Global Policy Forum

Bypassing the Iraqi Parliament:


By Raed Jarrar*

Regional Center on Conflict Prevention
February 2007

The U.S administration continues to insist that the current conflict in Iraq is sectarian or religious in nature and that it has roots that pre-date the occupation. The U.S. mainstream media has decided to follow this lead and is now propagating the message as far and wide as it can. The result is that a growing number of people, including commentators and policy makers, now believe that Iraqis are for the most part divided along a sectarian or religious divide. Needless to say, this view is not shared by a majority of Iraqi analysts and politicians who believe that the conflict that is ongoing between their countrymen is secondary, symptomatic, and dominated by political, not religious, motives. The sectarian tension is just one of the manifestations of the US-led occupation, as shall be explained below.

Separatists and Nationalists

There is no dispute that, during the last Iraqi parliamentary elections, Iraqis did vote along sectarian lines. This is what Paul L. Bremer III, pro-consul of Iraq from 2003 to 2004, and the Bush administration intended for the country. Indeed, when Bremer formed the Iraqi Governing Council shortly after the fall of Baghdad, he established the first precedent in contemporary Iraqi history in which governmental representatives were selected based on their sectarian or religious background. However, whereas the Governing Council maintained its purely sectarian colouring, the current parliament has, in the last year, evolved from its sectarian foundation into an institution that is divided along political lines. The accompanying political map reveals on its horizontal axis the original sectarian-based coalitions (Shia, Sunnis, Kurds, and others), and on its vertical axis, the split into two main political-based groups, "Separatists" and "Nationalists".

The "Separatists" include a number of Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish groups that are supported by the US-led occupation. The Bush administration is always very quick to describe these parties as the most influential leaders in Iraq. They include individuals such as Shia leader Abdul Aziz Al-Hakeem of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq ("SCIRI"), Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki of the Dawa party, Sunnis such as Vice President Tariq Al-Hashimi of the Islamic Party, and Kurds such as President Jalal Talabani and the President of the Kurdish Region Masoud Barzani. Iraqi separatist leaders are against a unified Iraq with a strong central government; they want to partition Iraq into three independent regions/states with strong regional authorities and a weak Baghdad government. They also are against setting any timetable for ending the U.S. occupation. They prefer receiving more U.S. troops to secure their regime. They are also in favor of privatizing Iraq's oil and gas and decentralizing petroleum operations and revenue distribution.

The "Nationalists" also include a plurality of parties from different religious sects, etc. They include Shias such as the Al-Sadr movement and the Al-Fadila party, Sunnis and secular politicians such as Salih Al-Mutlaq of the National Dialogue Front and Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi national list. There are even a few Kurdish representatives amongst the nationalists. These groups and individuals all favor one united Iraq with a strong central government. They incessantly call for an end to the U.S. occupation and any other foreign intervention. They have also called for former Iraqi army soldiers to be reinstated with a view to securing Iraq. Finally, they all oppose the privatization of Iraq's oil industry. What is most surprising however is that the Separatists do not actually represent the majority of the Iraqi parliament. Indeed, all the Separatists together do not amount to 138 seats within the parliament. This is below the threshold that is needed to pass legislation by a simple majority.

The Parliament's Role and Parliamentary Maneuvering

Despite the many questions that have been raised about the legitimacy of the entire political process in Iraq, and despite the many doubts about the fairness of the Iraqi elections, the parliament could still play an important role in representing Iraqi citizens. Although the parliament is disconnected from the groups that are involved in resisting the US-led occupation and has excluded the former regime's political and military leaders from its ranks, the current Iraqi parliament nonetheless represents several of the major Iraqi socio-political groups, and these same groups are well connected with some of the entities that have been excluded from the parliament. For example, a number of Iraqi MPs continue to maintain a strong relationship with Baathists, former army officers, current militias and armed groups, and other entities that are not involved in the new parliament.

