Friday, February 22, 2013

2013 Iraq Update #8: Maliki and Nujaifi Struggle over De-Ba’athification

February 22, 2013
By Stephen Wicken

Maliki and Nujaifi Struggle over De-Ba’athification
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Sadrist Trend have reportedly struck a deal over control of the Accountability and Justice Commission (AJC), which oversees de-Ba’athification.  Additionally, a Maliki ally has been installed at the head of the AJC, while Maliki’s key judicial ally has been restored. The deal again raises the question of Sadrist alignment with Maliki and its implications for the consolidation of Shi’a political power in Iraq.Conversely, the premier’s primary opponent among the Sunni Arab population,Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, has been forced to defend the activities of the AJC that has targeted members of his political constituency. Nujaifi now faces renewed threats of removal from his position by Maliki’s allies.
On February 18, the Accountability and Justice Commission’s (AJC) appeals panel overturned the decision to remove Judge Medhat al-Mahmoud from his position atop the Iraqi judiciary because of his position under Saddam Hussein. The panel announced that it had found no evidence of ties to the Ba’ath Party, and subsequently affirmed on February 20 that rather than having been an agent of the Ba’athist regime, Medhat had been one of its victims. Deputy AJC head Bakhtiar Omar al-Qadhi stated on February 19 that Medhat would be allowed to return to the presidency of the Federal Supreme Court.
While Medhat’s case appears to have been concluded, the larger political struggle behind the de-Ba’athification issue is ongoing. On February 17, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s media adviser Ali al-Moussawi announced that AJC head Falah Hassan Shanshal, a Sadrist, had been removed as the commission’s chairman on the grounds that he had been appointed by Maliki and not by parliament. Moussawi claimed that Maliki had been forced to appoint Shanshal because parliament had failed to elect a chairman and vice-chairman of the AJC; however, he had decided to end Shanshal’s assignment and return the issue to parliament for voting. Independent MP Sabah al-Saadi, an outspoken critic both of Maliki and of Judge Medhat, subsequently claimed that Maliki had countermanded all decisions taken by the AJC under Shanshal’s leadership. Instead of allowing parliament to vote on a replacement for Shanshal, however, Maliki immediately tasked Basim al-Badri, a member of the Dawa Party - Iraq Organization, with heading the AJC. Maliki’s immediate imposition of a new AJC head on the grounds that the outgoing chief was not elected by parliament, and the fact that he did not replace the similarly unelected Bakhtiar Omar, make clear that the premier’s opposition to Shanshal stems from the latter’s move against Medhat, Maliki’s long-time judicial ally.
The AJC has now,however, become part of Maliki’s ongoing conflict with Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi. On February 18, Nujaifi issued a directive stating that the AJC is an independent body tied to parliament and countermanding Shanshal’s removal. The gambit came days after Nujaifi gave an interview to Al-Jazeera while visiting Qatar in which he called on Maliki to resign so that early elections could be held. Nujaifi accused Maliki of targeting Iraqi Sunnis and pointed out that de-Ba’athification procedures had been “applied against the Sunni people in an unjust way.” This raises the question of why Nujaifi should seek to retain the head of the commission that oversees de-Ba’athification. Shanshal has historically been relatively hardline: as the head of the parliamentary committee that reviews the AJC’s activities, he supported the banning of 511 candidates from the 2010 elections, including Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak. However, Shanshal’s willingness to target Medhat, Maliki’s key ally in the judiciary, made him an attractive potential ally in Nujaifi’s power struggle with the prime minister. Basim al-Badri’s leadership of the AJC, on the other hand, places the commission under Maliki’s control, implying the prospect of further politicized use of de-Ba’athification to target the premier’s opponents.
