Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law (SOL) party began challenging some provincial governments in 2014. The last one was Basra the economic hub of the country. Even though SOL won the most votes there in 2013 and gained the head of council it decided that it preferred the governorship, held by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISC), and initiated a lawsuit in March 2014 in the premier friendly courts to obtain it. Iran brokered a truce between the two parties, but then State of Law brought it up again in April. This time it appeared that Maliki was just using it to warn the Supreme Council before this year’s election that if it decided to challenge him they could lose their positions in the provincial governments.
PM Maliki (left) used the threat against the Basra government to warn Ammar Hakim (right) of the Supreme Council not to challenge him in this year’s election (New Sabah)
At the beginning of April 2014 the case against the Basra government returned to the news. April 3 a court said that it was moving ahead with the lawsuit filed against Basra by State of Law. This was after the same court said it was holding off hearing the case at the end of March. Then on April 7 the judges said they were postponing the case due to a lack of evidence. Beforehand the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) was complaining that the judges reviewing the suit had been changed due to interference by SOL. The Supreme Council was obviously on the defensive with the threat of losing the Basra governorship hanging over its head. State of Law on the other hand was playing it cool saying that it was committed to working with ISCI. The courts in Iraq are under the influence of the prime minister so the threat of a lawsuit held a lot of weight.
State of Law initiated the lawsuit because it wanted the governorship of Basra. The provincial government was put together in June 2013. The first session was attended by judges and 28 of the 35 council members, including 9 of 16 the SOL councilmen. State of Law got the head of council, while ISCI obtained the governorship. The other seven SOL members called for a postponement, which was the basis for the court case. That was a precarious lawsuit since SOL got the most votes in the election, participated in the government formation process, and ended up with the council chairmanship. That didn’t matter since the courts would rule whatever way Maliki wanted showing that this was a pure power grab by the prime minister.
In the aftermath of the lawsuit ISCI and SOL started a war of words between each other, which brought Iran in to mediate. Maliki and Ammar Hakim the head of ISCI both met with Iranian officials. The two then met face to face, which led to a heated exchange between them, but ended with a peace agreement that included freezing the Basra case until after the 2014 elections. Publicly Tehran’s role was not mentioned. Instead the Supreme Council claimed that its threats against SOL led to the peace.
The real goal of this confrontation between State of Law and the Supreme Council was not about the Basra governorship, but the 2014 elections. It was obvious that Maliki was manipulating the courts to threaten ISCI, hence the on and off again court hearing. The goal of the prime minister was to warn Hakim that if he opposed him after this year’s vote he could not only lose Basra, but any other provincial positions the Supreme Council held. This was shown by the fact that SOL successfully removed the Diyala government earlier this year due to a lawsuit, and got another favorable ruling against the Wasit administration as well. ISCI made a strong comeback in last year’s election and losing any of those governorates would be a severe loss for the party, especially in important provinces such as Basra. That will put Ammar Hakim in a difficult position when negotiations start to put together the next government. Will he be swayed to back Maliki for another term so that he can hold onto his local assets or will he challenge the premier in the hopes of removing him and thus assuring that nothing will happen to the governorates that his party controls? Only time will tell.
Abdullah, Ali, “Albonza: Basra First coalition exceeded 23 members and a government can be formed away from others,” Buratha News, 4/5/14
AIN, “Bazoni: Maliki, Hakim reach compromise over canceling complain over formation of Basra local government,” 3/18/14
- “Breaking News…Court postpones claim over legitimacy of Basra local government,” 4/7/14
Buratha News, “Basra First coalition and State of Law agreed to request the postponement of the appeal in the Basra government as a prelude to withdrawing confidence,” 3/5/14
Al Mada, “”Basra First” denies the partition: the appeal over the legitimacy of the government was withdrawn,” 3/20/14
- “Basra responds to the challenge of State of Law: Maliki’s allies attended the configuration session,” 3/11/14
- “Hakim bloc accuses al-Maliki of violating the truce and expects the issuance of a court challenge to the legitimacy of the government of Basra,” 4/3/14
- “Hakim bloc in Basra confirms “the futility of” challenging the lawfulness of the local government by al-Maliki’s coalition,” 3/10/14
- “Hakim to al-Maliki bloc threatening to “turn the tables” in four provinces if he tried to change the political map in Basra,” 3/12/14
- “Maliki’s bloc in Basra confirms its commitment to the truce with the Citizen’s Coalition and the latter shows “no fear” of the judgment,” 4/3/14
- “Shi’ite sources: meeting with Maliki and Hakim was hot and Iran entered to line up a truce,” 3/20/14