The Iraqi National Assembly election on 30 January had aspects
that were very familiar to those of us who live in
Turnout varied widely: 89% in the Kurdish governorate of Dohuk; 2% in the Sunni Arab governorate of Ambar; overall 58%. The total number of votes cast was 8.4 million.
electoral system was ideal for communal politics - a proportional list system
with a single countrywide constituency (like in
The Kurds used the system particularly well putting up a single
list - the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan - for which every Kurd in
Given that only 15-20% of Iraqis are reckoned to be Kurdish, the fact that the Kurdish list got over 2 million votes, that is, nearly 26% of the votes cast, is remarkable, even allowing for the fact that most Sunni Arabs didn’t vote. They now have 75 seats in the Assembly.
With the Ayatollah’s blessing, a Shia list – the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) - was put together. Like the Kurdish list, this was also a coalition of existing parties – the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, al-Dawa led by Ibrahim al-Jaafari (who is now the UIA’s nominee for Prime Minister) and Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, plus about 20 others.
Before the election, it was reasonable to expect that with Sistani’s support this list would get over 60% of the vote, since 60-65% of Iraqis are thought to be Shias. In the event, although it topped the poll by a mile, with over 4 million votes, it got just over 48% of the votes cast. This has given it 140 seats in the Assembly, that is, just over 50%.
A considerable number of Shias must have voted for The Iraqi list, led by Ayad Allawi, the US-appointed Interim Prime Minister, and his Iraqi National Accord. This list got over a million votes – nearly 14% of the votes cast – and 40 seats in the Assembly.
The only Sunni Arab list that made any impact at all was The Iraqis, led by Ghazi al-Yawar, the Interim President, but it got less than 2%.
Other small ethic/religious groups also had their lists, for example, Turkmen (Iraqi Turkmen Front, 1.1%) and Assyrian Christian and Chaldeans (National Rafidain List, 0.4%)
The National Independent Cadres and Elites list, which is said to be associated with Muqtada al-Sadr, got 0.8%, as did the Iraqi Communist Party (the People’s Union list)
Of the 111 different lists which offered themselves for election, only 3 got over 10% and only 5 over 1%.
About 250, 000 votes, about 3% of the total, were
cast in 14 countries abroad, by far the largest number in
A full list of the results is available on Wikipedia.
Now that the Assembly has been elected, what is supposed to happen? The Assembly has a dual role: to act
(a) as a constitutional convention, with the job of drawing up a
permanent constitution for
(b) as a legislative body out of which a Transitional Government is formed.
The latter will replace the Interim Government appointed by the
(a) the Assembly draws up a draft constitution, approved by a simple majority, before 15 August 2005
(b) assuming the Assembly manages to do so, the Iraqi people are invited to approve the draft constitution in a referendum held before 15 October 2005
(c) assuming the constitution is approved, elections under it are held before 15 December 2005, and
(d) a permanent government is formed before 31 December 2005.
If the Assembly fails to agree a draft constitution, or if the draft constitution isn’t ratified by the Iraqi people, then elections to a new Assembly may be called, which means that the process could go on for a long time, but the plan is to have it complete by the end of this year.
This schedule is laid down in the Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period, aka the Transitional Administrative Law. As its name implies, the Transitional Administrative Law also sets out the rules under which the Assembly is supposed to operate during the transitional period, including how the Transitional Government is to be formed from the Assembly.
However, in addition, it lays
down basic constitutional principles, which, it is strongly implied, should
form the basis of the permanent constitution to be drawn up by the
Assembly. For example, Article 4 says
that “the system of government in
It is by no means certain that the Assembly will operate in accordance with the letter of the Transitional Law, let alone incorporate the basic constitutional principles within it into the permanent constitution. This is because the Law was drawn up by the Coalition Provisional Authority and its appointees in the Iraqi Governing Council, and Ayatollah Sistani has always objected to it on the reasonable grounds that an elected Assembly should not be bound by a Law drawn up by entities that weren’t elected by the Iraqi people.
In a letter dated
19 March 2004 to Lakhdar Brahimi, who was then Kofi Annan’s
Special Advisor on
“The future National Assembly will be shackled by many restrictions that will prevent it from undertaking what it sees as congruent with the interests of the Iraqi people. A non-elected council – the Interim Governing Council – in coordination with the occupying authority foisted upon the future National Assembly a ‘strange’ law to administer the country during the transitional phase. It also dictated – and this is most dangerous – specific principles, rules and mechanisms with regard to the writing of a permanent constitution and organising a referendum.” (quoted in Iraq's Transition: On a Knife Edge by the International Crisis Group).
