Political Update: Can a No-Confidence Vote Against Maliki Succeed This Time?

On December 17, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was admitted to a Baghdad hospital after having suffered an apparent stroke. After his condition was stabilized, he was removed to Germany on December 20 for further treatment. The same day, security forces arrested bodyguards working for Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi, a Sunni politician and member of the secular-Sunni Iraqiyya coalition. Issawi subsequently gave a press conference at the home of Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, alongside Nujaifi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, in which he stated that the Ministry of Finance had been attacked by a “militia” and accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government of acting “like a gang.” Issawi publicly called on parliament to reactivate the movement to withdraw confidence from Maliki.[i]

A previous campaign to withdraw confidence from Maliki in the spring and early summer of 2012 was spearheaded by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani, Iraqiyya leader Ayad Allawi and Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. President Talabani refused to call for a vote of no confidence, instead collecting signatures from Maliki’s opponents in an attempt to gauge enthusiasm for a vote. When it became clear to Talabani that such a vote was unlikely to be successful, he refused to proceed, both shielding Maliki from the vote and himself from the political vulnerability associated with championing an unsuccessful campaign.[ii] 

Rumors of a new campaign to bring about a no confidence vote in Maliki began in late November 2012. This corresponded in time with Maliki’s deployment of federal troops around Kirkuk, which Iraqi media suggested prompted KRG President Barzani, and possibly even Talabani himself, to push for Maliki’s replacement.[iii] His absence from the deliberations removes the historical impediment to a unified Kurdish effort to remove the prime minister.

According to the Iraqi constitution, in the event that the post of President becomes vacant, one of Iraq’s Vice Presidents takes on the role in an acting capacity, which may apply now that Talabani’s recovery is questionable.[iv] Parliament must elect a new President within 30 days of the Presidency becoming vacant. Iraq’s senior Vice President, Tariq al-Hashemi, a member of the Iraqiyya coalition, is currently resident in Turkey, where he fled after arrest warrants were issued against him on charges of terrorism in December 2011.[v] This leaves as de facto acting President second Vice President Khudayir al-Khuza’i, a member of the Islamic Dawa Party – Iraq Organization (Tanzim al-Iraq), a splinter of Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party and a close Maliki ally. The possibility exists, moreover, that Maliki and his allies could seek to keep Khuza’i in power indefinitely in an acting capacity by refusing to attend parliament for a vote, thus preventing parliament from reaching quorum. Khuza’i’s position as acting President would allow him to block off one of the two routes to a no-confidence vote, forcing Maliki’s opponents to work through parliament to remove him.[vi]

In order for a vote of no confidence to succeed, a strong majority of Sunni and Kurdish political parties would need to act in unison, and the Sadrists would need to break from the Shi’a bloc to align with them. Maliki’s dispute with the Kurds over the Tigris Operations Command and the disposition of federal forces has generally served as a wedge issue, driving these groups further apart and exacerbating fractures already present among the Sunni bloc. However, it is likely to have pushed the key members of the Kurdish bloc closer together.

It appears, moreover, that Maliki’s opportunistic move against Issawi could prompt the core of his opponents instead to band together to push for his removal. The involvement of Saleh al-Mutlaq in the deliberations surrounding the Issawi arrests further brings into question his possible alignment within Iraqiyya. Mutlaq has swung between being considered a possible Maliki electoral ally in 2009 and accusing the prime minister of seeking to establish a dictatorship in 2011.[vii] Having once again been thought to have achieved rapprochement with Maliki in recent months, the Issawi crisis places him once again in category of swing voter, as he stood with Issawi and Nujaifi as they called publicly for a vote of no confidence in Maliki. In addition, Baha al-Araji, the parliamentary head of the Sadrist Ahrar bloc, and former Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, joined Iraqiyya key leaders today at Nujaifi’s home after they announced an intention to call for a vote of no confidence in Maliki.[viii] 

The Baghdad-Erbil standoff has not only provoked heightened tension between Maliki and the Kurds. After Sadr accused Maliki of exploiting the issue of the disputed territories for electoral gain, Maliki responded that Sadr’s statements had become trite and contradictory and threatened to sue Sadr for slander. This prompted the Sadrist movement to call out thousands of supporters from Diyala to Basra, chanting anti-Maliki slogans.[ix] The Sadrists, moreover, have been relentless in seeking to expose alleged corruption surrounding the recent Russian arms deal, likely with an eye to discrediting Maliki ahead of the provincial elections scheduled for April 2013. This suggests that the Sadrists are currently oriented against Maliki.

A second possible swing group within the Shi’a National Alliance is the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), which has long had a complicated relationship with Maliki. While ISCI and Maliki’s Dawa party have long been opposed to one another, often contesting the same constituencies in southern Iraq, they have also formed coalitions of convenience for various elections, often to marginalize the Sadrists. ISCI supported Maliki during the earlier no-confidence campaign.[x] Recently, ISCI and the Sadrists joined a pan-Shi’a alliance that includes Maliki in order to contest the majority Sunni provinces of Diyala and Salah al-Din in the 2013 provincial elections. However, they declined to join Maliki’s State of Law coalition in southern Iraq and Baghdad, where each side will draw much greater support, demonstrating that they cannot necessarily be expected to vote with the rest of the National Alliance.

