Politics


Electronic Vote Counting sparks Controversy

By Omar Sattar for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

Electronic Vote Counting sparks Controversy ahead of Iraqi Polls

This year, for the first time, Iraq’s general elections will be conducted via a modern electronic system. The initiative is intended to reduce the possibility of fraud while expediting results in the May 12 elections, according to the Electoral Commission, which announced the completion of the new system April 9.

Yet the supposed advantages of electronic vote counting and sorting have not prevented some of those on the country’s electoral lists from expressing anxieties about the new scheme. It is feared that Iraq’s lack of experience, capacity and modernization when it comes to such a system might bring the results into doubt and under dispute, especially among losing parties or those with fewer seats in the new parliament.

In a meeting with Al-Monitor, the vice president of Iraq’s Electoral Commission, Rizkar Haji, discussed the details of the electronic system. He said, “This system was prepared by the previous commission [whose members were replaced in November], which contracted with the South Korean company Miru [Systems] to import equipment for the electronic counting, as well as 40 Korean experts to implement and maintain the devices.”

He said voters this year will “use a special [rubber] stamp instead of the customary pen to indicate their chosen candidate or list, and the devices will only read this stamp.” He said the electronic counting and sorting system is integrated into a box that receives ballots “and sorts them immediately.”

Haji said continuing technical training courses have been held to “prepare Iraqi cadres for working with modern Korean systems. Around 100 employees have been trained so far, with dozens more expected to be trained before the election.”

With regard to the possibility that the counting machines will malfunction, be misused or be subject to power outages, Haji said, “The devices are equipped with batteries to power them for 12 hours without electricity, while boxes at the 58,000 polling stations contain flash drives that record results immediately for backup, comparing them with the results from counting and sorting devices.”

He said the Electoral Commission is “wired to satellites that send results from each electoral center to the headquarters of the commission’s president in Baghdad, ensuring speed and enabling the announcement of results within hours.”

Haji said the electronic aspect will not be limited to vote counting and sorting. There will also be special hardware (imported from the Spanish company Nidra) that reads each voter’s card and records fingerprints to prevent the repetition of votes and to establish the actual number of voters.

The Electoral Commission did acknowledge that some pressure had been exerted by political parties to cancel the electronic count and return to manual counting and sorting. Although these entities were not named, the most prominent bloc adopting a stance against the electric method is the State of Law coalition led by Vice President Nouri al-Maliki. In a statement March 30, the coalition declared the need for “manual counting after the closure of booths in the presence of local and international observers, to not give any opportunity for skepticism about the integrity of the elections.”

The leader of the Supreme Islamic Council, Jalal al-Din al-Saghir, told Al-Ghad Press agency April 14 that fraud in the parliamentary elections is inevitable. He questioned the accuracy of the electronic count, emphasizing the possibility of cheating in the calculation of results.

In any case, a judgment about the efficacy of the electronic counting devices has not yet been issued by the Electoral Commission’s specialized technical committees, which ensure that the equipment has been manufactured specifically for Iraq.

However, Basil Hussein, the deputy head of the Iraqi Center for Strategic Studies and an expert on electoral issues, told Al-Monitor that the center “has obtained information suggesting that the equipment imported by the commission suffers from a lot of stalling, contains batteries that are no good and cannot operate for long hours. It has not yet been subjected to tests by the committee and the only test it will undergo will be just days before the election.”

The commission said earlier this month that it will test the Miru system later in the month and could resort to a manual system as an alternative in case the electronic system does not work properly.

In terms of the possibility of fraud, Hussein said:

“The most worrying element is that the results will be sent via a satellite headquartered in an Arab country [the satellite server is in the United Arab Emirates], without any encryption. After 200 hours, they will then be sent encrypted to Baghdad, meaning that there is a vast window of time to penetrate the results. This raises a lot of questions about the purpose of spending $100 million on buying these miserable devices and around $166 million on electronic servers, while leaving 200 hours without any oversight of the election results.”

(Picture: Hand of a person casting a vote into the ballot box during elections, from Roibu/Shutterstock)

Will Iraq’s new “Tribal Court” Undermine Rule of Law?