The picture is completely different when it comes to Al-Maliki's cabinet, which is dominated by Separatist groups. The government is perfectly aware of the disassociation between its ministers and the parliament and so it has therefore decided to act accordingly. The new constitution provides that the Council of Ministers is the second most important power in the country (note that the constitution is currently undergoing a revision process, but it is unlikely that any of the text's major provisions will be changed in a significant manner). At the same time, the constitution provides a number of fundamental powers to the Iraqi parliament, and its provisions allow for the parliament to exercise a certain amount of control over the entire legislative process. But when it comes to the facts on the ground, the Iraqi parliament has been systematically bypassed by the Al-Maliki government through a number of loopholes and unconstitutional decisions.

The events of September 12, 2006 provide a good illustration of this point. On that day, a group of Iraqi lawmakers tried to seek approval for a resolution setting a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq. Sponsored by both Shia and Sunni Arabs, the resolution managed to gather 104 signatures in the 275-member parliament before it was effectively shelved by being sent to a committee for review. That committee will need at least six months to examine the resolution and present its findings to parliament. If it were to be approved, the resolution would be binding on the government. Professor Juan Cole, from the University of Michigan and one of the leading commentators on Iraqi issues in the United states, has argued that 102 signatures is actually enough for the resolution to be approved – so all that is needed is for the committee to report the text back to the parliament. 80 MPs out of 275 have stopped coming to the parliamentary sessions altogether, so it is possible that the resolution had actually gained a sufficient amount of support to pass when was first drafted. That is, had it not been sent to the committee for review, it is more than likely that the resolution would have passed on that same Tuesday. The Maliki government, fearful of the effects that such a resolution could have on its future, decided to use this particular parliamentary maneuver to allow it to postpone the resolution for at least 6 months, if not more.

The Leaked Oil Law

The drafting of the oil law provides another example of how the Iraqi parliament is systematically being bypassed in order to allow the government to achieve its shortsighted objectives. Earlier this month, I managed to leak a copy of the Iraqi oil law out of the Green Zone after it was approved by the Iraqi council of ministers. The copy of the law was sent to me by a contact and includes the council of minister's resolution. Article 4 of the Resolution provides that "all parties must abstain from signing new contracts agreements related to exploration and production activates in Iraq until this law is fully enacted" [my translation]. Considering that Iraq is now supposed to be a parliamentary democracy, this provision doesn't come as a surprise. It is Article 5 however that is particularly shocking and is worth quoting in full: "[t]he Federal Government, in coordination with the regions governments, shall finalize the requirements needed to implement this law and activate the entities mentioned in the law in a time period not exceeding the end of May 2007. In case this deadline was not met, the Iraqi Prime Minister shall meet with the president of Kurdistan Region to implement the law within one month and reach out to a solution based on one of the following options: (a) In case article 5 was not finalized by the deadline of May 31st 2007, the two parties shall have the right to sign Exploration and Production Contracts in accordance to the constitution, this law, and the general principles of contracts' models (the first option); (b) Extend the time period mention above."

What is shocking about this provision is the candor with which it grants the Council of Ministers the right to bypass the parliament. Indeed, it provides, in plain language, that if the oil law is not passed by May 31, then the government will be able to enter into Production Sharing Agreements with foreign corporations anyway, despite the fact that there will in fact be no legal basis for it. There can be little dispute that this manner of proceeding is unconstitutional.


Sectarian and religious differences are not the predominate force splitting the country. The main force is the continued presence of the occupation, and its plans for Iraq are set out clearly in the existing constitution - partitioning Iraq and privatizing the oil industry. As a result of the fact that separatism is not the dominant trend in both the country and the parliament, the current Iraqi government has decided to monopolize power and neutralize the parliament. This new US backed dictatorship is reducing the possibilities of reaching to an Iraqi political solution, and is making it harder to convince Iraqis to express their resistance to the occupation in a non-violent fashion. The Al-Maliki government is oppressing its own parliament, and therefore the Iraqi public.

The Bush administration is lending all its support to the Separatists controlling the Iraqi government. If this continues, the violence will most likely continue and increase, and the political participation of Iraqi Nationalists in the political process will be jeopardized. This is clearly a recipe for more violence in the country.

About the Author: Raed Jarrar has been the Iraq Consultant for the American Friends Service Committee since the start of 2007. He was previous Iraq Director at Global Exchange. Raed lived in Iraq until mid-2005 and is now based in Washington DC. He is the author of the blog

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