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ISW: Shifting Coalitions in Parliament
Backgrounder: Selection of Speaker Reveals Shift
05/07/2009 9:25 PM ET
The Institute for the Study of War’s new backgrounder on Iraqi politics by Jeremy Domergue looks at the recent selection of a new speaker for the Iraqi parliament, and the particular difficulty with which it was made, as indicators of where Iraqi politics is now, and where it is heading.

From the Introduction on the ISW website...

Earlier this month, Iraq’s Council of Representatives (CoR) elected Ayad al-Samaraie as the new speaker of parliament, filling the spot vacated by Mahmoud al-Mashadani nearly 6 months ago. In a new Backgrounder, Selection of Speaker Reveals Shifting Coalitions in Iraqi Parliamentary Politics, ISW Research Analyst Jeremy Domergue looks at the political maneuvering surrounding the speaker’s seat, and what the shifting politics might mean for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Download a PDF of the report here. Backgrounder40_0_8.pdf

Full text is below.

Selection of Speaker Reveals Shifting Coalitions in Iraqi Parliamentary Politics
By Jeremy Domergue, Research Analyst, Institute for the Study of War
April 28, 2009

On April 19th, 2009, Iraq’s Council of Representatives (CoR) successfully elected Ayad al‐Samaraie as its new speaker of parliament, nearly five months after the previous speaker, Mahmoud al‐Mashadani, vacated the position in December of 2008.1 The difficulties faced by the CoR in electing its new speaker reflect the shifting coalitions in Iraqi national politics, driven in part by recent provincial and upcoming parliamentary elections.

Ayad al‐Samaraie, Iraq’s new speaker of parliament, is a long‐time member and Deputy Secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood‐affiliated Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), which is currently led by Iraqi Vice‐President Tariq al‐Hashemi.2 Al‐Samaraie is also the head of the Sunni Tawafoq Alliance (IAF) in parliament. He is a trained mechanical engineer and has been an active member of Islamist movements since 1962. He has also spent significant amounts of time in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Great Britain leading up to his return to Iraq following the 2003 invasion.

Mahmoud al‐Mashadani, a Sunni, is a founding member of the National Dialogue Council (NDC).3 He nevertheless supported – and indeed drove – the passage of Prime Minister Nouri al‐Maliki’s major legislation in 2008, including the Amnesty and Provincial Powers laws,4 as well as the politically‐charged strategic agreement with the United States.5 Mashadani, however, is also known for his emotional outbursts, having once slapped a fellow law maker shortly after having adjourned a parliamentary session.6 Finally, on December 23rd, 2008, he was pressured to resign according to stated reasons of repeated, similar offenses.7 Unofficially, however, it is more likely that Mashadani’s support for Maliki made him a prime target as a prelude to staging a no‐confidence vote against the Prime Minister.8

The ensuing debate over Mashadani’s replacement unearthed controversy over an informal agreement whereby government positions are allocated on the basis of a sectarian quota.9 On the one hand, the IIP, speaking through the moribund Tawafoq Alliance, hoped to re‐gain the Speakership almost automatically.10 On the other hand, Prime Minister Maliki, sensing an opportunity to reinforce his image as a strong, nationalist leader sought to discredit the IIP’s sectarian claims by arguing for the distribution of government offices on the basis of merit.11 The debate was prolonged by provincial elections and the CoR did not hold a vote on the speakership prior to January 31. During the initial vote held on February 18th, 2009, no single candidate succeeded in garnering an absolute majority of votes. Consequently, Deputy CoR Speaker Khaled al‐Atiya called for a run‐off election between the two top nominees, the IIP’s Ayad al‐Samaraie and the NDC’s Khalil Jadou.12 In this second round of voting, held February 19th, 2009, Jadou obtained 81 votes while al‐Samaraie obtained 136, still two votes short of the required absolute majority threshold within Iraq’s 275 member parliament.13

The Sunni Tawafoq Alliance, of which the IIP is the only remaining major constituent, immediately contested the process of the election in order to obtain the speakership for Samaraie. On February 21st, 2009, the IAF delivered a docket to the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court in which it argued that an absolute majority of members was limited to the majority of total attendees in any one vote.14 On several occasions, however, the Court postponed its ruling, citing “delays in legal proceedings.”15 It became increasingly clear, however, that the Court was intentionally delaying the case, giving parliament more time to negotiate a political rather than a constitutional resolution to the matter. The Court’s decision to postpone its ruling coincided with the CoR’s regular legislative recess from March 6th to April 13th, 2009, which relieved the impending sense of urgency surrounding the issue.16

The leading figures within Iraq’s CoR had previously used the regular recess periods to negotiate coalitions for major votes. For example, the CoR passed the provincial elections law on September 24th, 2008, shorlty after reconvening from a five‐week summer recess.17 During the latest recess’s debates, the IIP consistently refused to withdraw its nomination of Ayad al‐Samaraie for the speaker position. Meanwhile, al‐Maliki’s Dawa Party consistently opposed Samaraie, possibly for fear of a likely vote of no‐confidence if the latter were successfully nominated.18 As a counter‐measure, Dawa suggested several compromise candidates including Mustafa al‐Hiti of the National Dialogue Council, who ultimately opposed al‐Samaraie in the final round of elections.19

The results of the provincial elections further complicated the negotiations. Would the Parliamentary parties support Maliki’s candidate, or would they support the IIP’s candidate? And would the negotiations for positions and coalitions on the provincial councils affect the way the national parties aligned in the CoR? As the provincial elections raised the possibility of cross‐sectarian coalitions and new parties, the politics were unusually fluid.

