More Stalemate in the Iraqi Parliament

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 Iraqi parliament was a sorry sight this morning [Saturday]. That the second reading of the bill for the national council for strategic policies was postponed, supposedly until Monday, was never a big surprise. Nor was anyone particularly shocked to learn about a delay in the decision on the question of the parliamentary membership of three deputies whose eligibility has been questioned. But the way the planned vote on the revised bylaws of parliament was suspended today was nothing short of pathetic.

Barely had the legal committee started reading out the first amendments to the bylaws which simply included some definitions of key concepts when members of the Shiite alliance began protesting the definition of a “simple majority”! The proposed definition was straightforward enough (half of the present members plus one when a quorum has been reached), but some deputies including Bahaa al-Aaraji of the Sadrists objected on “procedural” grounds, calling this an unspecified violation of article 2 of the Iraqi constitution (laws must be in accordance principles of democracy). As a result of the objections, the vote was called off, supposedly with a postponement until Monday.

Maybe it was all theatre agreed to beforehand by the political leaderships. The problem is this: When a bill reaches the stage of voting in the Iraqi parliament, it means there have been two previous readings at which members of parliament at large have had the opportunity to present objections and improvements – which in turn are handled by the relevant specialised committee as well as the legal committee. All too often, however, committees prepare laws for the voting stage only to see them languish forever because the political leaderships discover irreconcilable disagreements that can only be addressed by that Iraqi magic wand of late-night meetings behind closed doors. As a result, the parliamentary impact on a legislative process already dominated by the executive (which presents the laws) is further minimised.

As for the substance matter at hand, it is unsurprising that matters are moving so slowly. One interesting aspect of the current bylaws is that they create a collective speakership that involves more consensus-searching (which often means more stalemate) than the constitution actually demands. In other words, had trust existed between Iraqiyya and State of Law, they could have easily reduced the deputy parliamentary speakerships (held by Kurds and the Sadrists) to ceremonial positions and made the current speaker, Usama al-Nujayfi, to a more dominant figure. However, despite rising tensions between the Kurds and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki lately, it seems personal friction between leaders of State of Law and Iraqiyya remains more than strong enough to prevent any attempt at this kind of rapprochement.

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