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

Amid Iraqi calls to reinforce the rule of law and strengthen Iraqi state institutions, the Ministry of Justice announced March 28 a new initiative for “arbitration” among tribes, allowing a team of tribal elders to intervene as arbitrators in resolving all possible disputes and conflicts between Iraqi tribes.

According to a statement by the Ministry of Justice, this team of 47 tribal leaders will be called “al-Awaref,” selected by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior in virtue of a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Justice and to be charged with several tasks, most notably reducing the expansion of tribal conflicts and focusing on “bringing about community peace” in Iraqi provinces.

The 47 arbitrators will work voluntarily and receive no salaries from the Iraqi state. In addition to undergoing a background check by the Ministry of the Interior, their names were presented to tribal leaders for approval.

A March 28 statement issued by the Ministry of Justice noted that the ministry “has adopted a team of well-known tribal arbitrators to resolve disputes,” describing them as “a safety valve for the community, which will have a major role in strengthening security and establishing community peace in all provinces of the country.”

Abboud al-Issawi, the head of the tribal committee in parliament and a staunch supporter of the initiative, told Al-Monitor, “[The initiative] will support the law, preserve tribal life and prevent any abuse by persons who have nothing to do with it and do not follow its religious and social criteria.”

Issawi said, “This initiative will neither be too different from Islamic law nor will it be contrary to human rights. In the coming phase, we will work on making it more organized and consistent with the work of the Iraqi state.”

The arbitrators will be allocated to different Iraqi provinces: four arbitrators in Baghdad, two in al-Karkh and two in al-Rusafa, while other provinces will be assigned either one or two arbitrators, all of whom will be directly affiliated to the Ministry of Justice.

Sarhan al-Fatlawi, a sheikh from al-Fatla tribe, told Al-Monitor, “Such a bill can be of use to highlight the role of tribes in building the community and supporting the Iraqi state, especially as Iraqi tribes have achievements throughout the history of the country. So we do not see any harm in such a bill that will put a stop to those who encourage tribal revenge.”

He added, “Tribal problems are aggressively developing into conflicts for simple and minor reasons, all because of those who considered themselves tribal sheikhs when — in fact — they were not. We believe that the tribal arbitration bill will be essential for tribes and will help end issues before they develop into armed clashes, such as those that occur in some areas of southern Iraq.”

Meanwhile, the arbitration initiative comes at a time when conflicts between the Iraqi tribes dramatically escalate, especially in the provinces of southern Iraq where conflicts are constantly evolving and involving the use of medium and heavy weapons.

According to activist and blogger Ibrahim al-Fatlawi, this bill was not welcomed by civil society, which considered it to be “propaganda” for political parties, undermining the work of Iraqi state institutions.

He told Al-Monitor, “We live in a country known to have enacted laws 7,000 years ago, so how can we accept projects and decisions that strengthen the power and influence of tribes within the institutions of the Iraqi state?”

Fatlawi expressed his surprise with “the lack of parliamentary action to undercut the work of the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior through the tribal arbitration project, which will abolish the role of law little by little.”

The tribal arbitration initiative could violate the Iraqi Constitution, which stipulates in Article 45, paragraph 2, that “the state shall seek the advancement of the Iraqi clans … in a way that contributes to the development of society. The state shall prohibit the tribal traditions that are in contradiction with human rights.” Here lies the problem in some tribal traditions that violate the law and human rights principles.

Some of these traditions involve males preventing their first-degree female relatives from marrying someone else, should they wish to marry the females themselves. Other traditions that violate human rights include vengeance and separation, which give tribal sheikhs the right to determine how much money an offender’s family should pay to the victim’s family as compensation, in the event of any problem.

Rahman al-Jobori, a senior researcher at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, told Al-Monitor, “After thousands of years of Iraqi civilization, the state comes up with such an initiative for electoral purposes, instead of enacting a proper law approved by the state.”

Jobori said, “This project is substandard. The Iraqi state needs to work in accordance with international mechanisms for human rights and institutional work, and such an effort cannot enhance the role and authority of the law and treat everyone equally.”