Ahmed Chalabi’s attendance at the Iraqiyya deliberations in the Green Zone, too, raises questions about his alignment. On the one hand, Chalabi has historical ties to the Iranian regime, and particularly to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force. He may have been tasked with attempting to prevent a renewed no-confidence campaign. On the other, in recent years Chalabi’s influence in Iraqi politics has diminished significantly in recent years. He may sense the opportunity to bolster his profile and forge or renew alliances, either by taking on the role of mediator on Maliki’s behalf or by joining an anti-Maliki push.

A vote of no confidence can be passed by an absolute majority of 163 of 325 votes in parliament.[xi] The following table establishes a baseline estimate for the number of votes assigned to each of the political parties represented in parliament. [xii] 

Estimated votes in the Iraqi Council of Representatives


National Alliance (159)

Iraqiyya (84)

Iraqiyya defectors (17)

Kurdistan Alliance (43)

Other Kurdish parties (14)

Minorities (8)

Sadrists: 42

Wifaq (Allawi): 18

White Bloc: 8

Kurdistan Democratic Party (Barzani): 29

Gorran [Change Movement] (Mustafa): 8

Al-Rafidein List (Kenna): 3

Islamic Daawa Party (Maliki): 36

Hiwar (Mutlaq): 16

Free Iraqiyya: 5

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (Talabani): 14

Kurdistan Islamic Union (Hamed): 4

Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Popular Council (Aghajan): 2

Independents’ Bloc (Shahristani): 12

Al-Hal (Karbouli): 12

Wataniyoun: 3


Kurdistan Islamic Group (Bapir): 2

Shabaks: 1

Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (Hakim): 9

Wasat Alliance (Samarraie): 10

Iskandar Witwit: 1



Yazidis: 1

Badr Organization (Amiri): 9

Tajdeed (Hashemi): 8




Sabaean-Mandeans: 1

Islamic Daawa Party – Tanzim (Khuzaie): 8

Mustaqbal (Issawi): 7





Fadhila (Hashimi): 7

Iraqi Justice and Reform Front (Yawar): 6





National Reform Trend (Jaafari): 1

Iraqiyoun (Nujaifi): 4





Iraqi National Congress (Chalabi): 1

Iraqi Turkmen Front (Ergec): 3





Other National Alliance members: 34











To reach this number would require the collected votes of a broad alliance of Kurdish parties, the remaining elements of the Sunni-secular Iraqiyya coalition, and the votes of the Sadrist Trend. A successful no-confidence campaign would require virtually all of the Kurdish and Sunni MPs to vote as a bloc. Without the Sadrists, a vote of no confidence is almost certain to fail.

ISW assesses the following party alignments in the event of a No Confidence Vote:

Likely to Uphold Confidence in Maliki

Potential Swing Voters

(Arrows suggest current estimated orientation)

Likely to Withdraw Confidence in Maliki

Islamic Daawa Party:  36

Sadrists: 42 →

Kurdistan Democratic Party:  29

Other National Alliance members: 34

  Patriotic Union of Kurdistan: 14 →

Wifaq:  18

Pro-Maliki breakaways from Iraqiyya:   17

 Gorran (Change Movement): 8 →

Tajdeed:  8

Independents’ Bloc: 12

  Kurdistan Islamic Union: 4 →

Mustaqbal:  7

Badr Organization:    9

Kurdistan Islamic Group: 2 →

Iraqiyoun:  4

Islamic Daawa Party – Tanzim:    8

  Hiwar: 16 →

Iraqi Justice and Reform Front:  6

Fadhila:    7

Al-Hal: 12  --

Iraqi Turkmen Front:  3

National Reform Trend:    1

  Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq:  9 ←

Wasat Alliance: 10


Iraqi National Congress: 1  --

Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Popular Council:   2


Minority representatives: 6  --


TOTAL: 124

TOTAL: 114




Possible scenarios[xiii]

Scenario 1: Maliki’s miscalculation                                                                            Result: 173 (minimum) votes of no confidence.

Maliki’s decision to antagonize opponents on three fronts at the same time – confronting the Kurds, intimidating Iraqiyya leaders and insulting Sadr – leaves him vulnerable. A combination of the Kurdish vote, the Sadrists and Mutlaq’s Hiwar would provide enough votes to unseat Maliki without ISCI, Chalabi, al-Hal or minority representatives joining the campaign.


Scenario 2: Anti-Maliki momentum                                                                             Result: 201 votes of no confidence.

The remaining elements of the Iraqiyya coalition, increasingly fearful of Maliki and his threatening tactics, could decide upon a firm anti-Maliki stance. Their resolve could prompt the Sadrists and ISCI, Maliki’s long-time opponents in southern Iraq, to join the campaign, and even persuade Ahmed Chalabi, who might seek to increase his profile in a new alliance. Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), deeply concerned by Maliki’s apparent provocation of the Kurds around Kirkuk, could decide to join Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani in opposing Maliki. This would prompt Talabani’s former lieutenant Nawshirwan Mustafa of Gorran and the other Kurdish parties to follow suit, creating a united Kurdish bloc and bringing the Shabak, Yezidi and Sabaean-Mandean representatives with them. Together, the ad-hoc alliance could comfortably exceed the number of votes necessary for a vote of no confidence in Maliki.


