Iraqi parliament in session. File photo: AFP
Since 2003 the largely ceremonial role of Iraqi president has been filled by a Kurd while the Sunnis invariably filled the role of parliamentary speaker. Some are now suggesting a Kurd should take the job and strengthen the position of Kurdish MPs in Baghdad.
As Rudaw’s Rebwar Karim Wali pointed out
, by settling for the role of presidency for the last decade and a half, “the Kurds have been distracted with a ceremonial position.” He argues that instead of settling for this position they should seek the position of speaker since, “having the position of the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, which works on the basis of majority vis-à-vis minority, is important so that the legislative body doesn’t turn into a place where conspiracies are made against the Kurdistan Region.”
The incumbent President of Iraq is Fuad Masum and the parliament speaker is Salim al-Jabouri. While Kurds have always been allotted the post of president by parliament, this is not a condition under the constitution or any Iraqi law.
Joel Wing, author of the Musings on Iraq blog, points out that successfully attaining the position of speaker “would be a huge upgrade in the power of the Kurds in parliament.”
“The problem is that after the independence referendum the Kurdish parties are completely divided and will come into parliament with a greatly diminished position,” he told Rudaw English.
“The scenarios that would allow them to get the speakership would be something like a major split between the main Shiite parties in which they are unable to unite and start going to the other lists to try to put a new government together,” he explained. “Otherwise there’s probably little chance this will happen.”
Furthermore, even if the Kurds attain this post, it is unclear whether it will give them much influence over Iraqi affairs. Yerevan Saeed, a Research Fellow at the Middle East Research Institute (MERI), points to past instances of Kurds securing posts in the government which they thought could secure their interests but ultimately did not.
“Haunted by the machinations of the last century by Iraq and the neighboring countries, Kurds thought that they needed to secure the position of foreign ministry so that they would be aware of any potential plot against them,” Saeed told Rudaw English.
“But Iraq was able to punish the Kurds in some other way which was to completely cut the share of the federal budget for Kurdistan in February 2014. This measure by the federal government made the Kurds to change their priorities from foreign affairs to finance, thinking that would ensure free flow of money to Kurdistan and prevent any financial punishments from Baghdad. But once again that proved it to be futile since Baghdad was able to cut Kurdish budget even though the Minister of Finance was a Kurd.”
Hoshyar Zebari, the minister of finance, was infamously removed from his post in a vote of no confidence via secret ballot in September 2016. This came a mere month after the then-minister of defense, Khalid al-Obeidi, a Sunni from Mosul, was also removed from his post under questionable circumstances. Zebari deemed the move unconstitutional.
“Presently the Kurds think that if they would be able to secure the speaker of parliament that will grant them some kind of veto on future legislation that will be against their national interests,” Saeed added.
However, he believes this will ultimately prove futile.
“This deep deficit of trust, which has been fueled by past history and the unfair measures taken by post-2003 Iraqi governments against them, continuously reinforces the notion that Kurds have always held true, Baghdad has no good intention towards the Kurds when it has power.”
“Iraq is not the country of rule of law. Rather it is dominated by one sect and the judiciary is not independent,” Saeed concluded. “For these reasons minorities like Kurds and Sunnis will always be disadvantaged.”