Sunni power struggles and political fractures: the complexities of Iraq's Speaker vacancy

Sunni power struggles and political fractures: the complexities of Iraq's Speaker vacancy

Shafaq News/ The Iraqi political landscape is once again in turmoil as the position of Speaker of Parliament remains vacant after the dismissal of the previous Speaker, Mohammed al-Halboosi, threatening the country's governance.

Quorum and Political Balance

According to the Iraqi Parliament's internal regulations, if the presidency becomes vacant for any reason, a replacement must be elected by an absolute majority in the first session called to fill the vacancy, adhering to the political balance guidelines between blocs.

The election of the Speaker of the Parliament requires a quorum of one-half plus one (165 seats) of the total parliamentary seats. The "Taqaddum" party, which holds the majority of Sunni seats, only has approximately 35 seats.

Speaker Vacancy Deepen

In November 2023, Iraq's Supreme Court ruled that the parliament speaker, Mohammad Al-Halbousi, should be ousted from Parliament along with MP Laith Al-Dulaimi.

The crisis traces back to May 2022 when Halbousi removed one of his bloc's members, Laith al-Dulaimi, from the parliament membership, alleging that Dulaimi had submitted his resignation. Al-Dulaimi denied this and took his case to the Iraqi Supreme Court, accusing Al-Halbousi of forgery and abuse of power. He claimed that al-Halbousi coerced him and others from his bloc into signing undated resignations during the previous parliamentary term to secure their future cooperation. Al-Dulaimi regained his position after reconciling his differences with al-Halbousi, who revoked Dulaimi's membership for the second time in January.

Citing multiple legal violations by al-Halbousi, the November 14 Supreme Court decision revoked al-Dulaimi's and al-Halbousi's membership.

Al-Halbousi presided over the parliamentary session immediately after his removal was announced, and he stated from the Speaker's seat that "there are individuals seeking to destabilize the country and fragment its political and social fabric."

He characterized the court's verdict as "unexpected," while his party announced that its members would protest the verdict by withdrawing from key positions in government and Parliament.

Addressing the deputies and the Iraqi public, the prominent Sunni figure emphasized that he and his party "originated from a community that opposed the political process until 2014. This varied opposition contributed to the loss of one-third of Iraqi territory" to ISIS.

Al-Halbousi, a former governor of western Iraq's Al-Anbar governorate, held the highest Sunni official position in Iraq.

After the dismissal, the Iraqi Parliament has failed in four attempts to elect a Speaker to succeed Al-Halbousi.

An extraordinary session of Parliament was convened on January 13 to elect a new Speaker. The initial round of voting resulted in the victory of Shaalan Al-Karim, the candidate from the "Taqaddum" party, led by Al-Halboosi, with 152 votes out of 314. MP Salem Al-Issawi followed him with 97 votes, MP Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani with 48 votes, MP Amer Abdul Jabbar with 6 votes, and MP Talal Al-Zubaie with one vote. However, verbal disputes arose within the council chamber, leading the council presidency to adjourn the session indefinitely. As of the preparation of this report, no further sessions have been scheduled.

Sunni politician Ibrahim Al-Dulaimi believes that "Sunni and other political blocs are working tirelessly. But the Federal Court's rejection of the lawsuit by Hibat Al-Halboosi and the acknowledgment of the session's legality close all doors to speculation and decisively settle the matter, which is not subject to interpretation."

Al-Dulaimi adds to Shafaq News agency that "the State Administration Coalition (in which Al-Halbousi's party is a part) will decide after Eid al-Fitr on the parliamentary session to proceed with the candidates nominated in the first round, including Salem Al-Issawi, Abdul Karim Abtan, Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani, Talal Al-Zubaie, and Amer Abdul Jabbar. These five will compete among themselves, but most Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish blocs lean towards Salem Al-Issawi for the presidency of the Parliament in the upcoming period."

