Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Holding the Government to Account

Planned body aimed at keeping a check on the government is criticised for being unconstitutional.
By Safa Mansoor
Opponents of Iraqi premier Ibrahim al-Ja'afari are backing a proposal to create an influential council, comprising Iraqi leaders and opposition figures, which could curb the cabinet's power.

The exact role of the council, which was first suggested by Kurdistan regional government president Masood Barzani last month and is supported by US officials, has not been made clear. Proponents have only said it would monitor cabinet business and provide a check on decisions.

The council would include all of Iraq's top politicians - the president, vice presidents, prime minister, deputy prime ministers, the national assembly speaker - as well as some party leaders, including opposition figures. Critics panned it as unconstitutional.

The plan is being praised by opponents of Ja'afari, who has been nominated to lead the country’s first four-year permanent government.

Kurdish, secular and Sunni Arab leaders have called for Ja'afari's coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, to pull his nomination for fear that he will exclude important parties - such as Ayad Allawi’s Iraqi National List - from his cabinet and give all the most important ministerial posts to members of his coalition, the leading slate in parliament. Most of the latter are continuing to back Ja'afari.

The disagreements over the composition of the government have left a power vacuum that many believe has allowed the sectarian violence to spiral.

Mahmood Othman, a Kurdish national assembly member, said the council would ensure that all leading parties participate in decision-making.

"Concerns over the performance of any prime minister will be gone after this council is formed," said Othman. "It will seriously help in solving the continuing [security] crisis that Ja'afari's government couldn't solve."

The Kurdish newspaper Hawlati reported that the council was originally conceived during a meeting between former prime minister Allawi and the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, in Salahaddin last year. Ja'afari is trying to keep Allawi out of his cabinet, arguing that his Iraqi National List - which won 25 out of the 275 parliamentary seats - is not sufficiently well represented in the assembly to warrant a ministerial post.

Kurdish leaders are in part pressing for the creation of the council in the hope that it could address issues affecting their community, in particular the status of Kirkuk and the return of Kurds expelled from the city under Saddam.

Barzani made his announcement about the council after meeting with Khalilzad, who has been openly critical of Ja'afari's government.

Critics of the proposed body note that there is no mention of it in Iraq's new constitution, approved by voters last year. The new parliament, which has not convened since slates were elected in December 2005, has four months from its first session to amend the constitution.

"There is no article or item to establish this council," said Khudhair al-Khazai, a United Iraqi Alliance lawmaker. "We insist on sticking to the articles in the constitution and refuse to overlook them."

A political analyst in Baghdad, Ayad Abdai, also expressed concern over the planned body.

"This is a negative indicator that Iraqi politicians intend to abort democracy," he said. "How can we replace an elected council with an unelected one?"

But Iraqi Communist party leader and national assembly member Hameed Majeed Musa argued that Iraq needs an authority to monitor the government and hold it to account.

Sunni Arab leaders who accused Ja'afari's interim government of fuelling sectarianism are also supporting the council.

Saleh al-Mutlak, head of the Sunni Arab Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, argued that the body would be legitimate if approved by parliament. Mutlak helped draft the constitution but opposed its final version.

Safa Mansoor is an IWPR trainee journalist in Baghdad