Fears of new ‘deep state’ in Iraq as factions fight for key jobs

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, center, has to send a list of nominees to Parliament by the end of June for approval. (Getty Images)
Updated 26 June 2019
0

Fears of new ‘deep state’ in Iraq as factions fight for key jobs

  • About 5,000 high-profile positions are supposed to be filled by nominees who will act independently of political parties
  • The political party or parliamentary bloc that controls these positions is expected to effectively dominate the Iraqi state for the next 10 to 15 years

BAGHDAD: Political factions in Iraq are waging a secret battle to gain control of thousands of key government and agency jobs in a bid to tighten their grip on power and exert as much political influence as possible, according to lawmakers and analysts.
About 5,000 high-profile positions, including heads of independent government agencies, deputy ministers, heads of universities, deans, ambassadors, diplomats, and commanders of military divisions and security services, are supposed to be filled by nominees who will act independently of political parties.
However, until now they have been filled mostly by proxies of the leading parties, primarily the Islamic Dawa Party, which “was representing the main structure of the deep state built by former prime ministers,” lawmakers said.
There is growing concern that far from dismantling the “deep state,” the latest appointees will simply replace it with another that is even stronger.
Under the 2019 annual budget law, all the posts must be filled by the end of June. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has to send a list of nominees to Parliament by then for approval.The political party or parliamentary bloc that controls these positions will effectively dominate the Iraqi state for the next 10 to 15 years, because the access they provide to the departments they represent will help to serve the personal agendas of any leader, analysts said.
“These posts are not political and they are much more important for the political parties than the ministries, so they are ready to sacrifice anything to get a share of them,” Rahman Al-Joubori, a researcher at the Center for Regional Studies at the American University in Sulaimaniyah, told Arab News.
“Each of the parties has strategically planned to get this department or that department as compensation for the ministries that they gave up, and because some of them are eyeing the same departments or trying to get more than their share, disputes have erupted.”
Iraqi political groups have adopted a power-sharing system since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Each party is supposed to receive a share of the available positions proportional to the number of seats it holds in Parliament. They can submit candidates to fill these posts regardless of the required professional standards or qualification.
The Islamic Dawa Party, which has led four of the six governments in power during the past 16 years, has controlled most of the most important positions and organizations by appointing its followers to run them by proxy, bypassing Parliament and preventing rivals from getting their share.
Former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who led two of the four Dawa governments, frustrated his political rivals, including his successor Haider Abadi, by controlling the acting directors of the most important, or advanced, jobs, especially those related to security and inspections.
“The Dawa party, represented by Al-Maliki, created the deep state and rooted it in the Iraqi state after 2006 by taking over most of the advanced positions,” a prominent Shiite leader involved in the current talks to allocate these positions told Arab News.
“In addition to the human and financial resources provided by these positions, it is an effective tool to terminate opponents, control the core of the state, and destabilize its economy and security whenever it is needed.”

 

The General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, which is responsible for submitting candidates to fill the positions, formed a committee to allocate the jobs two months ago. Its members include the secretary-general of the Cabinet, the director of the prime minister’s office, and representatives of the most prominent Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political forces in the government and Parliament. The commission has been meeting almost daily, but nominees have been agreed for only a few dozen positions, according to the prime minister’s press office.
The disputes between the political factions began on the first day the committee met. Some members demanded positions with levels of importance incommensurate with the number of seats they hold, while others sought control of organizations that are of particular interest to their powerful blocs. These include Saeiroon, the political wing of Muqtada Al-Sadr, the influential Shiite cleric; and the pro-Iranian Fatah alliance, which includes the Badr Organization, one of the most powerful Shiite armed factions, and Assaib Ahl Al-Haq, the second-most powerful Shiite armed faction.
Disagreements about the levels of the positions and the heads of independent agencies took a new turn when many committee members began to publicly complain.
Ammar Al-Hakim, leader of Al-Hikma and a prominent ally of Al-Sadr within the Reform parliamentary coalition, last week announced he was withdrawing from the coalition and joining the opposition in protest at the way the committee was distributing the jobs, and “the lack of access to the posts that he has been looking for.”
He was soon followed by another Al-Sadr ally, Haider Al-Abadi, whose Al-Nassir party also announced it would join the opposition because it refused the “quest (by some political parties) to form a new deep state, greater and deeper than the old one.”
“The coalition of Al-Nassir is backing (the efforts) to end the file of special grades as soon as possible, but must be resolved, in accordance with professionalism and efficiency standards, away from the parties,” Al-Nassir member Ali Al-Sineed said on Monday. “There are parties that want to control the special grades in order to create a new deep state, which (will be) deeper than the current one.”
Although Al-Sadr has publicly warned members of his bloc against “rooting the old deep state or building a new one,” and threatened to abandon them if they insist on a share of the positions, the committee still holds daily meetings in the presence of representatives of Saeiroon.
Hamad Al-Rikabi, a spokesman for Saeiroon, said on Monday that members of the political bloc are following Al-Sadr’s instructions to refrain from seeking any of the positions and work on “dismantling the deep state.”
Badr, Al-Nassir, Al-Hikma and Assaib all issued statements last week confirming that they would not seek any special-grade or high-profile jobs to which they are not entitled based on power-sharing agreements. However, behind the scenes, all are still negotiating to grab a share of the positions, government sources said.
“All of them say that they are not seeking to get a share, but actually they are fighting to get them,” said an adviser to Abdul Mahdi.
“Saieroon, Assaib and Badr are at the forefront of other blocs that are working to get as many of these posts as they can. They say that they are working to dismantle the deep state of Al-Maliki by stripping the Dawa party of all the positions that have been under its control for 14 years , but the truth is that they will just replace it.
“They promised to nominate independents who had nothing to do with them, but that does not mean the nominees are not fully subservient to them.”

