After this week, any extremists operating in the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan may be able to get away with their crimes, even if they are caught. This is because on July 16, the region’s anti-terrorism law will expire. The law was first passed by the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament in 2006 and it expires, and has been renewed, every two years. The last renewal was in 2014. The problem this year is that, due to the constitutional crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the wrangling over who should be president of the region, the work of the Parliament has been suspended since late last year. So there is nobody who can legally renew the anti-terrorism law.
After July 16, local courts will be forced to use the Iraqi penal code if they are dealing with anyone suspected of terrorism, says MP Goran Azad, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, and on the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee.
“But the punishments in the Iraqi penal code are lenient compared to those in the law on terrorism,” Azad told NIQASH. “For example, the Iraqi law doesn’t punish those who incite hatred and extremism or publish media with extremist ideologies. That was why the anti-terrorism law was passed here, to counter the weaknesses of the Iraqi law."
Without this law Iraqi Kurdistan cannot fight terrorism properly, politicians say.
As a kind of a state within the Iraqi state, Iraqi Kurdistan has its own legal system. In 2006, there was a greater threat of terrorism in Iraqi Kurdistan and this was why tougher legislation was passed.
Legal experts and military specialists are worried that this vacuum is going to lead to problems.
The expiration of this law is going to cause issues in the local courts, says Farouq Jamil Sadiq, the region’s former Minister of Justice.
“The Iraqi penal code is not as tough because it was drafted in 1969, when terrorism was not as big a problem as it is today,” Sadiq told NIQASH.
“Without this law, Iraqi Kurdistan cannot properly fight terrorism,” says Sorour al-Barazanji, an expert in military and security matters. “Especially because the threat presented by the Islamic State group is worse than ever. Of course, when the Islamic State attacks, they are not worrying about laws. But Iraq Kurdistan still needs this law.”
Even politicians from Iraqi Kurdistan’s Islamic parties, who have previously called for the law to be amended, have concerns about its expiration.
“We have a lot of notes we want taken into account when it comes to this law,” Hawraman Gachenay, an MP and member of the Iraqi Kurdish Islamic bloc of parties. “Because it has been used to target the Islamic stream. Despite that though, we don’t want to see Iraqi Kurdistan without a law on terrorism.”
However, this is a very difficult problem to solve without a sitting Parliament. One of the options to circumvent this is by putting the problem in front of the region’s Shura council. This is an advisory council on legal matters that was established in 2008; however, its rulings have no legal mandate.
“We must find a solution,” says Nazim Kabir Harki, vice-chairman of the region’s Interior Affairs Committee. “
He told NIQASH that “Jaafar Emniki [deputy speaker of the Iraqi Kurdish parliament] has sent a formal letter to the Shura Council, asking them to assist in finding a solution to this problem.”
Harki says he expects the Shura Council to respond before the law expires.
However, having this body weigh in on the topic is not without controversy. In a 2015 decision, the Shura council issued advice that more or less justified Iraqi Kurdish leader, Massoud Barzani, hanging onto the job of President in Iraqi Kurdistan. Since they did this – in opposition to most other political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, except Barzani’s own – they’ve been viewed more critically and seen as biased.
“Really, it is only Parliament that has the power to renew this law,” local legal analyst, Ahmed Warti, told NIQASH. If the Shura Council get involved, it could cause more political tensions and set a dangerous precedent, he says.
Another potential solution is the application of the Iraqi anti-terrorism law, formulated by the national Parliament in Baghdad in 2005, instead of the expiring Iraqi Kurdish one. This is a federal law and as such, could be taken to apply to the whole country. There is a tradition of the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament approving federal laws before they are used in Iraqi Kurdistan, Warti notes. However, the Shura Council may well step in and decide that there is no objection to using this particular law there without first getting the approval of the local Parliament.