It seems that the work of the team of arbitrators will be parallel to that of the Iraqi judiciary; the 47 arbitrators will form a committee and the conflicting parties can either resort to the judiciary or to the arbitrators who were introduced, in training courses, to the need to issue decisions that do not oppose Islamic provisions and Iraqi law.

Tikrit turns Saddam’s Palaces into Tourist Attractions

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

By Ghazwan Hassan al-Jibouri.

The despised ex-leader of Iraq built luxurious palaces with hundreds of rooms in Tikrit, near his hometown. Now the local council wants them turned into money-making museums.

Some might say the formerly-luxurious palaces built by Iraqi autocrat, Saddam Hussein, in Tikrit are a metaphor for how things have developed since 2003.

Tikrit is often known as the “city of palaces” due to the fact that Saddam Hussein, who came from a nearby village, built dozens of luxurious residences and halls, often along the banks of the Tigris river here. It has been suggested there are anywhere between 60 and 136 such mansions in the area. The largest are well known and often hark back to ancient Iraqi or religious history. For example, one, which has 360 rooms, is called Dhu Al Fiqar, after a mythical sword in Islamic history and the buildings are sword-shaped.

The gardens are planted with trees brought from all over Iraq and there are miniature lakes and swimming pools galore.

But today, many of the palaces and their facilities stand in ruins. They’ve been occupied by different military forces and put up for sale. Local authorities and the federal government have both failed to preserve them even though public interest in them is high. Today they are more like ruins or rubbish dumps, and their state of repair has only worsened since the city was occupied by the extremist group known as the Islamic State in 2014.

“The presidential palaces have been offered for sale more than once,” explains Tami Saab, deputy director of the Salahaddin Investment Commission. “But the main reason that investors are scared to put money into them is because they are occupied by militia groups and security forces, many of whom have refused to leave the buildings, both before and after the Islamic State group was here.”

Because the palaces are isolated and easy to defend, they are still often used by security forces. And, as Saab says, the military men are refusing to vacate the premises even though the local government has asked them to.

The parliamentary committee on economics in Baghdad has said they would put the development of the palaces out to tender, inviting bids much as they do for Iraq’s oilfields. The bidding would include former palaces of the Iraqi dictator right around the country, not just in Tikrit.

In announcing this plan, the committee noted that there were 136 palaces in and around Tikrit itself, some of them designed by international architects, boasting everything from unique security features such as walls made to resist heavy weapons, to rare marble, pools and vast interior spaces.

Unfortunately, the Iraqi security forces and militias have been in the presidential palace complexes since April 2015, Fadhil al-Dujaili, a member of Salahaddin’s provincial council, told NIQASH. “The complex is now closed and most of the palaces were destroyed either by the Islamic State group or by air strikes against them.”

But he still has hope for the palaces. They “could be used to generate tourist dollars for Tikrit,” he argues. “Especially as this area has further important sites, including the ‘Green Church’, one of the oldest churches in the Middle East, and the house where Salahaddin al-Ayubi [the first sultan of Egypt and Syria] was born. Many tourists also want to visit Saddam’s places to see how he lived. This could provide our people with hundreds of job opportunities,” he argues.

Even today there are dozens of visitors to certain sites within the palace complex and not all of them are for pleasant reasons. Many journalists, mourners and delegations come to visit one particular palace courtyard overlooking the Tigris. It was here that in June 2014, the extremists of the Islamic State executed an estimated 1,700 air force cadets in cold blood and threw some of their bodies into the river in what would come to be known as the Camp Speicher massacre. Other victims were buried in the palace grounds and search teams are still trying to excavate their bodies.

Dozens of families come here to mourn their lost sons. They leave flowers, paint the walls with henna and pray and cry on the site. The Iraqi government has made special arrangements to host the mourners here and has declared a special memorial day too.

While some locals believe the palaces of Saddam Hussein should be restored as part of Iraq’s chequered recent history, others believe that they should be left to their own disintegration, taking the bad memories with them.

Direct Appeal to Federal Supreme Court against INOC Law

By Ahmed Mousa Jiyad.

Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Immediately after the Iraqi parliament voted the new INOC Law and after thorough and critical examination and analysis of the law it becomes apparently clear that the law is full of shortcomings, ambiguity, contradictions and above all it contrives the Constitution repeatedly and thus it is unconstitutional. Hence, an appeal to the Federal Supreme Court becomes urgent necessity to revoke this devastating law.

Due to the importance of the law and its highly likely damaging impacts on the petroleum sector and on the Iraqi economy at large, it is imperative and of vital necessity to adopt inclusive and participatory methodology for combating the law. For this purpose I adopted four phases AMTA approach: Awareness, Mobilization, Teaming-up and Action.

Awareness phase aims at highlighting what is seriously wrong with the law by, first, providing preliminary evaluation of the law. The evaluation, written in Arabic on 8 March, was posted on many websites, such as (http://www.akhbaar.org/home/2018/3/241534.html ) and disseminated among my very extensive network of contacts inside and outside Iraq (ca. 2000 contacts). Similarly, an English article was posted on 12 March on IBN website (http://www.iraq-businessnews.com/2018/03/12/inoc-law-dysfunctional-unconstitutional-and-disintegrative/ )

Further article in Arabic was shared, on 20 March, among my network and also published widely provides further specific and with economic evaluation on how this law could violate the constitution, weaken INOC itself and contribute to the disintegration of the country, (http://www.akhbaar.org/home/2018/3/242198.html)

 

Mobilization phase began by calling upon Iraqis, collectively or individually, to protest the law and file “open” appeal to the Federal Supreme Court; two articles in Arabic were shared and posted on 26 and 27 March respectively:  http://www.akhbaar.org/home/2018/3/242229.html   and http://www.akhbaar.org/home/2018/3/242284.html

The call aims at prompting the citizens to know their constitutional rights and empower them with the knowledge base to act as was enshrined in the constitutional article 93, which says the Federal Supreme Court shall have jurisdiction over the following, among others: “Overseeing the constitutionality of laws and regulations in effect” and “The law shall guarantee the right of direct appeal to the Court to the Council of Ministers, those concerned individuals, and others.”

Much of my writings were in comparative and structuralist methodology: by comparing this law with first, the constitution, second, with previous INOC laws, third, with other laws of direct relevance to the topic and fourth with lessons learned from INOC history and structural progression since its foundation in early sixties of the last century.

 

Team working phase began when many oil professionals, lawyers, civil society organization, politicians, parliamentarians and media sources among others supported the idea of appealing to FSC.

Three groups of Iraqi lawyers volunteered to provide legal support on substantive and procedural matters pertaining to the appeal before FSC and a small group of Iraqi oil professionals was assembled in Baghdad to maintain contacts with the lawyers and follow-up the matter inside the country especially with media sources and events organization. The discussion with the lawyers suggests that at this stage, two fundamental steps must be done: the first is to prepare a draft of detailed appeal against the law on article-by-article base and the second is to provide the lawyers with “Power of Attorney” by me and other plaintiffs.

A detailed appeal (in Arabic) was drafted and circulated, 4 April 2018, among the wider network and also posted on many websites such as,  http://www.akhbaar.org/home/2018/4/242627.html . The draft proves that INOC law contravenes ten constitutional articles in addition to other critical flaws; in total there are 29 identified cases for appeal against the law.

 

Action phase began with many different actions:

–          Many of the contacts in my professional network recirculated the articles above mentioned among their own networks;

–          One lawyer convened a big gathering in one of Baghdad known hotels attended by active parliamentarians;

–          A well-respected journal, Al-Thaqaf al-Jadeda,  convened, on 7 April, in Baghdad,  a roundtable debate on the law attended by known professionals on both side of the isle, my participation was in absentia and the PowerPoint was presented by one of the supporting group there;

–          A report on the debate was published on 8 April on Tareeq Al-Shaab Newspaper;

–          A group of Iraqis abroad launched on 4 April an online-campaign against the law (http://ehamalat.com/Ar/sign_petitions.aspx?pid=1002 )- the number of cite visitors exceeds 8000 (at 13 PM Norway time today 8 April 2018).

