Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Iraq’s Wasit Province Finally Elects New Governor

Wasit's Former Governor Tarfa
Wasit province in southern Iraq finally removed its governor Latif Hamad al-Tarfa. There were 51 candidates to replace him. After two rounds of voting by the provincial council, Mahdi Hussein Khalil al-Zubeidi was elected. He is a member of the Independent bloc that ran as part of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law list in the January 2009 governorate elections. Previously, Zubeidi was an engineer at the Ministry of Science, a local councilman in the Zubaidiya area of Wasit, before being elected a member of the provincial council, where he became the head of its reconstruction committee. This ended a six-month ordeal to make Governor Tarfa step down.

Wasit’s provincial council had been trying to get rid of Tarfa since September 2010. Back on September 9, the council voted to dismiss the governor for corruption and misrule. (1) As an example of the latter, the council pointed to the fact that only 17% of the province’s budget was spent. Tarfa fought his removal in court and won in October, despite the fact that the 2008 Provincial Powers Law allows councils to remove governors. That started a running battle between the two sides. In January 2011 the council called the governor for questioning three times, but he refused. That led it to impeach him again at the beginning of February. The council claimed that the governor was not cooperating with them, and called on the province’s parliamentary delegation to help force Tarfa out. The governor again appealed his case in court. By going to the justice system, Tarfa was able to drag out the process. In the meantime, the governor’s office and council basically shut down until their dispute could be resolved. Tarfa is from the Independent bloc within the State of Law, and was the only governor to win re-election in 2009.

Feb. 11 Protesters that stormed provincial council and governor's offices in Kut (Zee News)
Governor Tarfa also became the focus of demonstrators in Wasit. On February 16 there were violent protests in the provincial capital Kut, with people demanding that Tarfa step down over the lack of jobs and electricity, plus corruption. The protesters attempted to storm the provincial council building, and then went to the governor’s house, and tried to burn it down. Tarfa was inside during the incident, and was forced to flee. The security forces responded by shooting into the crowd, which killed three and wounded at least 50 others. From February 17-19 there was a sit in at the provincial council building demanding services, and for Tarfa to resign. A member of the council promised that they would sack the governor. On February 25, the Day of Rage more gathered in Kut, and again went to the provincial council building calling for better services and to end corruption. That was followed by another demonstration on March 11. Premier Maliki came to blame Tarfa for the situation within the province. He therefore had the protesters, the provincial council, and the Prime Minister all lined up against him. That was probably the reason why he finally agreed to step down at the end of March.
Wasit is one of the most rural provinces in Iraq. 38% of its workers are employed in farming, but most do not receive wages. Agriculture is also largely backwards and unprofitable there. In the urban areas there is a lack of jobs. The governorate also suffers from poor services such as water, sanitation, and health care. Tarfa was blamed for most of these troubles since he was in office since 2005. He finally paid the political price for the lack of development despite his best efforts to remain in power.


1. Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics Issue No. 8,” Inside Iraqi Politics, 2/8/11


Aswat al-Iraq, “Hundreds call for better services in Kut,” 2/25/11
- “Kut’s Sit-in demonstrators end their demonstration after getting promises to implement their demands:,” 2/19/11
- “New Governor elected for southern Iraq’s Wassit Province,” 3/30/11
- “South Iraq Wassit’s Governor dismissed by Province’s Council:,” 2/2/11
- “Wassit’s demonstrations resume, demanding its Governor’s resignation,” 2/17/11

Salaheddin, Sinan, “Protesters in south Iraq storm government offices,” Associated Press, 2/16/11

Schmidt, Michael and Adnan, Duraid, “New Protest in Iraqi City After Clashes With Police,” New York Times, 2/17/11

Schmidt, Michael and Adnan, Duraid, “Police Fire on Protesters in Iraq,” New York Times, 2/16/11

Al-Shaiyeb, Nabeel, “Baghdad ratifies dismissal of Wasit governor,” AK News, 3/16/11
- “Wasit elected new councilor,” AK News, 3/30/11

Sly, Liz and Qeis, Ali, “Violence erupts during anti-government protests in southern Iraq city,” Washington Post, 2/16/11

Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics Issue No. 8,” Inside Iraqi Politics, 2/8/11

Al Zaidi, Mohammed, “kut government promises economic boom,” Niqash, 3/18/11
- “people in kut have yet to reap the fruits of their protests,” Niqash, 3/2/11


Steve Donnelly, AICP said...

Great article. Provides the truly unique context associated with the attack on the governor's residence in Kut.

Not a big arab spring, but an understandable, if violent, frustration by local residents about local matters.

NJH said...

I read recently (http://www.ninanews.com/english/News_Details.asp?ar95_VQ=FGJGGH) the Independent Bloc withdres from the State of Law coalition in the province. Do you have any idea what effect this carries with the governor? Does this mean he has defected from Maliki as well? It seems to me the last two governors, both of them "independents," owe their positions to Maliki and Dawa.


Joel Wing said...

Yes Tarfa and Zubeidi both got into power through State of Law. I haven't heard about this recent split, but I don't think it has much affect upon the governor. Changes in the coalition don't really impact the governor, only if they call for his replacement, which usually has to do with that individual politician's performance.

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