Sunni Political Landscape in Flux

The Sunni political scene witnesses fierce competition for the succession of Mohammed al-Halbousi; meanwhile, his party, "Taqaddum," insists on retaining the position, considering that it holds the parliamentary majority within the Sunni component. At the same time, his opponents from Al-Siyada, Al-Hasm, and Al-Azm argue that the position is part of the component's share without adhering to a specific political title.

On the other hand, Sunni political alliances are experiencing fragmentation and continuous movement. Most recently, on March 13, five leaders from the Al-Siyada and Al-Hasm alliances announced their withdrawal to establish a new parliamentary bloc named "Al-Sadara." This new bloc comprises parliament members such as Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani, Khalid Al-Obaidi, Talal Al-Zubaie, Mohammed Nouri Al-Abd Rabbo, and the politician Fares Al-Fares.

Parliamentary Puzzles

The Sunni bloc seeks to resolve the position of the Speaker of the Parliament quickly, establish a new mechanism for the council's work, and resolve stalled projects and laws in this regard. However, "the rapid events and the intervention of the Federal Court disrupted the selection process," according to Yassin Al-Ithawi, a deputy from the Al-Azm Alliance, a Sunni bloc.

Al-Ithawi told Shafaq News agency that "the current priority of the Sunni movement is to fill the position of the Parliament Speaker, and then plans will be made for Sunni alliances to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections."

In this context, a member of the Taqaddum party, Abdul Aziz Al-Muammar, says, "The Sunni house has been hit in the spine, It was previously agreed that the highest Sunni position would become the political reference. However, Al-Halbousi broke this rule and became a populist leader in the liberated governorates and Baghdad, which is the secret to his resilience in the face of political crises. Therefore, Taqaddum will rebuild the Sunni house but will not deal with traitors."

Al-Muammar explains to Shafaq News that "there are two poles: the first pole is Al-Halbousi, representing the Sunni majority, and then the rest come together in one pole. Taqaddum is ready for any elections since its audience is clear and its numbers are increasing."

For now, three Sunni blocs, Taqaddum, Al-Siyada, and Al-Hasm, continue to adhere to their candidates: Shaalan Al-Karim from Taqaddum, Salem Al-Issawi from Al-Siyada, and Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani from Al-Hasm. In contrast, the Coordination Framework (includes all Shiite parties except for the Sadrist and has the majority) insists on nominating new figures or keeping Mohsen Al-Mandlawi, the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, as the acting president.

Political analyst Hani Al-Shammari confirms that "the Sunni blocs need to reassert their political presence within the Iraqi Parliament. The absence of a presidency weakens their position, and they are facing another challenge ahead, which is participating in the parliamentary elections."

Al-Shammari explains to Shafaq News that "what is happening now is a struggle for influence, and this struggle is not limited to the Sunni house alone. There are challenges and problems within the Shiite house as well. However, the weakness experienced by the Sunni house will benefit the other two components, the Shiites and the Kurds, as they expand and take control of decisions."

He adds that "choosing a new Speaker of the Parliament is not easy for the Sunnis, and leaving the position vacant and led by the presidium is not easy for them either. According to this scene, Sunni parties are not yet ready to participate in parliamentary elections."

He points out that "the presence of the (Muqtada) al-Sadr movement in the political scene has maintained the balance of power within the Sunni and Shiite components, as well as the Kurds. Therefore, reintroducing Al-Sadr into the scene may impose a new equation on the political process and provide an opportunity for moderate leadership in the country."

The Sadrist movement withdrew from the political process on August 29, 2022, after its leader, Muqtada Al-Sadr, decided to withdraw his deputies from Parliament (76 seats out of 329) and then announced his retirement from political work, following a series of events that began with demonstrations by his supporters and ended with clashes inside the Green Zone in Baghdad with armed factions. This allowed the "Coordination Framework" alliance the opportunity to form the largest parliamentary bloc and subsequently form the government.

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