Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Iraqi Parliament Fails To Show Up For New Session

I've been looking around blogtopia and the MSM but there's few if any covering what may be the most crucial story of the day.
BAGHDAD, Iraq: Iraq's parliament failed to reconvene as scheduled Tuesday because so few members showed up after the month's recess.

Only about a dozen of the 275 members of parliament appeared at the Green Zone parliament building. Officials said the assembly would not try to meet again until sometime next week.

The legislature has several urgent items to consider including the oil law, constitutional review and changes in regulations that effectively bar many Sunnis from government jobs.
That's the whole AP report - no explanation, no relation to other events, nothing.

Yet this news could well have shocking repercussions for some of the most crucial Iraqi issues.

By the time the Iraqi parliament can try to convene again, the conference of "neighbours" will have already been and possibly gone. The backdrop to that conference is now one where the democratically elected represenatives of the Iraqi people either can't be bothered to turn up for work or are too scared to turn up for work.

And what about the "surge" - it was meant to give Iraq's government breathing space to bring about reconcilliation, but the bulk of that government is now AWOL - and it's the bit that gives legitimacy to the Maliki cabinet, the Iraqi security forces and the occupation.

Only a dozen MP's out of 275 showed up! That's huge news, surely. What happened to the purple fingers?

Update On January 24th, the NY Times reported that difficulty finding a quorum is not a new thing for the Iraqi parliament.
Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the speaker of Parliament, read a roll call of the 275 elected members with a goal of shaming the no-shows.

Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister? Absent, living in Amman and London. Adnan Pachachi, the octogenarian statesman? Also gone, in Abu Dhabi.

Others who failed to appear Monday included Saleh Mutlak, a senior Sunni legislator; several Shiites and Kurds; and Ayad al-Samaraei, chairman of the finance committee, whose absence led Mr. Mashhadani to ask: “When will he be back? After we approve the budget?”

It was a joke barbed with outrage. Parliament in recent months has been at a standstill. Nearly every session since November has been adjourned because as few as 65 members made it to work, even as they and the absentees earned salaries and benefits worth about $120,000.

Part of the problem is security, but Iraqi officials also said they feared that members were losing confidence in the institution and in the country’s fragile democracy. As chaos has deepened, Parliament’s relevance has gradually receded.

Deals on important legislation, most recently the oil law, now take place largely out of public view, with Parliament — when it meets — rubber-stamping the final decisions. As a result, officials said, vital legislation involving the budget, provincial elections and amendments to the Constitution remain trapped in a legislative process that processes nearly nothing. American officials long hoped that Parliament could help foster dialogue between Iraq’s increasingly fractured ethnic and religious groups, but that has not happened, either.

...“People are totally disenchanted,” Mr. Pachachi said in a telephone interview from Abu Dhabi. “There has been no improvement in the security situation. The government seems to be incapable of doing anything despite all the promises.”

Though the Constitution grants Iraq’s only elected body wide powers to pass laws and investigate, sectarian divisions and the need for a twothirds majority in some cases have often led to deadlock. Sunni and Shiite power brokers have blocked efforts to scrutinize violence connected to their own sects.

“Parliament is the heart of the political process,” Mr. Mashhadani said in an interview at his office, offering more hope than reality. “It is the center of everything. If the heart is not working, it all fails.”

Monday’s attendance actually surpassed the 50 percent plus one needed to pass laws. It was the first quorum in months, caused in part by the return of 30 members loyal to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, whose end to a two-month boycott created a public relations blitz that helped attract 189 members.

But the scene in the convention center auditorium where Parliament meets only underscored the rarity of the gathering. It seemed at times like a reunion. At one point Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who is head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and a Shiite rival of Mr. Sadr, arrived late — after being marked absent. He spent the first five minutes waving and nodding at colleagues, some of whom he apparently had not seen in months.

Parliamentary officials refused to provide attendance lists for every session, fearing retribution. They said all sects and regions had members who often did not come.

Each representative earns about $10,000 a month in salary and benefits, including money for guards. Yet on Monday, members from Baghdad neighborhoods to small towns in the hinterland — Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Christians and Turkmen — were all on the list of no-shows that Mr. Mashhadani read aloud.

The largest group of absentees consisted of unknown figures elected as part of the party lists that governed how most people voted in the December 2005 election. Party leaders in Baghdad said they had urged their members to attend but emphasized that for many, Parliament had become a hardship post.
"And it's one, two, three what are we fighting for...?"

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