since 1927 that anything in the way of territorial separation of Iraqi Shiites had received any serious attention whatsoever. However, back then the project was characterized by only fragmented levels of support, with most Iraqi Shiites still speaking in the name of a unitary state. An even more radical movement to separate the south entirely had even less of a support base.

However, following the rise to prominence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2014, Iraqi Shiite discourse on the Iraqi state appears to have changed quite dramatically – in the direction of separatist solutions. It is true that some of the talk of a separate Shiite entity, often referred to as the “Sumer” project in a reference to one of the ancient civilizations of Iraq, may have gained extra prominence because of the proliferation of social media, meaning that a wider array of Iraqi Shiite voices are accessible to outside analysts than at any point in history.

However, it is noteworthy that also more established political parties among the Iraqi Shiites appear to be warming up to ideas that were considered a taboo just a few years ago. A case in point is the State of Law alliance of former PM Nuri al-Maliki and current PM Haydar al-Abadi. In a first, during Ramadan, a key website supportive of Maliki accorded much prominence to an article that openly hinted at the possible secession of the Shiite areas from the rest of Iraq.

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Additional Cabinet Ministers Approved


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.

After a month of wrangling and indecision that extended into the Eid al-Adha holiday, new Iraq Prime Minister Haydar al-Abbadi today succeeded in winning approval for new ministers in his government, including most importantly ministers for defence and interior.

It makes sense to start with the choice of ministers for interior and defence. These important posts were a stumbling block for Maliki’s two cabinets. In 2006, they took a month extra to decide, whereas in 2010 they weren’t decided by parliament at all, as Maliki continued to control them himself or through acting protegées. This time, the candidate for minister of interior, in particular, had caused controversy.

For a long time the frontrunner was Hadi al-Ameri, a militia figure from the Badr organization with particularly close ties to the Iranians, whose candidacy caused uproar among many Sunni MPs who remain critical of his conduct during the previous sectarian crisis period of 2005-2007. Today, Ameri gave way to Muhammad Salim al-Ghabban, who shares his Badr background but possibly is seen as less toxic to non-Shiite MPs simply because he is younger and has less baggage than Ameri.

For his part, Khaled al-Obeidi who is the new defence minister, had been a candidate back in 2010 as well, when he was nominated by Iraqiyya but quickly was criticized for having moved too close to Maliki. Maybe that sort of person – a Sunni and former Iraq army officers with ties in both sectarian camps – is the best Iraq could hope for in a time when urgent work needs to be done to reorganize the Iraqi army and make it more resilient against the Islamic State terror organization.

Both ministers achieved more than acceptable levels of backing by MPs, with Yes votes from the 261 MPs present reported at 173 (Obeidi) and 197 (Ghabban), which is considerably more than what many other ministers got back in September.

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Parliament Approves the Abbadi Cabinet


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 new Iraqi cabinet headed by Haydar al-Abbadi [Abadi] has been approved by the Iraqi parliament. Abbadi has 3 deputies and 23 ministers, with some portfolios still not named.

The programme of the new cabinet, approved by 177 votes, is very general. Still, it goes further than past governments in terms of underlining the need for decentralization as well as implementing reform in the Iraqi armed forces. All of this seems to represent recognition of past failures, which at least constitutes a good first step.

It seems clear, though, that no major promises have been issued along the lines of the pompous Erbil agreement of 2010. In itself, perhaps not a bad thing. Also the timing of the whole process is admirable, for the first time entirely consistent with the Iraqi constitution.

In terms of ministries, Shiite Islamist parties have taken the lion’s share, including several particularly important portfolios. These include Ibrahim al-Jaafari as foreign minister and Adel Abd al-Mahdi of ISCI as oil minister. In addition to the premiership, the State of Law bloc of former PM Maliki also has the portfolios of health, education and work. Fadila continues to control the ministry of justice.

