Weekly Iraq Update #43
October 17, 2012-October 24, 2012
Kurdish delegations arrive in Baghdad
Two delegations from the Kurdistan region travelled to Baghdad over the weekend for discussions about the Baghdad-Erbil relationship. A delegation representing the Kurdistan region’s political parties, led by Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) deputy leader Barham Saleh, met with National Alliance leader Ibrahim al-Ja’afari and with Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) leader Ammar al-Hakim on Sunday, before meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday. Concurrently, an official economic delegation representing the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), headed by KRG Deputy Prime Minister Imad Ahmed, met with federal government officials before talks with President Jalal Talabani on Monday. A number of Iraqi and Kurdish politicians expressed optimism about the meetings, heralding signs of progress in the Iraqi-Kurdistani relationship.
Among the issues discussed were security cooperation and Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, which refers to the disputed territories in northern Iraq contested by the federal and Kurdistan regional governments. The disputed territories have been high on the agenda in recent weeks as a result of two developments. Last week, a draft law was presented by President Talabani that proposes the revisiting of a number of provincial borders covered by Article 140. The proposal, supported by Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Arif Tayfur of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), recommends returning the relevant administrative boundaries to those that existed before the beginning of Saddam Hussein’s Arabization of traditionally Kurdish areas, “in order to remove imprints of the former [Ba’athist] regime” and return areas “to their real owners.” The parliamentary Legal Committee announced that the proposal would involve redrawing the boundaries in particular of the provinces of Anbar and Salah al-Din, the latter of which did not exist before 1968, when the Ba’athists took power. The proposal met with swift and widespreadopposition from Arab, Sabean and Yazidipoliticians, whose constituencies stand to lose the most from a return to the pre-Arabization borders.
Opponents of the provincial boundaries proposal warned that it risked exacerbating political tensions in the region. Such tensions have already been heightened by the establishment of the Tigris Operations Command, a new command that brings the existing security forces in Diyala and Kirkuk provinces together under Maliki’s control. The command, originally announced in July but yet to move into its planned base at Camp Ashraf in Diyala, forms a part of the planned reorganization of the Iraqi Security Forces at multi-provincial corps level.
The formation of the command, accompanied by rumors of security force movements around Kirkuk, has raised Kurdish fears about Maliki’s intentions regarding Kirkuk, particularly since Maliki circumvented parliament to appoint General Abdul Amir al-Zaydi, a veteran of Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign against the Kurds. On Friday, KRG National Security Advisor Masrour Barzani accused Maliki of bypassing the constitution in failing to consult parliament on the establishment of the Tigris command and of sending extra troops to Kirkuk. On Sunday, Kurdistan Alliance MP Khalid Shwani pointed to General Zaydi’s appointment as evidence that the Tigris command was established for political rather than security reasons, warning that the presence of high-ranking former Ba’athists in the Tigris command was a provocation to the people of Kirkuk. Zaydi responded by insisting that any changes to the security forces in the area were purely structural and denied that forces were being moved to Kirkuk. He added that joint committees had been established to coordinate the roles of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the region.
Similarly mixed signals about the health of the Baghdad-Erbil relationship came from conflicting reports about oil exports from the Kurdistan region. On Sunday, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs Hussein al-Shahristani met with Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Ruz Nuri Shawiz and KRG Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami. Reuters subsequently reported that the KRG had agreed to raise oil exports through Iraq to 250,000 barrels per day if Baghdad promised to pay oil operators in the region. An article in the government newspaper al-Sabaah, however, stated simply that export issues had been discussed but did not mention a deal. Almost concurrently, Reuters also claimed that the Kurdistan region had begun selling its oil on international markets in independent export deals with two of the world’s largest global trading houses, Trafigura and Vitol, risking significantly heightening tension with Baghdad. A source from the KRG’s Ministry of Natural Resources, however, denied that there was any new trade, insisting that the KRG simply traded condensate for products with Turkey, whence the oil went to market.
Supreme Court strikes down provincial elections law
In a further sign that provincial elections are unlikely to take place on time, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that part of the law governing the elections is unconstitutional. The law was adopted by parliament in August 2012, renewing the 2008 law adopted for the 2009 provincial elections with a small number of amendments. Absent from the amendments was any mention of the fifth paragraph of Article 13, which outlines a system for allotting surplus seats only to electoral lists that win seats in the initial allocation. This arrangement is identical to the one outlined in the 2009 amendments to the 2005 parliamentary elections law, which smaller parties, threatened with marginalization by the new system, referred to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in June 2010 that the amended process for awarding surplus seats was unconstitutional, calling the system “a violation of the principle of justice.”
In debating the amended provincial elections law in August, parliamentarians – particularly those from the large electoral blocs that benefit most from the system – appear to have assumed that the Supreme Court decision referred only to the parliamentary elections law and not to the provincial elections version. Monday’s decision makes clear that the judiciary is applying the same standards to the provincial elections law, requiring parliament to revisit the legislation. Particularly interesting, however, is the collection of plaintiffs behind the appeal against the law: alongside representatives of small parties such as Iraqi Communist Party leader Mufid al-Jazairi, a ringleader in the 2010 appeal, and Kurdistan Islamic Union deputy Najib Abdullah, the leading plaintiff was Sherwan al-Wa’eli, an MP from Maliki’s own State of Law Coalition. Wa’eli’s involvement suggests that despite this Maliki, often a beneficiary of high-level judicial decisions, may be seeking to postpone elections himself.