Nujaifi’s criticisms drew immediate approbation from Maliki allies. State of Law MPs and Jamal al-Bateikh, leader of the pro-Maliki White Bloc, were quick to draw connections between Nujaifi’s accusations and their context, accusing Qatar of supporting sectarianism on the part of Sunni Arab Iraqis. Sadrist MP Uday Awad claimed on February 17 that a majority of MPs were seeking to withdraw confidence from Nujaifi as parliamentary speaker because of Nujaifi’s ‘sectarianism’. State of Law MP Shakir al-Darraji stated, however, that only 120 signatures had been collected, a number which if accurate falls well short of a parliamentary majority. Nujaifi issued a statement on February 20 insisting that as a politician he had done nothing wrong by visiting a neighboring state and calling on the Maliki government to heed the demands of anti-government protesters. Nujaifi drew support from Iraqiyya MPs such as Ahmed al-Masaari, who argued that it was “shameful” for MPs to criticize the head of parliament as they had Nujaifi.
It was in this context that Nujaifi issued his directive countermanding the order to remove Shanshal from the chairmanship of the AJC. It appears, however, that Nujaifi’s directive may have been undercut by a deal between Maliki and the Sadrists, reported on February 22, in which the Sadrists have agreed to Shanshal’s demotion in exchange for control of other,as yet unnamed, commissions. If this report is accurate, the move would echo the Sadrists’ acceptance of acting dominion over the Finance Ministry, providing further evidence of their willingness to soften their opposition to Maliki in exchange for greater access to power and resources.
Nujaifi has faced threats of votes on his speakership in the past. State of Law MPs threatened to vote for his replacement in 2011, claiming that he ran parliament in a biased and unfair manner. The issue was raised again in June 2012 after Nujaifi and allies failed to remove Maliki from the premiership. More recently, Maliki’s allies claimed they had begun a campaign to oust Nujaifi in January 2013 at the same time that Nujaifi announced that he had received requests from MPs to question Maliki in parliament, a precursor to voting on confidence in Maliki himself. Aziz al-Mayahi, another leading White Bloc member, stated on January 7 that 110 signatures had been collected in support of Nujaifi’s dismissal; if Shakir al-Darraji’s estimate of 120 signatures is accurate, this implies that the campaign to oust the speaker has generated modest momentum. Should Maliki’s allies decide to mobilize against Nujaifi, however, as they did in support of State of Law Youth and Sports Minister Jassim Muhammed Jaafar in early February, they could conceivably remove from power the highest-profile Sunni Arab leader in national politics,with serious implications for the balance of power in Iraq.
Budget vote postponed again
The Iraqi parliament failed twice this week to meet to vote on the 2013 budget due to the absence of quorum. State of Law MP Haithamal-Jubouri claimed on February 19 that the National Alliance and the Kurdistan Alliance had reached an agreement that the Kurdistan region would continue to receive 17 per cent of the federal budget in 2013. However, Najiba Najib, a Kurdish MP on the parliamentary finance committee, was quick to deny Jubouri’s statement, insisting that no deal had been reached. Another finance committee member, Ibrahim al-Mutlak of Iraqiyya, confirmed on February 21 that no final deal had been reached, despite continued insistence from State of Law and National Alliance MPs that a vote was imminent. The impasse continues even as figures from across the political spectrum voice their concern that the delay in passing the budget is harming the Iraqi economy significantly.
Protesters hold ‘Iraq or Maliki’ demonstrations
Protests against the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki entered their third month on February 22 as demonstrations took place in the provinces of Anbar, Ninewa, Salah ad-Din, Diyala, Kirkuk, and in smaller numbers in the Baghdad neighborhoods of Doura, Ghazaliyah, and Adhamiyah. The theme for the day’s protests was “Iraq or Maliki,” and a member of the coordinating committee for the Anbar protests insisted that the protesters were“determined to topple the Maliki government that ignores the restitution of the usurped rights of the people.” A preacher at Friday prayers in Samarra accused the Maliki government of“encouraging militias to kill and displace the people of Baghdad,” but counseled the demonstrators to continue their protests by “all peaceful means.”Indeed, the protests remained peaceful across Iraq: photos from the Ramadi protest appear to show security guard personnel checking protesters for weapons,suggesting that the protesters or connected tribes are taking measures to ensure that the protests remain nonviolent and to prevent infiltration by extremist or terrorist elements.