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Amid Boycotts, Chaos And Constitutional Violations, A New Iraqi Government Is Born

Mustafa Habib
On Monday evening, a new Iraqi government came together under the leadership of Iraq’s new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi. Despite widespread praise for the relative inclusiveness of the new Cabinet, the…
11.09.2014  |  Baghdad
Iraqi ministers are sworn in on Monday evening.
Iraqi ministers are sworn in on Monday evening.

In a session that was loud, chaotic and at times, ironic, Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the members of his Cabinet to the Iraqi Parliament and had them vote on it, on Monday night. During the session, MPs argued loudly among themselves and across the house, some MPs withdrew in protest at the way the session was run while plenty of others, including members of the attending press, were very critical of various Constitutional and other violations that took place during the formation of this new government.

The worst legislative violation during the session was the lack of quorum. Most attendees were shocked when the Speaker of Parliament, Salim al-Jibouri, announced how the government would be voted upon. Paragraph Four, Article 76, of the Iraqi Constitution says that the Prime Minister designate needs to get an “absolute majority” from Parliament in order to approve his ministers and their programme.

An “absolute majority” means half or more of the total number of MPs in Parliament. However voting for this new cabinet was undertaken using the “simple majority” method – that is, al-Jibouri said that voting would be based on getting half or more of the votes from anyone actually attending the session.

There are supposed to be 325 MPs in Iraq’s Parliament and the Parliament’s official website said that 289 MPs were there. But nobody knows how many MPs were really present. Some said that 189 were there while others suggested only 182 made it into Parliament that day. Some journalists present tried to count them and made it up to only 179.

As Iraqi political expert, Reidar Visser noted on his website, Gulf Analysis, how al-Jibouri justified his decision: “On a legal and constitutional note, parliament speaker al-Jibouri made it clear during the vote that he intends to follow a supreme court ruling that says “absolute majority” in the Iraqi constitution means “absolute majority of those present” as long as “absolute majority of parliament membership” is not expressly mentioned,” Visser wrote.

All of which appeared to mean that some of the would-be ministers only got 140 votes when the Constitution says they should get at least 165 votes.

“Parliament has clearly violated the constitution and appeals will be submitted to the Federal Supreme court,” local legal expert, Kathem al-Allusi, told NIQASH. “Because the phrase - absolute majority - has clear rules to it and it is certainly different than a simple majority.”

The numerical chaos during the session was added to further by the fact that there were a lot of guests attending the first sitting of Iraq’s new Parliament. There were heads of Arab and other international diplomatic missions as well as representatives from the Arab League and the United Nations. Many of these guests actually sat in seats usually allocated to MPs and voting took place by a simple raising of hands. So it was very difficult to tell how many actual Iraqi MPs were present.

Another issue that many complained about was the fact that they only received the names for candidates to head the country’s various ministries at the last minute. The Prime Minister-designate, Haider al-Abadi, only told sitting MPs the names of his potential ministers during the session.

That was very bad, Raad al-Dahlaki, an MP for the mostly Sunni Muslim United bloc, told NIQASH.

“Is it reasonable to only let MPs know the names of potential ministers a few minutes before they are supposed to vote on them?,” al-Dahlaki asked. “We don’t know if some of these people are really well qualified to look after these portfolios or not.”

In an ironic twist, the head of one of the groups that told al-Abadi that they wouldn’t participate in his government was actually nominated to lead the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

But a few hours before the session began, the mostly Shiite Muslim bloc headed by former oil minister, Hussein al-Shahristani, had threatened to leave the government.

“That’s why we were so surprised when we heard that al-Shahristani had been nominated to a portfolio,” one of the bloc’s MPs, Samira al-Moussawi, told NIQASH. “It was a real mess,” she admitted.

Another violation of the Iraqi Constitution was the refusal by many of the would-be ministers to abandon dual nationality. Some high ranking politicians hold European or other passports besides their own Iraqi one. And many Iraqis believe that dual nationality enables corruption and other wrong doing. A number of leading officials accused of taking part in acts of corruption or terrorism have not been held accountable because they managed to escape the country with their second passport.