Whereas ISCI was awarded additional ministries, Badr and the Sadrists seem to have only two each, though the Sadrists also control one of the three deputy premier positions. Badr was at one point on the verge of boycotting the entire session after they were denied the interior ministry portfolio. As in previous government formations, the PM kept these portfolios for himself, though promising to present candidates within a week.

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Haydar al-Abbadi Is New Iraq PM Candidate


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.

Today, what remains of the pan-Shiite National Alliance formally presented Haider al-Abadi  [Haydar al-Abbadi] of the Daawa party as their PM candidate. Abbadi will be charged by President Fuad Masum to replace the current PM, Nuri al-Maliki.

The political realities behind this move can be summarized as follows. For some weeks, pressure has been building inside Maliki’s State of Law coalition to have him changed. Finally today, factions led by Haydar al-Abbadi of the Daawa and Hussein al-Shahristani, the current deputy PM, broke with Maliki to nominate Abbadi for PM.

Early reports suggests 38 Daawa MPs and 12 members of the Shahristani bloc abandoned Maliki, leaving him with the backing of only around 45 members of the original 95-member State of Law bloc. It is worth noting that the traditionally pro-Iranian Badr organization has not been enumerated among the 128 or so supporters of Abbadi.

Constitutionally and legally, today’s developments also clear the air. Until yesterday, Maliki could plausibly plead the case that the president should have charged him with forming the government before the official deadline expired. However, today’s action by the Shiite alliance showed that Maliki’s claim to represent the largest bloc no longer has any basis, because State of Law has disintegrated.

The focus on the first session of parliament in the ruling of the federal supreme court from 2010 has now been superseded by events, and in any case was not based on the Iraqi constitution itself. It only reflected the opinion of the court. Accordingly, Maliki’s promise to bring the case before the Iraqi federal supreme court will be of academic interest only. Any attempt by him to challenge the nomination through other means than the court will be profoundly anti-democratic.

Haydar al-Abbadi is a former finance minister who is well liked by groups outside the Daawa and State of Law, who elected him as deputy speaker for the new parliament earlier. He will now have 30 days to present his cabinet for approval by the Iraqi parliament with an absolute majority.

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For the First Time, a Large Field of Presidential Candidates


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 positive developments in the Iraqi parliament and the election of a speaker before agreement was reached on other leadership positions, it is more difficult to evaluate the posturing for the next constitutional step: The election of the largely ceremonial office of president of the Iraqi republic.

For starters, one very key source has been missing for days: The Iraqi parliament website is offline, apparently due to a site subscriber or maintenance issue, or potentially to do with a hacker attack. This prevents insights into the details of the ongoing process of nominations to the presidential post.

According to the law on candidacies for the Iraqi presidency, candidates are to submit their credentials within 3 days of the election of the speaker, whereupon the speaker has got 3 days to vet them for formal criteria (age, education, de-Baathification status etc.) before a 3-day appeals window for any candidate excluded during the initial part of the process.

With reports about a large field of candidates, it is very hard to see how due process can be adhered to if an attempt to elect the president will go ahead on Wednesday, as press reports suggest. The legal adviser of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Tareq Harb, has suggested that adherence to the timelines of proper vetting and appeal possibilities would take us to August before the president could be voted on.

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What Went Wrong in Iraq: The Khedery Version


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.

It’s going to be cited a lot, so it’s worth taking a closer look at a quite lengthy opinion piece on US policy towards Iraq and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that recently appeared in The Washington Post.

The article is signed by Ali Khedery, one of the most prominent Americans of Iraqi origins to have served the United States government in Iraq between 2003 and 2010.

Until now, Khedery’s role has been largely unknown outside policy-making circles, but his assertion that he at times became “the Iraqi leader’s go-to guy for just about everything” seems credible enough, especially given his Arabic language skills, which by his own admission formed something of a rarity and an exception among high-level US decision-makers in Iraq during the years of the Bush administration.