Copy of the “Power of Attorney” was circulated among “the  willing and like-minded” to authorize specified two lawyers to pursue the appeal once the law was published on the Official Gazettes- Al-Waqaee Al-Iraqiya. It is also available for anyone willing to pursue the appeal action. 

All components of the AMTA approach are ongoing and continue until this atrocious law is revoked.

Those willing to see the text of draft appeal in Arabic can access it freely through

تفاصيل الطعن المباشر بقانون شركة النفط الوطنية العراقية http://www.akhbaar.org/home/2018/4/242627.html

For endorsing our campaign against the law one can sign on the electronic appeal through

http://ehamalat.com/Ar/sign_petitions.aspx?pid=1002

Mr Jiyad is an independent development consultant, scholar and Associate with the former Centre for Global Energy Studies (CGES), London. He was formerly a senior economist with the Iraq National Oil Company and Iraq’s Ministry of Oil, Chief Expert for the Council of Ministers, Director at the Ministry of Trade, and International Specialist with UN organizations in Uganda, Sudan and Jordan. He is now based in Norway (Email: mou-jiya(at)online.no, Skype ID: Ahmed Mousa Jiyad). Read more of Mr Jiyad’s biography here.

Video: Iraq seeks to Rebuild its ‘Destroyed’ Heritage

From Al Jazeera. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Rebuilding efforts in Iraq have been slow since the defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) last year.

But it is not just about reconstructing schools and homes, archaeologists say Iraq’s very heritage is at stake.

Al Jazeera‘s Imran Khan reports from the country’s second largest city Mosul:

KRG approves revised Salary Distribution System

In its regular meeting on Wednesday, the Kurdistan Region Council of Ministers discussed and adopted proposed revisions to the salary distribution system, based on funds currently available and projected.

In a press conference after the meeting, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani briefed the media on the revised salary distribution system. He said the KRG fully understands the hardship being faced by those on government payroll and the related negative impact on the economy that has adversely affected many others. He thanked the people of Kurdistan for enduring such financial difficulties.

Prime Minister Barzani emphasized that he fully respects the people’s right to protest peacefully. Violent protest, however, cannot be tolerated and it is the government’s responsibility to handle it with restraint and in accordance to the law.

Minister of Finance and Economy Rebaz Hamlan explained the revised salary distribution system that significantly reduces amounts withheld (saved) from most staff members, pensioners, social welfare beneficiaries, martyrs’ families, and Anfal victims families.
The revision includes monthly salaries of:

  • Up to 400,000 Iraqi dinars – no amount will be withheld
  • 400,000 to 5,000,000 Iraqi dinars – 10 to 30 percent to be withheld
  • Above 5,000,000 Iraqi dinars – 75 percent to be withheld

While the financial situation remains fragile, it is intended that as available funds increase, amounts being withheld will be further reduced. This will occur in accordance with reforms and transparency processes being guided by the international accounting firms Deloitte and Ernst & Young. A draft reform law currently before the Kurdistan Parliament aims toward ending the current withholding (saving) system.

Minister of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs Mahmoud Haji Saleh explained, during the Council of Ministers meeting, that the Iraqi Parliament adopted a resolution favoring families of martyrs, Anfal victims, and political prisoners in the Kurdistan Region with grants and privileges, to be paid by the Iraqi government in accordance with the Constitution, and which the KRG has been working on since 2015.

The KRG Council of Ministers thanked the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and members of the Iraqi Parliament, particularly the members representing Kurdistan Region, who helped pass this resolution.

(Source: KRG)

Power-sharing deal could end dispute over Kirkuk Elections

By Omar Sattar for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

For the first time since 2005, Kirkuk governorate in Iraq will hold elections Dec. 22 to select its local governing council. Parliament included the multiethnic province of the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens in the provincial election law approved March 3.

The decision follows an agreement among the three groups’ representatives in parliament and was greatly welcomed by all segments, especially the Kurds, who for years have demanded that elections be held in Kirkuk. Khalid al-Mafraji, an Arab parliament member from Kirkuk, told Al-Monitor that negotiations took more than a year.

