Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has won a court ruling placing independent bodies like the central bank and the electoral agency under the control of the cabinet, rather than the parliament, a centralization of power that critics are calling a "coup."
Maliki's government made the request to the supreme court in December before he was reappointed later that month to a second term, and the court ruling in his favor came through last Tuesday, generating little controversy at first, reports Reuters.
According to the constitution, hastily drawn up in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the independent agencies affected are supposed to be monitored by parliament .
The Supreme Court agreed with Maliki that, where the language describing parliament's monitoring powers over the agencies was ambiguous, the bodies should be attached to the cabinet.
The main agencies affected are the Central Bank of Iraq, the Independent Higher Electoral Commission, anti-corruption watchdog the Integrity Commission and the High Commission for Human Rights.
"The court views that the term 'monitoring by' is not clear enough to place these under parliament's authority, therefore they should be attached to the cabinet," the ruling said.
The decision alarmed critics who view with suspicion glimpses of authoritarian leanings in some of Maliki's actions.
Emirates newspaper The National quotes Leyla Khafaji, an MP with the National Alliance (part of the coalition that Mr al Maliki heads), as saying "It's a coup. How can you have a working democracy if the institutions monitoring the government are under government control?
"From this moment onwards, we cannot know if elections will be fair and independent, and if the integrity commission answers to the government, how will it fight the legions of corruption that stand behind that government?"
From the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, MP Haider al-Mulla said "We consider the request of Nuri al-Maliki to the court to be a coup against the constitution that puts Iraq's democracy on the line".
Legal experts and analysts decried the supreme court decision, which a judicial spokesman said could not be appealed.
"Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is seeking more powers to control his government. He wants to have a strong government," said a prominent lawyer, Tariq Harb.
Amman-based researcher Yahya al-Kubaisy, of the Iraqi Center For Strategic Studies, called it an "unforgiveable mistake."
"It's a clear bid by Maliki to monopolize powers," he said.
(Sources: Reuters, The National, AKnews)