In fact Article 18 of the Iraqi Constitution says that: “Everyone who assumes a senior, security or sovereign position must abandon any other acquired citizenship”.

There was no checking to see if the new Ministers held dual nationality.

In his statements, the new Prime Minister did not specify how many ministries his government might eventually have – but at this session he only named 25. Several did not yet have MPs to head them and, crucially, al-Abadi also said that he would keep the ministries of defence and the interior for himself until suitable leaders for them could be found. This is particularly controversial because it is what his much-criticised predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, was also doing. Al-Abadi promised to find heads for these important ministries within a week.

As leading Iraqi journalist, Mushreq Abbas, writes on the Al Monitor website, there are already some names cropping up to take these jobs.

“News has leaked regarding the prospective nomination of Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Corps political party, for the interior minister position, and Khaled Abidi, on behalf of the Sunni Alliance, as defence minister,” Abbas writes. “Informed sources told Al Monitor that al-Abadi wants Qassem Daoud, a Shiite who is a former minister, to handle the Ministry of Defence, and Jaber al-Jabari, an academic from the Sunni bloc, to oversee the Ministry of Interior.”

Nonetheless plenty of MPs protested this delay as they believe these ministries are particularly important given the current security problems facing Iraq, particularly in the form of the Sunni Muslim extremist group, the Islamic State.

The government’s program for the future contained all of the mostly-expected plans – to push forward with decentralization toward more provincial power, to keep arms exclusively in the hands of the state and to suspend the power held by militias and other illegal armed groups, to achieve balance in the government between the country’s major ethnic and religious groups and on an economic level, to promote the private sector in Iraq.

But the biggest surprise came at the end of the Iraqi parliament’s first session. MPs chose to elect the former Prime Minister, al-Maliki, the former Speaker of Parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi and another former prime Minister, Ayad al-Allawi to all serve as Deputy Presidents of the country. The President of Iraq is the Kurdish politician, Fuad Masoum.

The post of deputy president is a largely ceremonial one but in these cases, it is also an ironic choice: The three men are firm political rivals and as anyone in Iraq will tell you, they despise one another.

And then the first session of Parliament ended: The way it began – with shouting, arguing, boycotts, confusion and uncertainty.

List of ministerial posts, as posted on the Iraqi Parliament’s website:

Deputy Prime Ministers: Hoshyar Zebari (Kurdish), Saleh al-Mutlaq (Sunni), Bahaa al-Araji (Shiite)

Ministry of Agriculture: Falah Hassan al-Zaidan (Sunni)

Ministry of Communication: Kazem Hassan Rashed (Shiite)

Ministry of Construction and Housing: Tariq al-Khikani (Shiite)

Ministry of Culture: Firyad Rawandouzi (Kurdish)

Ministry of Education: Mohammed Iqbal (Sunni)

Ministry of Electricity: Qassim al-Fahdawi (Sunni)

Ministry of the Environment: Qutaiba al-Jibouri (Sunni)

Ministry of Finance: Rose Nuri Shaways (Kurdish)

Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Ibrahim al-Jaafari (Shiite)

Ministry of Health: Adila Hammoud (Shiite)

Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research: Hussein al-Shahristani (Shiite)

Ministry of Human Rights: Mohammed Mahdi al-Bayati (Shiite)

Ministry of Industry and Minerals: Nasser al-Issawi (Shiite)

Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs: Mohammed Shayaa al-Sudani (Shiite)

Ministry of Justice: Haider al-Zamili (Shiite)

Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works: Abdul Karim Younis (Sunni)

Ministry of Oil: Adel Abdul-Mahdi (Shiite)

Ministry of Science and Technology: Faris Yusef Jajo (Christian)

Minister of State for Provincial Affairs: Ahmed al-Jibouri (Sunni)

Ministry of Trade: Abdulkarim Malas al-Kasnazani (Sunni)

Ministry of Transport: Baqir Jabr al-Zubaidi (Shiite)

Ministry of Works and Planning: Salman al-Jumaili (Sunni)

Ministry of Youth and Sports: Abdul Hussein Abtan (Shiite)