The latter is a reference to Article 61(C), which says:
general referendum will be successful and the draft constitution ratified if a
majority of the voters in
gives the Kurds a veto over the constitution, since they should have no
difficulty getting two-thirds against a constitution not to their liking in the
three Kurdish governorates, which are part of
So, there is no guarantee that the National Assembly will operate in accordance with the Transitional Administrative Law: it could ignore the Law in whole or in part, or it could operate within it, possibly with amendments. The latter are permissible under Article 3 of the Law itself, but they are difficult to effect, since they require unanimity in the three-man presidency (of which more later) and a three-fourths majority in the Assembly.
(This means that the Kurds will be able to veto any amendment to the Law because (a) one of the three-man presidency will be a Kurd, and (b) with 75 seats in the Assembly they hold more than a quarter of the seats in the Assembly. Critically, therefore, the Kurds are in position to resist any attempt to amend Article 61(C), which gives them a veto over any constitution.)
Let us assume for the purposes of discussion that the National Assembly will operate in accordance with the Transitional Administrative Law.
Chapter 5 (Articles 35–42) of the Law specifies the executive bodies in this transitional period. Article 35 says:
“The executive authority during the transitional period shall consist of the Presidency Council, the Council of Ministers, and its presiding Prime Minister.”
The Presidency Council consists of a State President and two Deputies, elected by the Assembly in a single proposition, requiring a two-thirds majority (Article 36 (1)). It takes its decisions by unanimity (Article 36(5)). It is responsible for appointing the Prime Minister, and the members of the Council of Ministers upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and Council of Ministers has then to obtain a vote of confidence by simple majority from the Assembly (Article 38). On the face of it, the Presidency Council is a powerful body – in theory, for example, it can block legislation passed by the Assembly (Article 37), but that will never happen since it has to act by unanimity.
In the present Assembly, the UIA and the Kurds have over 78% of the seats, and are therefore in a position to determine the makeup of the Presidency Council and the Government. At the time of writing, negotiations are going on between them about this.
Kurdish interest well served
most important issue for Kurds is their demand that Kurdistan be expanded to
include the city of
As written, the Transitional Law serves the Kurdish interest well, since it
allows them to retain their
autonomy (and their militias) in
(b) accords them a veto over a new constitution, which might change those arrangements,
(c) provides for the reversal of Arabisation of formerly Kurdish areas,
and subsequent to the latter,
allows for the possibility that the existing autonomous Kurdistan be expanded
Article 53 of the Law maintains the existing Kurdish autonomy:
“The Kurdistan Regional Government is recognized as
the official government of the territories that were administered by that
government on 19 March 2003 in the governorates of Dohuk, Arbil, Sulaimaniya,
says that, broadly speaking, the Kurdistan Regional Government
“shall continue to perform its current functions throughout the transitional
period” and will have the right “to impose taxes and fees within the
Article 27(B) says:
“Armed forces and militias not under the command structure of the Iraqi Transitional Government are prohibited, except as provided by federal law.”
But an exception is made for the Kurds in Article 54, where it says that the Kurdistan Regional Government “shall retain regional control over police forces and internal security”. Uniquely, therefore, the Kurds are allowed to maintain their own militias.
maintenance of Kurdish autonomy highlights a key question about the future
structure of government in
“The federal system shall be based upon geographic and historical realities and the separation of powers, and not upon origin, race, ethnicity, nationality, or confession.”
only one region is defined, and it is based on Kurdish ethnicity – which flies
in the face of Article 4. Apart from
that, there is provision, in Article 53(C), that up to three governorates
outside Kurdistan (but not
to this demand for a larger Kurdistan is a demand that the Arabisation of
certain areas in Northern Iraq, particularly around
“The Iraqi Transitional Government, and especially the Iraqi Property Claims Commission and other relevant bodies, shall act expeditiously to take measures to remedy the injustice caused by the previous regime’s practices in altering the demographic character of certain regions, including Kirkuk, by deporting and expelling individuals from their places of residence, forcing migration in and out of the region, settling individuals alien to the region, depriving the inhabitants of work, and correcting nationality. To remedy this injustice, the Iraqi Transitional Government shall take the following steps:
“(1) With regard to residents who were deported, expelled, or who emigrated; it shall, in accordance with the statute of the Iraqi Property Claims Commission and other measures within the law, within a reasonable period of time, restore the residents to their homes and property, or, where this is unfeasible, shall provide just compensation.
“(2) With regard to the individuals newly introduced to specific regions and territories, it shall act in accordance with Article 10 of the Iraqi Property Claims Commission statute to ensure that such individuals may be resettled, may receive compensation from the state, may receive new land from the state near their residence in the governorate from which they came, or may receive compensation for the cost of moving to such areas.”
January, elections were held to assemblies in the 18 Iraqi governorates (and to
the Kurdistan National Assembly) as well as to the National Assembly. The result in the
Of course, there’s no guarantee that a constitution
that establishes an expanded Kurdistan with
Even if such a constitution were approved in Iraq, Turkey is unlikely to stand idly by and let an expanded, and perhaps oil-rich, Kurdistan come about, with the potential that, unchecked, it will form the nucleus of a must larger Kurdish state in the region.
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