Khedery also had particularly close ties to Maliki, described as going back before Maliki’s emergence as premier in 2006, and involving for example a prominent and personal role during Maliki’s visit to London in 2009 for purposes of urgent medical treatment.

Some valuable empirical information is certainly provided in the Khedery piece. We learn that not only did Maliki have the habit of working 16 hours a day during his early days as premier. Until 2009, apparently, leading US officials Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus reportedly were together with him for several hours “virtually every day”, strengthening the impression of a period of American tutelage during long periods of Maliki’s first term.

Also, there is credible information in the Khedery piece about the key circles of American support for Maliki – consisting chiefly of Ambassador Chris Hill and Brett McGurk of the NSC, but also, crucially, at a key juncture in September 2010, of Vice President Joe Biden. Biden reportedly at one point in 2010 betted his vice presidency that Maliki was going to extend a US-Iraqi agreement that would have enabled American soldiers to stay in Iraq beyond 2011!

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The New Iraqi Parliament Opens


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.

So the new Iraqi parliament met today after having promised Iraqi voters, the Shiite religious authorities, and the international community that they would do so.

Unsurprisingly, they did little else than meet. Following the inaugural formalities, Mahdi al-Hafez, the “speaker of age”(the oldest MP who chairs the first session), introduced the only point of substance on the agenda: The election of a parliament speaker and his two deputies.

At that point, a Kurdish MP found the time had come to complain about the refusal of Baghdad to compromise on the KRG share of the budget. This rather blunt violation of the official agenda prompted heckling and even blunter derogatory verbal counter attacks.

Speaker Hafez, who represents the small and secular Iraqi coalition with both Sunni and Shiite members, proposed a half-hour break to calm tensions and explore the opportunities for electing a speaker.

When the session resumed, many of the 255 deputies that had been present at the outset failed to show up. It was suggested that there was no longer a quorum (165 MPs); indeed some reports suggested the number of deputies present had fallen as low as 70-100.

What apparently had happened was that Kurds and Sunni Arabs deliberately boycotted – the Kurds probably to some extent offended by the verbal altercation about its attempt to put budget issues on the agenda, but also with suggestions that both protested what they saw as a failure by the Shia alliance to come up with a replacement candidate for Nuri al-Maliki as premier. What was clear, at any rate, was that there was no speaker candidate.

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Supreme Court Certifies Election Result


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.

It’s official: The provisional result of Iraq’s 30 April general election, published last month, has been certified by the federal supreme court.

In the IHEC statement to this effect, there is a caveat. 4 seat winners have not been approved, and won’t be approved until they have been cleared of charges relating to serious crime cases against them. Pending settlement of the court cases, their membership in parliament will remain pending, and no replacement deputies will be appointed.

Whereas this may sound somewhat messy, it is actually what happened also in 2010, when 2 seat winners were provisionally excluded. Back then, it took longer for parliament to reconvene than for the judicial authorities to settle one of the cases (and one candidate was voluntarily substituted by another candidate from his bloc), so no procedural problems emerged.

With the general political climate in Iraq approaching boiling point, questions will inevitably pertain to the political affiliations of those 4 that were excluded. 3 of them come from a single list, the Sunni, pro-Nujayfi list that ran in Diyala province: Salim al-Jibburi, Raad al-Dahlaki and Umar al-Humayri.

They have all been in various forms of conflict with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and Jibburi (once an Iraqi Islamic Party member who cooperated with the first Maliki government) and Humayri (ex governor of Diyala ousted by Maliki allies) most bitterly so.

Still, before running to conclusions about another politicized court decision in Iraq, consider the fourth excluded candidate: Abbas Jabir al-Khuzaie, a seat winner in Qadisiyya province for Maliki’s own State of Law list. Khuzaie is a local politician from the Qadisiyya council who was once with the secular Iraqiyya before defecting to State of Law in 2011.

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