Thursday, July 24, 2008

Conspiracy Theories Abound On Election Law Veto

On July 22 Iraq’s parliament passed the much-anticipated provincial election law. The next day, the Presidential Council rejected it. That was expected because President Jalal Talabani, who is a Kurd and heads the Council, said that he would veto the bill. The law now goes back to parliament to be revised. Conspiracy theories are flying about why the bill was passed and later rejected, and whether elections will be held in 2008.

The Passage and Eventual Veto of the Election Law

The major issue of dispute is the future of Kirkuk’s Tamim province. The bill said that elections in the province will be delayed six months, but until then the provincial council will be divided evenly between Kurds, Arabs, and Turkoman. Currently the Kurds control 21 of the 41 seats on the council, the council head, and the governorship. Another provision in the law said that security for Tamim would be under Baghdad. Kurdish Peshmerga militias largely control the city today.

When the law came up for vote on July 22 the parliament went through each clause of the bill. First the parliament rejected delaying the vote in Tamim. Next, the power-sharing provision was objected to as well. A secret vote was finally put forward and the bill was passed. Most of the Dawa party voted for it, but 60 Kurds and 15 Shiites, mostly from the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council (SIIC), walked out. An independent Shiite politician said this was the first time the Kurds were defeated in parliament. The next day, both President Jalal Talabani and Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi from the SIIC vetoed the law.

Conspiracies and Complications Surrounding Kirkuk

This is where the conspiracy theories come in. The BBC reported that the Kurds, the SIIC, and the Dawa party agreed to block the power-sharing clause in the law. Opposition groups say the law was passed knowing that it would be vetoed in the Presidential Council to delay elections. One of the leading Kurdish parliamentary members Mahmoud Othman said that the secret vote was also meant to anger politicians, and increase disputes over the bill.

There is no easy answer to the future of Kirkuk and Tamim province. The Kurds and the SIIC have both said voting in Kirkuk should be delayed 6 months. The problem is they have no plans on what will happen during that time to resolve the outstanding issues. It will allow the Kurdish parties to expand their influence over the area however, as they are intent on annexing it to the Kurdistan autonomous region. The other two main groups in the province, the Arabs and Turkoman support the power-sharing clause. They believe this is a way to maintain their power in the city that is coming under increasing Kurdish control. The problem is the Kurds are probably a majority, so this compromise would be a political loss for them. The State Department’s Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) believes that 60% of Tamim is Kurdish, but under the power-sharing idea, they would only get 31% of the provincial council seats. The Iraq constitution says there should have been a census and a vote on the future of Kirkuk by December 31, 2007, but that never happened. These two measures were postponed until June 2008, but that deadline passed by as well. The United Nations is now trying to handle the situation. A State Department official with Kirkuk’s PRT suggested that the major groups should come up with a percentage for seating on the provincial council without actually counting, and divide up power that way. The same person said that at best, Kirkuk could take three years to solve.

Conclusion

Since the Presidential Council vetoed the election law, it will now be sent back to parliament to be amended. Mahmoud Mashadani, the speaker of parliament, said there was little chance that this cold be done before the legislature goes on its summer recess on August 1. Others say that it can happen. The President of Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, is traveling to Baghdad to try to work out a deal. If none can be made in the next few weeks that will most likely mean the elections will be delayed until 2009. The Election Commission said that it needs three months after the law is passed to prepare for the vote. Iraqi politics has always been known for its Byzantine style, and the events surrounding the election law are no exception. The Kurds and SIIC have a long-standing alliance dating back to the Saddam days. They have had their way in parliament since it was established in 2005. It is to be seen whether the passage and subsequent veto was part of their scheme to delay the vote so they can shore up their support in the country because they expect to be challenged, or if their plans were actually derailed by opposition politicians who want to have the elections as soon as possible to unseat the powers that be.

SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraqi politicians squabble over election law,” Associated Press, 5/26/08

BBC News, “Iraqi Kurdish Alliance says most blocs agree to Kirkuk poll delay,” 7/22/08

Jam, Kawa, “Delay of provincial council elections sought,” Kurdish Globe, 5/23/08

Al Jazeera, “Iraq president rejects election law,” 7/23/08

Morgan, Benjamin, “Iraq elections risk delay after presidency council rejects bill,” Agence France Presse, 7/23/08

Rubin, Alissa, “Kurds Object to Iraqi Provincial Election Law,” New York Times, 7/23/08

Steele, Jonathan, “Iraqi MPs stall deals on Bush benchmarks,” Guardian, 6/28/08

Voices of Iraq, “UIC proposes postponing Kirkuk elections for 6 months – MP,” 7/15/08

Warden, James, “Disagreements over Kirkuk’s status could sideline voters,” Stars and Stripes, 7/14/08

Youssef, Nancy, “Kurds storm out as Iraqi parliament OKs Oct. 1 elections,” McClatchy Newspapers, 7/22/08

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