For 30 months, the chairman’s gravel has been banging and recently the provincial council of the northern Iraqi state Ninawa council boasted of having sat through over a hundred sessions.
However a NIQASH survey of council members’ opinions indicates that only four out of the 20 surveyed described the council’s performance as satisfactory. Out of 136 decisions the council has made, only three were actual laws and the rest were service related. Yet with regard to state services in Ninawa, the situation does not appear to have improved.
“The Ninawa council has not been successful in making legislation during the past months. Even the few laws enacted were not enforced,” confirmed Mahmoud Azzo, a professor of political science at the University of Mosul. “More than one hundred meetings have resulted in hundreds of decisions, all of which need to be analyzed and discussed.”
While villages and cities elect their own administrators, the province itself, with all its districts, has only one election. Azzo believes that this makes the provincial council less effective and also less answerable to its constituency.
“If each member represented a specific electoral district within his or her province, then they would have to be more active and their work would be more transparent,” Azzo argues.
Ninawa’s council first convened on April 12, 2009, after local elections that saw the political balance of power tip in favour of the Hadba list, comprised of parties with an Arab majority. Hadba’s main rival, the Kurdish-dominated Ninawa Brotherly List, had previously dominated the council although this was mainly because when the first round of provincial elections was held, the local Sunni Arab population boycotted them. At the time al-Qaeda were in control of the area. All of which meant that the Kurdish parties – the Kurdish population is in the minority in the province - were elected to take charge after the first provincial elections with a significant majority.
However after the second round of elections in 2009, when the Sunni Arab majority did vote, the Arab dominated bloc took control of the council.
The 37 seats of Ninawa’s council are now distributed like this: the Hadba list has 19 seats, the Islamic party and the Shabak and Yazidi minorities have three seats each and the single Christian representative, one seat. Kurdish politicians still managed to gain 12 seats, around a quarter of the votes, but after the Arab parties took all of the major positions of power on the council, the Kurdish walked out. They said they would boycott the council operations indefinitely due to the unfair imbalance in leadership positions.
The Christian member of the council has also been refusing to attend council meetings because, internal sources say, of pressure from the Kurdish politicians.
Anyone who attends official council meetings in the large hall can easily see the many vacant seats. These are due to the boycott but also to the absence of other council members. This has resulted in many delays in council business. In the NIQASH questionnaire, 17 of the 20 politicians surveyed said they thought absence of members because they were travelling or simply because they were negligent in their duties has badly affected the council’s performance.
A member of Ninawa’s council for both terms, Yahya Mahjoob, has no doubt that this current version of the council is far more representative of the province’s voters. But he also says there is no huge difference in terms of the performance.
Mahjoob says he believes that this head of the council – state governor Atheel al-Nujaifi - is acting in the same almost-dictatorial as the previous governor did. For example, he says, he has been asking to see some state financial reports for six months now. But he has received nothing. “None of the council members even knows what the state’s revenues are,” he complained.
According to the NIQASH survey two thirds of the council members felt that the council was firmly under the control of the state’s executive branch, headed by the governor Atheel al-Nujaifi. However when surveyed himself, al-Nujaifi didn’t agree with this.
Meanwhile Thamer Yassin, the head of the council’s legal committee, believed that one of the problems with the council’s efficacy has to do with the number of individuals working on the council. Due to the various defections and boycotts, there are only 25 council members working and any decision needs to be approved by at least 20 individuals, and sometimes more.
“This has delayed many decisions because one or two members vetoed them,” Yassin explained. And, he said, although the council didn’t make any decisions that explicitly violated existing Iraqi laws, some were not clearly formulated and needed further analysis and explanation.
However Dildar al-Zibari, vice president of the provincial council, has more confidence in the work of the body he helps lead. “Despite the fact that the provincial councils are a new thing, and the problems and obstacles we’ve had to face, I believe we’ve dealt with the legislation as logically as possible. And we have responded to the needs of the people,” he said.
Al-Zibari talked about some of the laws the provincial council had managed to pass, including legislation that banned the import and sale of plastic toy weapons and compulsory screening for certain genetic issues before marriage. Those laws, al-Zibari said, were a direct result of the needs of Ninawa’s populace.
On the other hand al-Zibari doesn’t deny that sometimes mistakes are made.
Local political analyst, Uqla Suleiman al-Houri, believes that the current situation inside the council is unhealthy and deteriorating. Because of the various boycotts, “all the council members have the same political affiliation and the opposition is almost absent. This is an unhealthy situation,” he noted.
And now it is emerging that many of the current council members also have conflicting interests, al-Houri said. Within the Hadba list itself there are many smaller parties and they have conflicts too. Recently narrower coalitions have surfaced and this is starting to delay council business even further.
Abdul-Rahimal-Shammari, head of one of these smaller blocs and of the council’s security committee, confirmed this: “We now voice opinions that are different than those of the governor, Atheel al-Nujaifi, who is also the head of our Hadba list. Mainly because we feel he has started to give the two Kurdish parties too many concessions. We used to listen to al-Nujaifi before. But now we don’t.”
Al-Shammari was also concerned about the lack of council cooperation on combating terrorist activities in the province.
In conclusion, it seems that most of the council members are unhappy with the way their business in Ninawa state has gone, during the past 105 sessions. However what they can do to remedy this remains unclear. If, as the surveyed politicians say, the council is under the control of the governor al-Nujaifi, it may not be much. Because one of the most striking results of the survey is the difference of opinions expressed by al-Nujaifi and by his council members. While the majority of council members expressed concern at the way things were going, Ninawa’s governor expressed mostly positive opinions on progress made.