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The Ongoing Government-Formation Process in Iraq: Phase 2 Completed

By Reidar Visser (www.historiae.org)

13 February 2011

The second government of Nuri al-Maliki that was confirmed by the Iraqi parliament on 21 December 2010 was in many respects an incomplete one. No security ministers had been nominated, and these portfolios, along with almost a dozen other ministries for which the parties in government had failed to nominate candidates, were left in the hands of caretaker ministers who were already heading other jobs. Notably, these arrangements included Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki himself with respect to his continued control of the security ministries.

In today’s session in the Iraqi parliament, some further steps were finally taken after a long period of inaction, although the government-formation process remains far from complete. Altogether eight more ministers were confirmed. The Kurdish parties got trade and civil society as expected, and Iraqiyya got electricity, albeit with a new candidate (Raad al-Ani) instead of their previous nominee. Maliki’s own all-Shiite National Alliance took the portfolios of national dialogue (Amir al-Khuzai from Basra and of the Daawa party), municipalities (Adil Mahudar from Maysan, a Sadrist) and women’s affairs (Ibtihal Jasid). Additional ministries of state were given to the Kurds and Iraqiyya; the latter earmarked for tribal affairs and given to Jamal al-Batikh from Wasit and belonging to Ayad Allawi’s faction. It is noteworthy that among the State of Law candidates, both Khuzai and Mahudar had been floated as candidates back in December and it is unclear why it has taken so long to confirm them. It is also interesting that two ministries held by Sadrists as deputyships and expected by some to be filled by new Sadrist ministers have still not been distributed: Planning and public works, the first of which being considered as one of the key ministries on offer.

Thus, instead of completing his government, Maliki left key posts open (like security) and proceeded to create two new ministers of state with vague portfolios. But the enlargement of the executive branch of government does not stop with the now 40 plus ministers. Another item that got discussed today only to end with an impasse was the election of deputies to the president, Jalal Talabani. Despite the largely ceremonial powers of these posts (the presidency should not be confused with the powerful, veto-wielding presidency council which has now expired), Iraqi parties have put up an intense fight for them. A law passed in early January set a ceiling on a maximum three vice-presidents, but Talabani has recently begun calling for a fourth Turkmen deputy to be included alongside his current nominees for the post (Tariq al-Hashemi of Iraqiyya, Adil Abd al-Mahdi of ISCI and Khudayr al-Khuzai of the Daawa/Tanzim al-Iraq). This move met with resistance from both Maliki and those who thought more vice presidents would just be a waste of money, so on today’s agenda was only a motion for parliament to confirm Hashemi, Abd al-Mahdi and Khuzai. However, in today’s session, a temporary alliance that had warmed up to Talabani’s ideas for a Turkmen vice president – consisting reportedly of the Kurds, Iraqiyya and the Sadrists and hence somewhat reminiscent in composition of the opposition that Maliki was facing in early 2010 – tried to press for the vote on the presidential deputies to be conducted individually, with a tacit understanding that Khuzai might be voted out to leave room for a Turkmen. Maliki’s allies reacted to this, and with some reason since the relevant law just talks about a “nomination” (tarshih) by the president to be confirmed by parliament, which sounds pretty much like a singular bundle of names and a single vote. At any rate, on tomorrow’s parliamentary agenda is included a vote on an amendment to the law on the presidential deputies that will likely create a fourth deputy and thereby highlight the institution of the presidency as playground for those who want to highlight the consociational aspect of Iraqi democracy, i.e. ethno-sectarian quotas. It may well turn into a busy week with a second reading on the federal supreme court bill as well as continuing discussions of the budget (with or without oil-export controversy) scheduled for Monday and Wednesday. Additionally, the much-trumpeted strategic policy council – touted by the Obama administration as the cornerstone of the supposed power-sharing deal that was arrived at last December – may or may not come into existence over coming months, but probably not in the shape that had been envisioned initially.

The vice-president debacle was a sorry finale to a session that had started with a rather inappropriate lecture by Ibrahim al-Jaafari on the supposed Iraqi antecedents and inspirations for the events in Tunisia and Egypt. Those interested in real democracy should probably look elsewhere for inspiration right now! As we are nearing the one-year anniversary of the 7 March 2010 elections, the Iraqi government-formation process remains incomplete. At the same time, since all the parties except the Kurdish Gorran are included in government, there is the obvious lacuna of a healthy opposition. Little wonder, in that context, that political violence and extremism continue to thrive on the margins of a clogged parliamentary system.

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