Something’s Rotten in the State of Iraq (Part 2)

By Geoff Moore

[This is the second part of a two part analysis of what is happening in contemporary Iraqi politics.]

Parliamentary Update

The first half of April has already been a tumultuous period in Iraqi politics. The April 10th deadline the parliament set for itself to vote on Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s proposed list of technocratic cabinet minister replacements has come and passed without a vote. That vote was delayed to April 12th, when pressure from all of the political blocs forced Al-Abadi to present a new list, containing only four of the original names. Due to the presentation of a new list, the vote was further delayed to Thursday the 14th. Ironically, this new list was criticized for giving in to pressure from the parties, and for representing a reversal of the plan to create a technocratic cabinet. MPs sympathetic to Muqtada Al-Sadr then “held a protest inside parliament.”[1]

The situation only deteriorated on Wednesday, as fights broke out in the parliament, and “Speaker Salim al-Jibouri subsequently asked President Muhammad Fuad Masum to dissolve parliament.”[2] The fight was allegedly sparked by Kurdish MPs who confronted a number of MPs who started a sit-in at the parliament the night before. A group of MPs voted to remove parliament Speaker Al-Jibouri from his post on Thursday the 14th, which he opposed on the technical grounds that “he was not present in the chamber and not enough MPs were present for a quorum.”[3] Al-Jibouri has called for the dissolution of parliament in response.

The first casualty of all of this chaos has been the vote on Abadi’s second list of replacement cabinet ministers.[4] Speaker Al-Jibouri announced Thursday that there will be a parliamentary session on Saturday the 16th, during which MPs will be allowed to speak.[5] When Saturday came around, the session was called off due to security concerns.[6] Muqtada Al-Sadr has also given the government 72 hours to resolve the cabinet crisis before resuming protests.[7] In the meantime, the history of reconciliation efforts in Iraq seems increasingly relevant.

Reconciliation in a Divided Society

Reconciliation in the political context is a difficult concept to define. Joel Wing recently wrote that, in Iraq, “people often don’t agree upon what reconciliation means and who should be included.” It is helpful to think of reconciliation as a process rather than an achievable end-goal. Professors Brandon Hamber and Michael Humphrey have respectively described reconciliation as “intergroup forgiveness,” and “a political technique.”[8]

Before the US-led coalition ever invaded Iraq in 2003, the US Department of State led efforts to initiate a reconciliation program. “The Future of Iraq Project,” led by the Working Group on Transitional Justice in Iraq and the Iraqi Jurists’ Association, was given the lengthy subtitle “Transitional Justice in Post-Saddam Iraq; The Road to Re-establishing the Rule of Law and Restoring Civil Society, A Blueprint” (feel free to take a breath now).[9] The report itself includes a “Transitional Justice Plan,” and several draft laws relating to “Truth, Accountability and Reconciliation,” as well as legal and institutional reforms. Beyond confirming the fact that the US Government had every intention of invading (Er, “liberating”) Iraq as early as 2002, the report shows the extent to which some actors inside and outside of Iraq wanted to change the single-party authoritarianism of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The explicit purpose was “to achieve civil society in a future post-Saddam Iraq.”[10]

The Transitional Justice project in Iraq would be carried out via several mechanisms including truth (investigation) committees, judicial and institutional reform, re-training of professionals, victim compensation, community service, lustration, criminal trials, and amnesty measures.[11] A sub-section of the report entitled “Reconciliation Mechanisms,” focused on three objectives. First, it emphasized confidence building measures such as victim compensation, increasing the living standard of (Ba’ath party-affiliated) civil servants, and judicial checks and balances. Second was the importance of “virtue, tolerance and forgiveness” in Islamic law, and lastly came the recognition of “traditional conventions” and “tribal values.”[12] It is unclear how any of these are “mechanisms” of reconciliation.

A more troubling aspect of the Working Group report is its Draft Law for Amnesty and Reconciliation. This draft law called for the accused perpetrators of crimes during Saddam’s regime to pay compensation directly to their victims.[13] Although this proposed requirement would have reduced the cost to taxpayers who may have also been victimized, this actually indicts the accused rather than granting amnesty.[14] In practice, it could act as a disincentive to confess and give testimony. It is difficult to see reconciliation emerging from this contradiction. In the end, policy choices made by the American-run Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) kept the Working Group’s reconciliation proposals from being implemented.

