By Reidar Visser.
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.
Much more will likely be written about this in coming days and weeks, but it is already now worth taking note of a letter sent from the Iraqi prosecutor general to the presidency of the Iraqi parliament, asking them to replace Iraq’s current president Jalal Talabani due to his prolonged absence for health reasons.
The letter was first reported by media leaks, but it is now published on the website of the Iraqi judiciary, meaning it is definitely official and enjoys the support of the judiciary as an institution.
The question of when, during a period of prolonged absence, the Iraqi president needs to be replaced is not well defined by the Iraqi constitution. Nor is there bylaws for the presidency that govern this question. The major issue concerns interpretation of article 72, which says a new president must be elected if the incumbent president “vacates” his post for any reason.
The question then is, who should decide that the president’s absence is so prolonged that it satisfies the criteria for replacement as per article 72? The Iraqi judiciary today gives us the answer by referring to article 1 of the law of the state prosecution service, dating from the Baath era. That law, slightly amended in 2006, gives the prosecution service the job of defending the order of the state, and it is presumably in such a capacity it now deems itself capable of intervening.
This latest step by the Iraqi judiciary raises the question of whether replacing Talabani may finally have received the support of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has seen Talabani as a friend among the Kurds, and whose own political ally Khudayr al-Khuzaie has effectively controlled the presidency in the absence of Talabani and with the other vice-presidents either resigned (Abd al-Mahdi) or in exile (Hashemi).
Barham Saleh, also from Talabani’s PUK, is reported as a possible replacement candidate. The Iraqi parliament will vote on a replacement; the aim is a two-thirds majority but if no one reaches that level, a simple-majority run-off vote will be held.