The agreement binds the Independent High Electoral Commission to review voters’ records in coordination with the ministries of Interior, Commerce, Planning and Health. If they aren’t able to review the records before the elections, the commission will be obliged to undertake an audit within six months after the elected council begins its work.

“The most important articles of the agreement relate to sharing power,” Mafraji said. The largest bloc in the election will appoint the governor, and the two deputy positions will go to the other two groups. Moreover, federal positions will be determined by the governorate’s residents, according to party size. The agreement also states that the constitution and the law take precedence over the governorate’s council, parliament and the federal government.

The electoral law will remain in effect for four years. Shakhawan Abdullah, who represents Kirkuk in the Kurdistan Democratic Party in parliament, told Al-Monitor, “The agreement between the three components of Kirkuk’s governorate will be effective for only one electoral round, and the elections will not be held in the same way in four years’ time.”

Abdullah believes the provincial election law presents a good opportunity to resolve conflicts in the governorate and give it more administrative powers, like other governorates. The governorate has gone without elections all these years for various reasons. Oil-rich Kirkuk is a disputed area claimed by both the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil. Its situation is also unique because of its ethnic diversity and disagreements among them.

The constitution stipulates the conflicts in the governorate must be normalized in three stages. The first stage is to allow the return of displaced Kurds and Arabs who emigrated during the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The second stage is to carry out a population census, and the last stage is to hold a general referendum on whether Kirkuk should become a new region, like the autonomous Kurdistan Region, or be annexed to the Kurdistan Region.

All of those procedures were to be carried out before 2007, which wasn’t done. This caused political conflict, partly because of the disagreement between Baghdad and the KRG over having elected authorities with the right to control the governorate’s future.

The Kurdistan independence referendum in September, which included Kirkuk, ended in crisis, and the central government subsequently took over the governorate and cut the Kurds’ authority. The coming elections will give Baghdad and the KRG a chance to solve the current dispute over Kirkuk’s administration.

However, the most important problem that may affect holding elections in Kirkuk is the agreement on a unified record of voters, which may raise doubts about the election results. Iraq hasn’t conducted a census in decades. Ali Khalil, the Arab bloc member of the governorate council, told Al-Monitor that Arabs weren’t in favor of the agreement’s clause that allows an audit to be delayed until after the elections if records can’t be reviewed before then.

“How would we elect a new governorate council while doubting voters’ records at the same time?” Khalil asked.

The Kirkuk local elections will provide a chance to reduce tension in the governorate, a good way to determine the real size of each of the three ethnic groups and a way to form a more legitimate administration — but it could lead to negative results. If one segment is counted and found to have significantly fewer representatives than before, that segment might refuse to accept the election results.

Gender Mainstreaming in Iraq’s Elections

UNDP and UNAMI works with Iraqi High Elections Commission (IHEC) on gender mainstreaming in Iraq’s elections

20 participants from IHEC’s gender unit participated in the first of a series of capacity building activites planned to support IHEC in the period leading up to the upcoming elections.

The workshop, jointly organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNAMI, in cooperation with IHEC, aimed at enhancing the capacities of the gender team to promote greater political participation of women in elections both as candidates and as voters.

IHEC Chairperson Mr. Maan Al-Hitawi said:

“We believe that women are not only half of population but are the whole society, that is why the strategy of the Council of Commisioner is focusing on supporting the gender team as central part of IHEC structure”.

Speaking on behalf of UNAMI, DSRSG Ms. Alice Walpole opened the workshop and said:

Women’s political participation in Iraq is characterized by progress as well as setbacks. In terms of numerical representation at national and local governance levels, Iraq has some of the highest rates globally.

“The significant representation of women in Iraq’s Council of Representatives (CoR) is largely attributable to the use of a quota (25%), I welcome the recent formation of the IHEC Gender committee aimed at mainstreaming women’s participation throughout the several phases of the electoral process, devising tailor made interventions and promoting gender equality within IHEC’s internal structures, procedures and policies”

Speaking on behalf of UNDP, Country Director Mr.  Mounir Tabet said:

“The gender gap is one of the main issues that UNDP took into consideration in developing its support for the delivery of free, fair and transparent elections. We are aiming to fully support IHEC’s gender engagement strategy and to empower the role of women in elections as candidates, political activists, voters, CSO actors, throughout the electoral cycle”.

