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.
The controversy surrounding the refusal of the Iraqi presidency to sign an execution order for Sultan Hashim – a defence minister of the former regime sentenced to death for his actions against Iraqi Kurds in the lethal Anfal campaign in the late 1980s – has brought to the fore some interesting statistics regarding the death penalty in Iraq. According to recently-revealed statistics from the federal supreme court, out of 516 death penalties sent to the presidency by the court since 2009, only 83 or less than a fifth have been confirmed by presidential decree to date. A spokesperson for the federal supreme court added that they were “awaiting presidential confirmation for the remainder of the verdicts”, meaning that all or most of those remaining death sentences have yet to be implemented.
This remarkable piece of statistical information inevitably raises the question of whether the Iraqi presidency possesses appellate powers in cases involving the death penalty. As far as the constitution is concerned, the position is somewhat unclear. Signing execution orders is indeed enumerated as a presidential prerogative in article 73. But no specific authority to issue a pardon is mentioned (unless the prime minister specifically recommends it) , and the constitution does not say what should happen if the president refuses to sign an execution order. It is noteworthy in this respect that there is a certain parallel to the presidential “prerogative” to issue laws: In that case the constitution says laws are automatically considered issued within 15 days, meaning that they become law whether the presidency likes them or not. This kind of automaticity is not specified as far as execution orders are concerned.