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Iraq PM threatens early elections to end deadlock

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6 - 27 - 2012

BAGHDAD – Iraq's prime minister threatened Wednesday to call early elections that could tighten his grip on power if the nation's political factions fail to break an impasse that has all but paralyzed the government.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's gambit is the latest in a months-long political crisis in Iraq that has Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds alike calling for his resignation. The impasse also has fueled fears of a possible flare-up in violence by insurgents seeking to take advantage of the chaos. Bombings targeting a Shiite cleric and an anti-al-Qaida militia fighter killed at least 11 people Wednesday in Baghdad.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, said continued refusals by his political opponents to negotiate a resolution to the crisis would leave him little choice but to call for a new vote.

"When the other party is refusing to sit down at the negotiating table and insists on the policy of creating continued crises ... then the prime minister finds himself obliged to call for early elections in which the Iraqi people will have the final say," al-Maliki said in a statement posted on his official website. He did not mention a date for the vote.

Al-Maliki's threat to hold snap elections comes in response to months of demands for his resignation by Sunni, Kurdish and some Shiite leaders who say he has sidelined them from power. It's unclear whether they have the political will or enough support in parliament to oust al-Maliki in a no-confidence vote.

The influential anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr this week joined al-Maliki's opponents in calling for his resignation, raising the stakes against the prime minister.

By countering with a threat to call for early elections, al-Maliki is betting that his popular support nationwide would hand him a clear-cut victory and assure him undisputed executive authority.

The current crisis began in December when the government issued terrorism charges against the nation's highest-ranking Sunni politician, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, as the last U.S. troops were withdrawing from the country. That prompted Sunni politicians to briefly boycott the Cabinet, and government work grounded to a halt.

The standoff also has raised fears that insurgents could use the political chaos to try to reignite the sectarian animosities that drove Iraq to the brink of civil war five years ago.

On Wednesday, bombs targeting the Baghdad homes of a Shiite cleric and a member of a Sunni militia that fights al-Qaida killed at least 11 people. The attacks on two of al-Qaida's favorite targets brought Iraq's death toll for June to at least 186, making it the bloodiest month since January.

Al-Maliki's threat to hold snap elections is in part a response to al-Sadr's recent defection from the support base that put al-Maliki in power after 2010 elections failed to produce a clear winner. The prime minister has mentioned early elections previously as a possibility, and it's unclear whether he could convince a majority in parliament to agree to it.

Al-Maliki's media adviser, Ali al-Moussawi, said the prime minister still hopes to solve the crisis though dialogue.

The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2014. Under Iraq's constitution, a majority of parliament's 325 lawmakers must vote to dissolve the legislature to force new elections.

Sunni lawmaker Raad al-Dahlagi scoffed at al-Maliki's threat, saying the prime minister is trying to avoid making any reforms by "fleeing from solving the crisis by calling for early elections."

"Anyway, it's fine to have early elections," he said. "Who would win? It would be the same heads of blocs, the same faces who are in the field now."

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How to Dissolve the Iraqi Parliament

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 27 June 2012 16:51

I am no expert in Arabic grammar, but the latest confusion caused by a threat by Iraq’s prime minister Nuri al-Maliki to dissolve parliament is so simple to clear up that even I can do it.

Apparently, the culprit are English versions of the Iraqi constitution and in particular a mistranslation of article 64 which governs dissolution of parliament. It should be emphasized at first that English versions of the Iraqi constitution cannot be relied upon since there is not an official one. Their only value is that they may be faster to skim through for an English-speaking reader if something needs to be located fast, whereupon the relevant part of the Arabic version should be consulted.

Here is the relevant clause:

يُحل مجلس النواب، بالاغلبية المطلقة لعدد اعضائه، بناءً على طلبٍ من ثلث اعضائه، او طلبٍ من رئيس مجلس الوزراء وبموافقة رئيس الجمهورية

A reasonable translation would read roughly as follows:

“Parliament is dissolved by an absolute majority of its members, based upon a request from a third of its members or a request from the prime minister with the consent of the president.”

Now, possibly due to the insertion of several commas in the Arabic versions, some take this to read this as “parliament is dissolved by an absolute majority… or by a request from the prime minister with the consent of the president.”

That, of course, is dramatically different since it leaves the executive in a far stronger position vis-a-vis the legislature. But is it right? Thankfully, we do not need to rely on non-existing Arabic punctuation rules to serve as arbiter in this case. Instead, relax, breathe easy, and look for prepositions in the rump sentence in the case an attempt is made to link the dissolution of parliament directly to the prime ministerial request:

يُحل مجلس النواب او طلبٍ من رئيس مجلس الوزراء وبموافقة رئيس الجمهورية

“Parliament is dissolved or a request from the prime minister and the president.” The preposition “by” is lacking. This sentence wouldn’t have passed a secondary school exam and it cannot be the Iraqi constitution. If the intention had been to give the prime minister the right to dissolve parliament with the mere consent of the president, the relevant clause would instead have read aw bi talab min rais al-wuzara. But it doesn’t. It just says aw talab min rais al-wuzara. In this case, the preposition “by” (bi) is exclusively linked to the “absolute majority” of the parliament. This makes it clear that the prime ministerial involvement relates to the procedure for introducing the motion about parliamentary dissolution to parliament itself, which in turn will make the big decision about dissolving the assembly.

At any rate, at this point there is nothing to suggest that Maliki’s comments should be seen as anything more than a threat (“he feels forced/under pressure to call early elections”). There is no indication that there is even presidential agreement to introduce the motion to parliament, and in any case Maliki would probably be unlikely to win it. He probably knows it; why would Iraqi parliamentarians risk their own privileges?

The more worrying point is the tone of Maliki’s comments after meeting with Ibrahim al-Jaafari last Sunday, asking parliament to clean up its act before questioning him. There is much to suggest that Maliki may have a stronger parliamentary base than his opponents claim, but language of the kind he used over the weekend may soon lead to the evaporation over any additional support he got recently from disgruntled Iraqiyya MPs unhappy with the no confidence proposal.

Much as his enemies appear unable to muster the 163 votes needed to unseat him, Maliki needs to understand that the implication of this is not that he himself controls 163 votes in the Iraqi parliament.

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