As the Iraqi political scene heats up, it is equally important to be aware of the parameters within which the Iraqi parliament can affect change. Two supreme court rulings have hamstrung the parliament in significant ways over the last few years. The first, from July 2010, considers the modalities of introducing a bill, in practice restricting the right of parliament to initiate legislation since every law needs to pass through the government before it can get voted on. The second, from May 2012, considers limitations on the right of parliament to question ministers.
It should be added here that even the act of cancelling a bill in practice requires a “legislative project” that needs to pass two readings. This is relevant since there was some talk about projected attempts to strike down anti-terror legislation with which many of the Anbar protestors are unhappy.
What this means in practice is that the most that can be expected by parliament in terms of radical anti-Maliki action in a hastily convened session like that of yesterday is passage of a bill that has already been through two readings, such as the vote on the supreme court bill, or perhaps the general amnesty law. Passage of such items in the absence of Maliki should not be excluded altogether despite yesterday’s failure.
For example, on the amnesty law, Sadrists and Iraqiyya have seen eye to eye in the past. The successful vote for an electoral commission that was not to Maliki’s liking shows that there is no hard veto preventing the Shiite parties for going against Maliki as long as the subject matter is not the survival of the Shiite-led government as such.
Maliki allies have rightly pointed out that the idea of a “consultative” session is an innovation. Constitutionally, what happened Sunday was nothing more than a tea party. But the session was very close to achieving quorum, and Maliki should not exclude the possibility that similar attempts to score political points will be launched prior to the 20 April local elections. With a coalition-strategy that looks more sectarian than in 2009, he is also less immune to this kind of parliamentary action than he was earlier.