Parliament Adjourns with No Provincial Election Law; Arab Tribes Threaten Violence

The Iraqi parliament proved unable to pass a provincial elections law on Wednesday despite a marathon 4-hour extraordinary session. They adjourned for the rest of the month. The sticking point was finding an acceptable formula for holding the elections in the mixed province of Kirkuk, which is being fought over by Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs. The failure to pass the law makes it virtually impossible to hold provincial elections in 2008.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Speaker of the House Mahmud al-Mashhadani postponed the debate until September 9. A multi-party working group will continue to work on the problem in the meantime.

Al-Hayat says that the Arab tribal leaders of Kirkuk Province have threatened violence to “defend the Arab character of the city,” which the Kurdistan Regional Government wants to annex. Shaykh Husayn Ali al-Juburi, the head of the governing council in Hawija District and leader of the United Arab Bloc, told the paper, “Arabs have limited patience,” adding, “the Arab tribes in Kirkuk are prepared, and have the ability, and the reach, in all Iraqi cities.” (He means “to commit violence.”)

Al-Hayat also reports that the worsening of the crisis in Kirkuk was a topic of discussion between President Bashar al-Asad of Syria and Turkish Prime Minsiter Rejep Tayyip Erdogan as they met at the presidential palace in Damascus. In a joint communique they urged the unity of Iraq and the need for security and stability in Iraq.” There were reportedly fears that a failure to resolve the Kirkuk crisis could lead Iraq to implode.

Al-Zaman gives as one reason for the postponement of the debate to September was a fear that the Kirkuk issue could lead to an “explosion” at any moment, with severe security implications for other Iraqi cities, such as Mosul and those in Diyala province. Al-Zaman also says that Turkmen and some Arab members of parliament are demanding the removal of UN negotiator Steffan de Mistura, whon they accuse of bias (i.e. toward the Kurds) had suggested that elections in Kirkuk be postponed while they were held in the rest of the country. The Turkmen want the elections to be held in Kirkuk at the same time as in the rest of Iraq.

The elections are important to social peace in Iraq. The January, 2005, provincial elections were deeply flawed. The Sunni Arabs largely boycotted them. Only a few party lists had the organization and experience to contest them effectively– especially the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, many of whose members had lived in Iran and witnessed the elections there, which involve a lot of canvassing and sometimes produce surprise upsets.

Diyala Province, which has a Sunni majority, is ruled by the pro-Tehran Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq– a recipe for disaster. Kurds play a disproportionate role in governing Ninevah, a largely Sunni Arab province. Al-Anbar Province is dominated by the Sunni fundamentalist Iraqi Islamic Party, the only one to run in 2005, but only 2% of the electorate voted. The Dulaim tribal elite and the Awakening Councils are largely disenfranchised in al-Anbar, which is not a stable situation. Even the provinces of the Shiite south, which saw good turnout in 2005, are dominated by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which ran a good campaign but may no longer be very popular.

Indeed, the lack of enthusiasm for new provincial elections among the high politicians elected in 2005 can probably be explained in part by their fear of not running very well and of the rise of challengers, from the Awakening Councils to the Sadr Movement.

McClatchy quotes a UN official cautioning that if provincial elections are not held by the end of 2008, they could get postponed until June, 2009.

I am unhappy about the delay in the holding of provincial elections. It is a step I have been championing for some time, as in my article at The Nation on “How to Get Out of Iraq” as a preparation for US military withdrawal. The independent, Durayd Kashmula, cannot rule largely Sunni Arab Ninevah Province if the US departs it. The Shiite government of Badr Corps member Ra’ad Hameed Al-Mula Jowad Al-Tamimi, the governor of Diyala wouldn’t last a month if US troops were not around. (The deputy governor, Awf Rahim, was arrested by US troops last week; that is never a good sign.)

Even more alarming than the Iraqi parliament’s inability to arrange for provincial elections to be held over 2 years after they were first scheduled is the reason for the failure. The debate on provincial elections has revealed that the Kirkuk dispute is a volcano about to blow, and that ordinary liberal institutions of debate and compromise seem helpless before the ethno-nationalist passions boiling there. Resolving Kirkuk is not only key to social peace in northern Iraq but also in the entire eastern Mediterranean.

One big mystery is why so few displaced Iraqis have gone home, given the lessened rates of violence. Apparently it is in some part because other people are now living in their house. The Iraqi government is using carrots and sticks to try to remove the squatters.

McClatchy reports political violence in Iraq on Wednesday:

‘ Baghdad

Two policemen were injured in a roadside bomb that targeted their vehicle in Karrada neighborhood in downtown Baghdad around 7:30 a.m.

Around 10 a.m. An IED exploded targeting a Sport Utility Vehicle of one of the Iraqi security companies near Olwiyah operator in Karrada neighborhood. Two employees of the company were injured in addition to another two civilians.

Gunmen attacked a checkpoint manned by awakening members, a U.S. backed militia, in Sleikh neighborhood killing three militia members and injuring two others.

Police found one dead body throughout Baghdad in Karrada neighborhood.

Nineveh

A civilian was killed and nine civilians and one Iraqi soldier were injured in a suicide car bomb targeted a check point of the Iraqi army in Dawasa area in downtown Mosul city.

Basra

A roadside bomb exploded in Al Muwafaqiya area in west Basra, in[j]ured one citizen.’