In March 2015, Mushreq Abbas of Al-Monitor reflected on the early days of CPA-administered Iraq and noted that “no Iraqi party took the initiative to implement the mechanisms of reconciliation at that early stage.”[15] It was not until June 2006 that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki picked up the baton of reconciliation. His timing, amidst the growing sectarian civil war, could not have been worse. Al-Maliki outlined the structure of the new reconciliation project, with committees in Baghdad and each of Iraq’s 18 governorates which would meet with representatives of civil society, religion, tribes, and politicians.[16] His goal was, ostensibly, to establish “the basis of national unity” of the Iraqi people.[17] Overall, Al-Maliki’s plan was extremely vague, especially relating to amnesty measures. He never implemented his plan.

In October of 2006, a conference was organized in Mecca for Sunni and Shi’a clerics. The aim was to end the constant sectarian violence in Iraq, but the “Mecca Declaration” which was produced by the conference has been criticized because “not even those who signed it” followed its tenets.[18] This was essentially the end of any reconciliation process in Al-Maliki’s Iraq, although he strangely “continued to reiterate…that the national reconciliation had achieved its objectives.”[19]

All Hail Al-Abadi? (Or, Off With His Head?)

A month before taking office as Prime Minister in 2014, Haider Al-Abadi suggested via his Dawa Party spokesman that “in order to achieve national reconciliation,” he would consider dialogue with armed groups other than ISIS if they “were ready to return to the political process.”[20] This trimmed down version of reconciliation did not extend to former Ba’ath Party members, nor did it acknowledge the political reconciliation so badly needed in Baghdad.

A May 2015 meeting between Speaker Al-Jibouri (a Sunni Arab) and PM Al-Abadi (a Shi’a) confirmed “the need to achieve national reconciliation.”[21] One month later, the General Amnesty Law was sent to parliament, but its utility was criticized when days later it was reported that it would “not cover the Kurdish region.”[22] This brings us full circle, as the protests of summer 2015 took over the headlines, and the Prime Minister began to promise reforms.

Every reconciliation project in Iraq has failed since 2002, and they all have something in common. Not one reconciliation initiative was devised or endorsed by Iraqi civilians, or even produced in consultation with them. Each plan has come from the US Government or from prominent Iraqi politicians, or both. It is therefore encouraging that the anti-corruption protests led by Muqtada Al-Sadr seem to have staying power, but it is unclear whether or not they will have the will or the opportunity to address the problems that have manifested themselves in Iraq’s dysfunctional politics.

The fight over Al-Abadi’s list of cabinet nominees matters because it is not just a battle over cabinet positions and corruption, but over the very nature of the Iraqi political system. This is a dispute about Iraqi national identity and the structure of Iraq’s power-sharing “quota system.” That is why, on Thursday, a spokesman for the group of dissenting Iraqi MPs said that “the only subject we are willing to discuss is deposing the three presidents.”[23] The question is, if the power-sharing system is scrapped, will whatever system follows be more likely to facilitate reconciliation? Or, would the dissolution of the power-sharing system simply give the Kurds the justification they need to permanently leave Iraq and its problems behind?





[4] ;




[8] Hamber, Brandon. “Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Paradise Lost or Pragmatism?” Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 13:1 (2007), pg. 118. ; Humphrey, Michael. “Reconciliation and the Therapeutic State.” Journal of Intercultural Studies, 26:3, (2006). Pg. 204.

[9] Working Group on Transitional Justice in Iraq, and Iraqi Jurists’ Association. “The Road to Re-establishing the Rule of Law and Restoring Civil Society.” The Future of Iraq Project, United States Department of State, Unclassified Document, March 2003.

[10] Working Group report, pg. 4.

[11] Working Group report, pg. 5-6.

[12] Working Group report, pg. 8-9.

[13] Working Group report, Appendix A(11) Articles 3.1(B), and 3.2(C).

[14] Van der Auweraert, Peter. “Property Restitution in Iraq.” Presentation at the Symposium on Post-Conflict Property Restitution, Virginia (6-7 Sept. 2007). Pg. 7.


[16] Al-Marashi, Ibrahim and Aysegul Keskin. “Reconciliation Dilemmas in Post-Ba’athist Iraq: Truth Commissions, Media and Ethno-sectarian Conflicts.” Mediterranean Politics, Vol. 13:2 (2008). Pg. 253.

[17] Hibbitts, Bernard. “Iraqi national reconciliation plan [Iraqi PM].” 27 June 2006.







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