FASTFACTS

The Islamic Dawa Party, which has led four of the six governments in power during the past 16 years, has controlled most of the most important positions and organizations by appointing its followers to run them by proxy.


Palestinian refugees protest Lebanese Labor Ministry restrictions

Updated 8 min 13 sec ago
0

Palestinian refugees protest Lebanese Labor Ministry restrictions

  • All Palestinian political forces and popular committees took part in the protests

BEIRUT: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon expressed their anger on Tuesday at the decision of the Lebanese Ministry of Labor to classify Palestinian labor similarly to illegal Syrian labor. 

The refugees carried out a general strike and protests across 12 camps.

The protests, under the slogan “Day of Anger,” paralyzed movement in the camps. Protesters closed the entrances with burning tyres. All Palestinian political forces and popular committees took part in the protests. 

The speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, received a letter from the head of the Palestinian National Council, Salim Zanoun, calling on him to “address the negative effects of the decision of the Lebanese Ministry of Labor.”

Zanoun said that Palestinians would support “Lebanon and its stability, as well as our determination to struggle together for the return of the Palestinian refugees, who have been graciously hosted by Lebanon for 71 years, and all refugees to their land and homes from which they were displaced by terrorism and the Israeli killing machine.”

Zanoun added that the decision of the Ministry of Labor has “caused great damage to human and civil rights and closed the doors of life for the Palestinian refugees.”

A source in the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC) said: “The protests are an expression of the deteriorating social and living conditions experienced by Palestinians in Lebanon. The decision of the Ministry of Labor inspired these protests.”

The source added: “The census conducted by the Lebanese state in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority in 2017 showed that the number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon has reached 174,000 and the Palestinian labor force doesn’t exceed 40,000 workers. But if we repeat the census this year, we’ll find that there’s a decline in the labor force because of the quest to migrate, even if illegally, and to move to a third country in search of a better life.”

The Lebanese Parliament introduced amendments to laws 128 and 129 on labor and social security in 2010, which excludes “exclusively Palestinian refugee workers, who are duly registered in the records of the Ministry of the Interior, from the terms of reciprocity and work permit issued by the Ministry of Labor.”

The LPDC source said: “The amendment needed implementation decrees from the Council of Ministers, signed by the president, the prime minister and the minister of labor, but they’ve not been issued for nine years.”

The Palestinian labor force is present in fragile sectors such as construction and small crafts, but more problems arise among Palestinians who graduate from Lebanese universities and cannot work in their specialties because of trade union limitations. The source said that the Order of Nurses in Lebanon is the only union that allows Palestinians to work in their sector.

Alongside the protests, a meeting was held between various Palestinian factions at the headquarters of the LPDC with representatives of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers. The Palestinian side called for “ending the measures of the Ministry of Labor regarding Palestinian refugees and not linking Palestinian labor in Lebanon with foreign labor.”

Ghassan Ayoub, a Palestinian member of the LPDC, said that the ministry’s actions “have a political impact. The Palestinian refugee isn’t a guest who has remained in Lebanon because he liked the hospitality.  He’s a forced refugee who was born in Lebanon and lives on his territory. He isn’t a foreign expatriate who came to work in Lebanon. This must be taken into account in the enforcement of the Ministry of Labor’s procedures.”

Ayoub said the situation demanded “the application of the spirit of the law and not the text of the law. There are many complications in the law in terms of obtaining a work permit and conditions for establishing a business. They’re impossible conditions for the Palestinians.”

As for the implications of applying the ministry’s procedures to the refugees in Lebanon, Ayoub said: “Ninety percent of professions are forbidden to Palestinians, which means that they’re entitled to work in only a few sectors, namely porterage and digging, which are arduous. That means you’re telling the Palestinians ‘you have 10 percent of the air to breathe.’ What do you want from the Palestinians? Where should they go? What are the alternatives?”

Palestinian refugees are not entitled to work in 72 professions in Lebanon, and are not permitted access to social security. One of the contradictions of the law is that Palestinians have the right to purchase a taxi but are forbidden to work in it. Moreover, Palestinians are only allowed to fish after obtaining a special permit.

“The plan of the ministry to combat illegal foreign labor force isn’t aimed at the Palestinians and has nothing to do with conspiracy theories,” Lebanese Labor Minister Kamil Abu Sulaiman said. 

“There’s a labor law in Lebanon. We approved a plan a month and a half ago to implement the law and gave a grace period of one month before we began inspections. The law applies to everyone and law enforcement can’t be fragmented.”

Abu Sulaiman added: “The Palestinian reaction is incomprehensible and meaningless.”

He received a call from Ashraf Dabbour, the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, and said he informed the diplomat of the ministry’s readiness to facilitate the affairs of the Palestinians.

In an open letter, Dabbour called on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to avoid being “dragged into what does not serve our just cause. Our goal in the stage of our forced presence in Lebanon is to have a decent life until our return to our homeland, supported by our Lebanese brothers.”

The LPDC said that the Ministry of Labor “ignores the special case of the Palestinian refugees under the amendment of laws 128 and 129 and treats them as foreign workers.” 

The LPDC added: “The Palestinian refugees can’t return to their country, and everything that they produce inside Lebanon remains in it, which strengthens the economic cycle of the country, whether it comes from small entrepreneurs or the hard work of laborers and craftsmen.

“Lebanon also benefits from the funds flowing through the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East’s $80 million budget. They also gain from the efforts of international organizations in Palestinian camps, as well as what Palestinian refugees send to their refugee families in Lebanon, which is estimated at several hundred million dollars.”

Fathi Abu Al-Ardat, secretary in Lebanon of Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization, said: “The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are guests in this country and we respect its sovereignty, but we also respect the decent living of Palestinians in the camps.”