Facilitated by UNDP’s gender specialist, the workshop reviewed the electoral processes from a gender perspective, referring to the importance of building gender classified data and to learn from good practices of promoting women participation in electoral processes.

After the workshop, participants will hold a one-day meeting targeting gender units in line ministries in order to collaborate and coordinate efforts of raising awareness of women and men in the public sector and encouraging more active participation in the elections.

Additional workshops will be facilitated by UNDP and IHEC’s gender team at the national and provincial levels. These workshops will also suppot the gender unit to conduct a review of election materials from a gender perspective and to help the team establish a social media platform to promote greater participation of women in the upcoming elections.

UNDP and UNAMI are jontly planning to support IHEC’s gender team  activities In priority areas of gender mainstreaming the election process with focusing on encouraging active women participation in election and enhacing capacities of IHEC’s gender focal point in governorates to ensure gender mainstreaming in electoral process.

(Source: UNDP)

Dozens of Iraqi Journalists enter Parliamentary Race

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

A record 30 Iraqi journalists and media figures have entered the political arena and presented their candidacies for the May 12 parliamentary elections, joining a variety of blocs and lists.

Though not all the candidates have yet announced their participation publicly, the High Electoral Commission lists has revealed the list of registered names, which include some women working in journalism. They all aspire to join parliamentarian Sarwa Abdul Wahid of the Change Party, who once worked for the American AlHurra TV.

Many of these candidates will be listed as independents.

Manal Almotasim is one journalist who aspires to reach the Iraqi parliament. Almotasim, who has worked for a decade in the Iraqi media and has presented various political TV programs, decided to brave the political world and join the Qarar al-Iraqi coalition headed by Sunni businessman Khamis al-Khanjar.

Almotasim has a good number of fans thanks to her work in the media and her presence on the screen. She told Al-Monitor, “Those who like me as a journalist might not want me in the political world that they are so fed up with. … At the same time, my audience might get me to the parliament.”

She added, “If I do not succeed, it would not mean that I will stop pursuing my career in media. It would be an experience like any other.”

Prominent journalist Ahmed Mulla Talal previously competed in two elections — in 2010 with the Supreme Council led by Ammar al-Hakim and again in 2014 with Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition. This time, Talal is running with the Al-Madani Party, which is funded by the director of Al-Huda bank, Hamad al-Moussawi.

Al-Madani is also fielding journalist Hadee Jalo Maree, who often criticizes politicians on social media. Maree told Al-Monitor that reporters and journalists are entering politics like doctors and intellectuals have done in the past, saying they’re working to change the makeup of the political class that tends to only represent certain sects.

He added that while not all the new candidates will make it into the government, “the point is to try and change the existing national, sectarian and religious approach in qualifying electoral candidates.”

Not everyone is pulling for this new class of candidates. Ziad Ojeili, head of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory in Iraq, does not believe that journalists should run for election.

“Journalists would lose popular support if they win, as they would become the politicians they have been criticizing for the entirety of their career,” Ziad Ojeili said, though history shows that it is difficult for any candidate to reach parliament if not through the sectarian pipelines that have supplied parliament members for the past 14 years.

Ojeili told Al-Monitor, “Running in elections is everyone’s right, and journalists are part of the political world. … But a successful journalist might not be a successful politician. People need journalists to act as their voice, not as politicians.”

These candidates are distributed across many blocs. Some are running with the Popular Mobilization Units, such as famous TV presenter Wajih Abbas, whose program on Sadrist Al-Ahd TV was very popular, while others like Falluja TV presenter Omar al-Jamal have joined al-Qarar al-Iraqi bloc, which considers the PMU a terrorist group.

(Picture credit: Essam al-Sudani)

Iraq to begin Seizing Assets of Saddam Hussein & Cohorts

By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraqi authorities have been given the green light to begin confiscating the assets of late President Saddam Hussein, along with the assets of many of his relatives and thousands of people who were associated with his regime.

