Opponents of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have recently focused upon the judiciary as one way to lesson his power. They have targeted Chief Justice Medhat Mahmoud who dominates the courts as head of the Supreme Judicial Council, the Federal Supreme Court, and the Cassation Court. In December 2012, parliament passed a law separating the head of the Judicial Council from the Supreme Court, and then the Accountability and Justice Commission attempted to remove Judge Mahmoud from office for his work under Saddam Hussein. The very courts that Mahmoud controls overturned both of those moves. The judge therefore remains at the top of the courts, and a key ally of the premier.
|Opponents of PM Maliki have tried and failed to limit his powers by going after Chief Justice Mahmoud (Shafaq News)|
On September 17, 2013, Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court canceled the December 2012 law separating it from the Supreme Judicial Council, and announced that Judge Medhat Mahmoud would officially return to head both. The ruling was due to an appeal made by the head of the State of Law bloc in parliament Khalid Atiya. The law was passed at the end of last year by a coalition of opponents to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made up of the Iraqi National Movement (INM), the Sadrists, and the Kurdish Coalition. The legislation was meant to cut down Mahmoud’s domination of the courts as he not only heads the Council and Supreme Court, but the Court of Cassation as well. Mahmoud was removed from the head of the Council back in February, but his short hiatus was now put to an end by the very court that he heads. The legal committee in parliament said it would abide by the ruling, but individual lawmakers from the Sadr bloc and Iraqi National Dialogue Front, which was formerly a member of the INM, voiced opposition. Judge Mahmoud has been a staunch ally of the prime minister issuing one ruling after another enhancing his power over the government. Maliki’s critics therefore targeted him several times earlier in the year. Each attempt has failed however, since Mahmoud controls the courts.
From December 2012 to March 2013 there was a flurry of activity by parliament and the Accountability and Justice Commission to try to limit Judge Mahmoud’s power. In March, it was announced that the judge would go on trial for alleged crimes during Saddam’s times. The charges were filed by independent lawmaker Sabah al-Saadi, who said he had collected evidence from ten families who accused Mahmoud of passing death sentences against their relatives during the former regime. (1) Saadi has been one of the judge’s greatest critics, calling him a supporter of Maliki’s dictatorship. Back on February 12, the Accountability and Justice Commission, which replaced the old DeBaathification Commission, said it removed Chief Justice Mahmoud from the head of the Judicial Council for his ties to the Baath. The next day, the December judicial law took affect, and Mahmoud lost control of the Supreme Court as well. The Cassation Court ended up rejecting the Accountability and Justice Commission’s decision claiming there was no hard evidence against him. Of course, this was another court that Mahmoud was in charge of. Saadi and others also demanded that the judge step down, because he is far past the retirement age of 68. While Maliki’s opponents used a variety of means to get rid of Mahmoud they all failed in the end, because they could be appealed to the courts. The conflict of interest between them ruling upon their own chief justice was not an issue, because rule of law is weak in Iraq. Not surprisingly then, they issued one judgment after another in favor of Judge Mahmoud beating back the attempts to lesson his influence.
Judge Mahmoud has a very long history with Iraq’s courts. He served under the Baathist regime, and then was appointed the supervisor of the Justice Ministry in June 2003 by the Coalition Provisional Authority. He was then made deputy president of the Federal Appeals Court, before assuming its head in March 2005. He went on to become the Chief Justice of the federal Supreme Court, which by law also gave him leadership of the Supreme Judicial Council. Many believe that his history under Saddam made him deferential to whoever was in power, and thus he has forged close ties with the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He has issued controversial decisions that have increased the premier’s control over the independent commissions, influenced the 2010 national election, and reduced the parliament’s power to issue legislation to name just a few.
Judge Medhat Mahmoud has provided a rare target that has unified the diverse opponents of Maliki. Even erstwhile allies of the prime minister like the Sadrists have been angered by Mahmoud’s judicial rulings as they have cut into the power of the parliament, and lessened the divisions between the different parts of the government. That allowed rare cases of consensus amongst lawmakers to pass the judicial law in 2012 attempting to separate the Judicial Council from the Supreme Court. The Sadrists and independent Parliamentarian Saadi also attempted to use the Accountability and Justice Commission against the judge. All these moves failed however, because they could be appealed, and the courts were not going to rule against Judge Mahmoud. He thus has been able to hold onto his various positions in the judiciary, much to the chagrin of his critics. The next question facing him is what will he do if Maliki is defeated in the 2014 elections, which is an increasing possibility given the deteriorating security situation. Will the Chief Justice make some ruling to help the premier hold onto power or will he acknowledge the change in direction, and attach himself to however comes out on top?
1. Shafaq News, “Ten complaints submitted against Mahmoud,” 2/20/13
Alsumaria, “Justice and Accountability: Denunciation de Mahmood and legal Badri began working,” 2/19/13
- “Saadi: referral Medhat al-Mahmoud, Tariq Harb of the Supreme Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity,” 3/27/13
Independent Press Agency, “Supreme Judicial Council is a proposal to nominate the President of the Federal Court of Cassation constitutional violation,” 6/27/13
Al-Mada, “Shanshal announce the start of the audit request inclusion Medhat al-Mahmoud and some judges of accountability and justice,” 2/7/13
National Iraqi News Agency, “Adel Maliki demands JA to show legal evidence for including Medhat al-Mahmoud with its measures,” 2/15/13
- “BREAKING NEWS Medhat al-Mahmoud included in Justice, Accountability measures,” 2/13/13
- “Sabah al-Saadi: The “Fetish” of Medhat al-Mahmoud has fallen,” 2/14/13
Salaheddin, Sinan, “Iraq panel clears senior judge over Saddam ties,” Associated Press, 2/19/13
Shafaq News, “Federal Court returns Medhat Mahmoud as head of the Supreme Judicial Council,” 9/16/13
- “Judge Hassan Humairi head of the Supreme Judicial Council,” 2/12/13
- “Saadi announced filing 18 new lawsuits against al-Mahmood and Harb,” 3/4/13
- “Ten complaints submitted against Mahmoud,” 2/20/13
Al-Tamimi, Iyad, “Sadrists: Sentan of the position of Medhat al-Mahmoud to overcome the legal age,” Al-Mada, 9/17/13
Visser, Reidar, “The Political Dynamics behind the Downfall of Midhat al-Mahmoud, Iraq’s Supreme Court Chief,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 2/15/13
Wicken, Stephen and Sullivan, Marisa, “2013 Iraq Update #7: De-Baathification Body Ousts Iraq’s Chief Justice as Protests Continue,” Institute for the Study of War, 2/15/13