Thursday, July 24, 2008

Talabani Rejects the Provincial Election Law

Disagreement erupted between the parliament and presidency council over the provincial elections law. After the parliament passed the law with 127 votes out of 140 that attended the session, president Talabani and VP Adbul Mahdi rejected the law and returned it to the parliament for revision.

The key point of disagreement is an article that provides guidelines for the future of Kirkuk. Spokesman of parliament Mahmoud Mashhadani ordered a secret vote for this particular article, the thing that outraged Kurdish MPs and some Shiite MPs who then decided to boycott the vote.

No wonder Kurds reject the article. I’ve translated the important parts of the article, which was posted on Azzaman, that are the most likely source of disagreement:

2-Authority shall be divided among the three main constituencies by giving them (Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen) 32% each and 4% to Christians. Authority means [posts in] all military and civilian institutions as well as the top three posts (The chairman of the province council, the governor, and the deputy governor).

3-During the mission of the committee mentioned in (4) below, security responsibility in Kirkuk province shall be assigned to military units deployed from central and southern Iraq, that will replace existing units. This is to ensure the professionalism and freedom of the committee and to end the presence of security forces affiliated with political parties.

4-A committee shall be formed to oversee the implementation of (2) above and (5) below. Each major constituency will have 4 representatives in the committee. Christians will have 1 representative. The committee makes decision by a majority vote. The prime minister nominates officials from the trade, planning and interior (citizenship department) ministries for membership in the committee. This is to be done under supervision by the UN and Arab League who will provide support, advice and inspection. The committee should be formed and embark on its mission by October 1, 2008.

5-The duties of the committee include:
a)Setting a mechanism for power-sharing.
b)Identifying violations of public and private property that took place in Kirkuk province after April 9, 2008.
c)The committee submits recommendations to the electoral commission to update voter records based on the finding.
d)Provincial elections in Kirkuk will be held after the committee submits all findings and recommendations.
e)The federal government provide necessary security and resources for the committee to conduct its duties.
f)In case of obstruction or incompletion of the committee’s mission, provincial elections will be held on basis of [a fixed quota of] 10 seats to each of the major constituencies and 2 to the minorities no later than December 31, 2008.

Anyone familiar with Kurdish ambitions in Kirkuk and their current weight in the province can agree that the above points are not even close to anything the Kurds are willing to accept. Particularly (3) and (5-b) are in my estimation out of question for the Kurds. These points if approved would mean that Kurds would have to end the presence of the Peshmerga in all of Kirkuk province and reverse the influx of thousands of Kurdish people settled in the province since 2003. The latter is one of the most controversial issues when it comes to Kirkuk. Kurds claim that those people were simply reclaiming homes and farms from which they were displaced by Saddam in earlier times, while Arabs and Turkmen claim that Kurds are working to change the demographics of the province to ensure winning in elections.

Objectively, the document represents over the top demands of powers opposed to Kurdish domination in Kirkuk.

A source in the UIA speaking on condition of anonymity to Azzaman described what happened as a “tactical rift in the UIA…prominent members walked out and didn’t vote on the legislation while other major factions remained and voted including Badr organization, independent MPs and part of the SIIC and Da’awa Party” and added that “friction between the UIA and Kurdistan Alliance has reached a dangerous zone that may well change the future of this coalition”.
Another source, this time from the Kurdistan Alliance said “we had signed an agreement with the UIA prior to the vote. We signed an agreement with Ali Adeeb and representatives from the SIIC, the independent group, Badr and Da’aw not to pass the law, but we were surprised [by the result]”

What became evident from both the wording of the document and the results of the vote is that the capacity of the Kurdish-UIA coalition, that dominated Iraq’s decision-making process for several years, to pass legislation is being seriously challenged; especially with the disintegration of the UIA.

I think this experience represents a milestone in the redistribution of political power amid constantly changing conditions on the ground. On the one hand there is the rise of Sunni Arab tribes as an influential legitimate player with the expanding power of Awakening councils and the return of the Accord Front to the cabinet, and on the other hand there’s the fact that the Kurds’ main ally-the UIA-now controls dozens of seats less than it did in the past.

One serious limitation that will face attempts to resolve the issue is time. The parliament is due to have its month-long summer recess on August 1st. According to Al-Sabah, political leaders want the parliament to rework the draft law and agree on a version more acceptable to all blocs so that a second vote can be made in seven days. Otherwise holding provincial elections on time will be unlikely.

However, the document offers a lot of leeway for the parties that endorsed it to make acceptable concessions in future negotiations, which offers a good ‘emergency exit’ to avoid a deadlock. If this is combined with a Kurdish respect for peaceful ways and acceptance of the changes in political balance of power, then a compromise may ultimately be possible.

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