Some critics, however, say the process lends itself to corruption and raises questions about the timing of the decision and the value of the assets as well as their future use.

The Iraqi Accountability and Justice Commission on March 5 said it has completed its list of the people whose assets are to be seized: 52 people who were senior officials during Saddam’s regime and 4,257 ex-ministers and officials of his Baath Party.

The list includes deceased relatives, including Saddam’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as Chemical Ali, who was hanged in 2010 for gassing 5,000 Kurds in northern Iraq in 1988.

Abdul Rahman al-Louizi, a deputy in Iraq’s parliament, told Al-Monitor the issue can be traced back to the property seizure law crafted by US administrator Paul Bremer, who took over Iraq’s administration after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

Louizi said the measure “still has many gaps, most of them relating to specific categories of employment.”

“It includes governors from Saddam’s regime, but it doesn’t include [some] ministers from that time due to the political implications.” He added, “The decision doesn’t address the [chaos] that emerged after the fall of Saddam’s regime.”

He said some people on the list have “redeemed” themselves in recent years by fighting terrorism. For example, Maj. Gen. Ahmad Sadak al-Dulaimi, who died in the fight against the Islamic State, is considered a martyr among many Iraqis.

This was also why Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi criticized the decision March 6.

While Louizi believes “resolving the fate of the former regime’s assets will lead to their use in the interests of society,” progress has been slow, considering 15 years have passed since Hussein was deposed.

Some moves were made previously to take advantage of the wealth of property left by Hussein’s regime. In 2009, his former palace at the historic site of Babylon was transformed into a luxury hotel. His riverside palace in the southern city of Basra, which once served as the headquarters for US and Polish forces, has been turned into a museum.

Suhaila Abbas, a member of the Babylon regional council, told Al-Monitor, “The accountability, justice and real estate services have not resolved much. … Many properties in Babylon and other provinces were turned into the headquarters of powerful parties, but this has yet to be resolved.”

She added, “Most of the palaces occupied by [Hussein] and his family were not registered under his name but under Iraqi ministries. Yet current ministers and officials have refused to leave.”

The claim relates to reports published March 10 of “senior officials refusing to leave Saddam Hussein’s palaces, seized after the US invasion, in the Green Zone and other Baghdad neighborhoods.”

Abbas’ words hint at the potential role of corruption in determining the fate of the assets. On April 16, 2017, a member of the Iraqi Integrity Commission told the media, “The confiscation of former regime symbols opens the door for corruption and enrichment of current parties. Most of those properties are now occupied by political leaders and members of the government and parliament.”

There is growing suspicion around the misuse of property that should be recovered by the state and used to benefit society, according to a Baath Party member in Babylon who did not want to be named. “All the Baath Party headquarters in the central and southern regions were taken over by [political] parties. Others were deliberately not resolved until a significant amount of time had passed. They were then sold for nominal prices to influential groups,” he said.

The commission’s decision was also criticized for allegedly indicting individuals and groups from the Sunni community specifically. A commission media official who asked not to be named told Al-Monitor, “Such accusations fly in the face of fact. The latest decision did not identify a certain group, because it was issued before the Council of Ministers. The Accountability and Justice Commission is an investigatory body that provides the concerned parties with information about individuals, material and procedures relating to confiscation, so the whole process does not target a particular sect.”

Kamal Zaidi, a member of the parliamentary Legal Committee, played down doubts about the confiscation procedures and the fate of the property. Commission members “work with legal advisers to establish regulations and mechanisms relating to the seizure of the former regime’s funds and property and how to deal with them,” he told Al-Monitor.

“The executive institutions today are aware of the legal protocols governing their task. They will act accordingly to resolve the property issue, despite differences between political forces over the fate of assets.” Zaidi added, “The government will begin work on the final decision to resolve the issue of funds and property, inside Iraq and abroad.”

To deal with the controversy surrounding the decision, those who enforce it must make their efforts transparent, especially regarding the charges that many people now occupying the properties are dragging their feet so they can remain there.