In a pivotal re‐alignment in the CoR, Saleh al‐Mutlak, leader of the National Dialogue Front, had switched his support in favor of Samaraie and the IAF.20 This shift is important for two reasons. First, it shows that Saleh al‐Mutlak and the IIP were willing to work with one another after the provincial elections. It also shows that Saleh al‐Mutlak was less willing to work with Maliki afterward. The fact that al‐Mutlak’s decision coincides with his growing frustration over Prime Minister Nouri al‐Maliki’s national reconciliation measures may be a bellwether for emerging alliances in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

When the CoR reconvened on April 14th, 2009, of the 232 attending members of parliament 155 voted for Samaraie, while 34 voted for Hiti.21 Moreover, at least 43 members voted blank, indicating a desire not to choose sides.22 This vote shows a shift not only within the Sunni coalitions, but also the limits of Maliki’s influence within the CoR.

1 Iraqi Council of Representatives, "Council of Representatives Elects Ayad al‐Samaraie as its New Speaker." April 19, 2009. dasda7das4da6sd8asdsawewqeqw465e4qweq4wq6e4qw8eqwe4qw6eqwe4sadkj&file=showdetails&sid=2512 (accessed April 28, 2009).
2 Asharq al‐Awsat, "Al‐Samaraie: From Mechanical Engineer to Speaker of Parliament." April 20, 2009. (accessed April 28, 2009).
3 Baghdad Public Affairs Section, "Reference Guide to the New Iraqi Government." May 22, 2006. (accessed April 28, 2009).
4 Rubin, Alissa J.. "Ending Impasse, Iraqi Parliament Backs Measures." February 14, 2008. (accessed April 28, 2009). 5 Sheridan, Mary Beth. "Iraq Head, Top Cleric Back 2011 Exit." November 16, 2008.‐dyn/content/article/2008/11/15/AR2008111500679.html (accessed April 28, 2009).
6 Susman, Tina. "If Not Time Off, Maybe Parliament Members in Iraq Need a Timeout." May 11, 2007.‐slap11 (accessed April 28, 2009). 7 Dagher, Sam. "Iraqi Parliament Speaker Resigns." December 23,
2008. (accessed April 28, 2009). 8 Dar al‐Hayat, "Major Political Parties Once Again Deny Coup Attempt." January 1, 2009.‐2008/Item‐20081231‐8deeee11‐c0a8‐10ed‐00be‐ 6108fdd9f951/story.html (accessed April 28, 2009).
9 Majeed, Alaa. "Iraqi Press Roundup." March 2, 2009. (accessed April 28, 2009). 10 Dar al‐Hayat, "Major Political Parties Once Again Deny Coup Attempt." January 1, 2009.‐2008/Item‐20081231‐8deeee11‐c0a8‐10ed‐00be‐ 6108fdd9f951/story.html (accessed April 28, 2009).
11 Moubayed, Sami. "Maliki Learns From His Mistakes." March 13, 2009. (accessed April 28, 2009).
12 Iraqi Council of Representatives, "CoR Holds First Round Elections for its New Speaker and Discusses Budget." February 18, 2009. dasda7das4da6sd8asdsawewqeqw465e4qweq4wq6e4qw8eqwe4qw6eqwe4sadkj&file=showdetails&sid=2420 (accessed April 28, 2009).
13 Iraqi Council of Representatives, "CoR Holds Second Round Election for its New Speaker." February 19, 2009. dasda7das4da6sd8asdsawewqeqw465e4qweq4wq6e4qw8eqwe4qw6eqwe4sadkj&file=showdetails&sid=2421 (accessed April 28, 2009).
14 Al‐Malaf Press, "Court Postpones Samaraie Ruling to April 8th." March 23, 2009. (accessed April 28, 2009).
15 Asharq al‐Awsat, "The Federal Court Postpones Samaraie Ruling For Speaker Post." March 25, 2009. (accessed April 28, 2009).
16 Iraqi Council of Representatives, "CoR Passes 2009 Budget." March 5, 2009. dasda7das4da6sd8asdsawewqeqw465e4qweq4wq6e4qw8eqwe4qw6eqwe4sadkj&file=showdetails&sid=2458 (accessed April 28, 2009).
17 Goode, Erica. "Iraq Passes Election Law, Setting Aside Kirkuk Status." September 24, 2008. (accessed April 28, 2009).
18 Al‐Khaleej, "Ali al‐Adeeb: There is a Tripartite Alliance to Oust Maliki." March 14, 2009.‐7900‐47d7‐9fe5‐31c2d636e890.aspx (accessed April 28, 2009).
19 Dar al‐Hayat, "Dawa Party Suggests Speaker Alternates." April 15, 2009.‐2009/Item‐20090414‐a5fbda21‐c0a8‐10ed‐00fae78f2b6f45a0/ story.html (accessed April 28, 2009).
20 al‐Marsad al‐Iraqi (Baghdad Times), "The Speaker Crisis Continues Despite Agreement Between Mutlak and Tawafoq." April 2, 2009. (accessed April 28, 2009).
21 Asharq al‐Awsat, "After Four Months of Debating, Samaraie Finally Becomes CoR Speaker." April 20, 2009. (accessed April 28, 2009).
22 Williams, Timothy. "Critic of Maliki is Chosen to Lead Iraq's Parliament." April 19, 2009. (accessed April 28, 2009).


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