Scenario 3: Iranian intervention                                                                                 Result: 149 (maximum) votes of no confidence.

Ahmed Chalabi’s presence at the Iraqiyya meeting on December 20 signals Iran’s intention to head off a no-confidence campaign against Maliki before it can build momentum. Tehran is able to coerce the Sadrists and ISCI back into the Shi’a fold. Even with Iraqiyya, the Kurds and the minority representatives supporting the anti-Maliki campaign, the Sadrist withdrawal would leave the campaign well short of the required number of votes.



The most likely scenario remains that the campaign to withdraw confidence in Maliki fails to reach the Iraqi parliament. The escalation of Arab-Kurdish tensions around the Disputed Territories is likely to work in Maliki’s favor and against the Kurds, particularly Barzani. Both the Sadrists, who have been hardline on Kurdish issues, and Sunni Arabs such as Speaker Nujaifi, whose political support is drawn historically from northern Sunni Arabs who have long resented the Kurdish presence along the Disputed Internal Boundaries, would face risks with regard to their political bases should they choose to support an initiative to unseat the prime minister based on strong Kurdish support or even leadership.  Even should they do so, the process has been complicated by a May 2012 Supreme Court ruling that requires MPs to demonstrate constitutional and legal wrongdoing in order to interrogate, and subsequently withdraw confidence from, a minister in parliament.[xiv] In addition to placing a greater burden of proof on MPs wishing to bring a vote against Maliki, this ruling, which appears to have no constitutional basis, raises the possibility of further judicial activism on the prime minister’s behalf.[xv]


[i] “Breaking News… Essawi accuses Maliki of arresting members of bodyguards, demands apology,” National Iraqi News Agency, December 20, 2012.

[ii] Reidar Visser, “Just Exactly How Many Iraqi MPs Are Ready to Vote Out Maliki?”, Iraq and Gulf Analysis, June 10, 2012.

[iii] National Iraqi News Agency, “Talabani, Barzani discuss withdrawal of confidence from Maliki,” November 22, 2012; AK News, “TV: Talabani threatens with resignation against efforts to change his mind,” June 15, 2012.

[iv] See the Iraqi Constitution, Article 75, Section 3.

[v] See Stephen Wicken, “Political Update: The Hashemi Verdict and the Health of Democracy in Iraq,” Institute for the Study of War, September 11, 2012.

[vi] There are two methods of requesting a vote of no confidence: the President can request a vote, without presenting a reason or collecting signatures from MPs; or 25 MPs can request that the parliamentary speaker call a minister, including the prime minister, for questioning in parliament. After a minimum of seven days, 1/5 of the deputies in parliament (65 MPs) can call for a vote of no confidence.

[vii] Anthony Shadid, “New Alliances in Iraq Cross Sectarian Lines,” The Washington Post, March 20, 2009; Arwa Damon and Mohammed Tawfeeq, “Iraq’s leader becoming a new ‘dictator,’ deputy warns,” CNN, December 13, 2011.

[viii] “Breaking News… Chalabi, Araji join Iraqiya’s urgent meeting,” National Iraqi News Agency, December 20, 2012.

[ix] Stephen Wicken and Sam Wyer, “Weekly Iraq Update #49,” Institute for the Study of War, December 13, 2012.

[x] “Islamic Supreme Council and Sadrists deny existence of talks to withdraw confidence from PM Maliki,” AK News, April 22, 2012; “No chance for Maliki after two deadlines, says Kurdish MP,” AK News, May 31, 2012.

[xi] See the Iraqi Constitution, Article 61, Section 8, Paragraph B, section 3.

[xii] Seat numbers are based on estimates. Given the level of movement within alliances and incomplete information about current affiliations, it is impossible to identify party and alliance affiliations with certainty. See Reidar Visser, ‘The New Political Balance of the Iraqi Parliament,’ Historiae.org, February 20, 2012.

[xiii] All scenarios are based on the assumption that members of the predominantly Shi’a National Alliance, with the exception of the Sadrists, ISCI, and Chalabi, and MPs who defected from Iraqiyya either because of support for Maliki or disaffection with Iraqiyya’s leadership would vote to retain Maliki as prime minister. They are also based on the premise that members of the 2010 Iraqiyya coalition that have not announced their defection from Iraqiyya will continue to vote with Ayad Allawi. The exceptions are Saleh al-Mutlaq’s Iraqi National Dialogue Front (Hiwar), the Iraqiyya component party that considered allying with Maliki in earlier elections, and Jamal al-Karbouli’s National Movement for Reform and Development (al-Hal), long considered a possible Sunni Maliki ally.

[xiv] Federal Supreme Court ruling, May 7, 2012, http://iraqja.iq/viewd.975, accessed December 7, 2012.

[xv] Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraqi Central Bank, Election Body Slam Court Ruling,” January 27, 2011.