Iraq: The Kurds Propose to Change the Constitution
August 14, 2010It had been expected that the Kurdish demands for supporting a new government would be on the unrealistic side, but what has emerged in press reports over the past days suggests a list of desiderata – reportedly 19 points - that is completely over the top.
Included are of course predictable items like implementation of article 140 of the constitution (disputed territories and Kirkuk), regional rights to sign oil deals with foreign companies and financing of the Kurdish peshmerga militias by Baghdad without integrating them fully in the Iraqi army as ordinary units. But the latest proposals contain far more. In fact, they amount to a complete revision of the Iraqi constitution, and in particular the removal of any possibilities for the re-emergence of a strong Baghdad. Back in 2006 and 2007, the Kurds played a key role in diffusing power through inventions of committees to be controlled by politicians: The council for national security in 2006 (it is not even in the constitution!); the oil and gas committee in the 2007 draft oil law (why cannot Iraq have a normal oil ministry like any other oil-producing state?) The most important new innovation is the attack on the powers of the prime minister: This is to be checked by making the head of the national security council into commander in chief of the armed forces and by giving some powers to – of course – the president (to be held by a Kurd according to the Kurdish demands). Not least, the ethno-sectarian, tripartite presidency council that was in force with strong veto powers as a transitional mechanism between 2005 and 2010 will be resuscitated, thereby incorporating a key feature of the failed constitutional-revision project from the previous parliamentary cycle.
In other words, the Kurds are seeking to complete the parody-like transformation of Iraq to a loose banana confederation that was attempted back in 2005 when the constitution was drafted, but which failed to go all the way. It is of course not a big surprise that the Kurds are pushing in this direction. The great irony of the proposal, which is supposed to appeal to the Shiite-led Iraqi National Alliance (INA) and the secular Iraqiyya, is that both these parties hope to ultimately achieve the very premiership that the Kurds are seeking to strangle by the proposal. For this reason, the latest Kurdish document will not solve anything in terms of government formation; since the Kurds do not any longer have veto power (i.e. through the erstwhile two-thirds supermajority requirement for appointing the presidency council) it is the triangular relationship between Iraqiyya, State of Law (SLA) and INA that will ultimately dictate the basics of government formation. If Kurdish demands are seen as extravagant, any combination of those three along with support from smaller blocs is sufficient to reach the magic mark of 163 deputies.
As expected, at least Maliki’s SLA has had the guts to indicate scepticism to the proposals. The shocking development is that Iraqiyya has reportedly said they agree with them in principle! If true that would mean a complete abdication of Iraqiyya’s pretensions as a nationalist party, transforming it instead to a collaborator with the forces of division and the kings of ethno-sectarian quotas. In a way, if the Kurds have it their way, it does not really matter who the next prime minister is, because Iraq, as a centralised state, would be gone anyway. But at the same time, there are no signs that INA is prepared to give up the premiership to Iraqiyya or vice-versa, meaning any rapprochement between the Kurds, Iraqiyya and INA on the basis of these most recent Kurdish demands will be of limited value in terms of progress towards a new government anyway.