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Infighting, Back Biting, No Consensus:
What Has Iraq's Parliament Achieved After A Year in Power?

Mustafa Habib
The Iraqi Parliament ended its first legislative year Saturday. It was marked by infighting, back biting and a lack of consensus on anything much - so did Iraq's politicians actually achieve anything?
Iraq's Parliament. (photo: سایتی پەرلەمان)
Iraq's Parliament. (photo: سایتی پەرلەمان)

The Iraqi Parliament has been going about its political business for over a year now – the first legislative session finished at the end of last month. Prospects for getting things done – passing important laws, appointing senior political leaders – that were dim under former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, then brightened under the new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, at the beginning of the political year only to fade again as the legislative year drew to a close.

So what has been achieved? In terms of laws passed, Parliament discussed 140 laws during the legislative year and managed to pass only 30, according to Parliament's own website.

Even more disappointing was the fact that four of the most important laws – laws which could provide some solution to the country's increasing sectarian divides and its security crisis – were not among those 30. Those four important laws were all part of Prime Minister al-Abadi's plans and potentially this failure to enact them signals the problems the new leader has had in trying to enforce his will.

One of these important laws concerned Iraq's potential National Guard, which would effectively allow local people, whether Sunni Muslim or Shiite Muslim, to form their own military units and police their own areas. It is meant to reassure those locals, in particular Sunni Muslim locals, that they would not be at the mercy of a mainly Shiite Muslim army. However, Parliament was unable to act on this law because of the differences in opinion on how the National Guard should be commanded. Shiite Muslim politicians want the Iraqi government to be able to control these forces. Sunni Muslim politicians believe the forces should be controlled by the provincial councils in the areas that formed them.

Another important law that has not been passed is the one concerning Iraq's highest court, known as the Federal Supreme Court. Each political bloc is trying to get this law formulated in a way that serves its own interests and a major point of contention revolves around the court's religious members. Sunni and Shiite politicians say that there can be four clerics on the court but Iraqi Kurdish politicians do not agree, arguing that there is too much religious influence in the court.

Another of the laws that had been a priority was the one governing the way that political parties work in Iraq. This law was supposed to make funding of political parties more transparent as well as stop political parties from buying weapons. The law wasn't passed – but then again this is hardly surprising, almost every political party has been avoiding that particular piece of legislation since 2005.

The fourth law that could have made a huge difference to Iraq's political and security landscape was the Accountability and Justice Law, which basically says that former members of Saddam Hussein’s political party, the Baath Party, cannot exercise political power or be given senior positions. Hussein was a Sunni and many Sunni Muslims were members of his party but not necessarily directly responsible for Hussein's regime's worst excesses. Changes to this law would have further reassured Sunni Muslims that they were not being sidelined when it came to power sharing in Iraq. Amendments were made to the law during this legislative year and they were discussed at length by all parties. However the amendments never made it into law and remain in limbo.

So what has the Iraqi Parliament actually achieved? Quite possibly the formation of the government in September 2014, as well as managing to approve the country's budget in January this year, will be seen as some of the most important achievements. Even though things did not happen according to the framework set by the Iraqi Constitution, in the past these two tasks have taken far longer.

In terms of the actual work done by Parliament there also seems to have been some improvements, especially in the behaviour of the new Iraqi Prime Minister, al-Abadi, who has been far more cooperative and conciliatory in his day-to-day work.

Parliamentarians also tried to regain some of the power the body had lost during the regime headed by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In doing this, several senior officials – including military personnel – were called before Parliament to explain mistakes and alleged wrong doing. This was commendable. However the problem came afterwards, because nobody was actually held accountable for problems they were questioned about. For example, senior military commanders have hardly been held accountable for various defeats at the hands of the extremist group known as the Islamic State.

In terms of the daily work of Parliament, the past year has been marked by a lot of fighting and arguments, with plenty of opposing viewpoints aired loudly. Sessions have always been noisy and even, in some cases, punctuated by physical violence.

Journalists who cover Parliamentary proceedings told NIQASH that the year has also been characterized by an increasing number of press conferences. Members of Parliament kept wanting to explain their own point of view to the Iraqi media. Journalists noted the politicians also used the press conferences to slander one another and cast aspersions on political colleagues. And the squabbling was so intense, the reporters noted, they felt there was often hardly nay attention paid to the fact the extremist Islamic State group was causing major crises throughout the country.

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