Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Two of Iraq’s three outgoing vice presidents say Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s decision to cancel their posts is unconstitutional.
In exclusive comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Osama Al-Nujaifi, one of the three vice president post-holders, said that while he supported Abadi’s latest reforms to weed out corruption from Iraqi politics, this was “conditional upon their not contradicting the constitution.”
“The decision to cancel the vice president posts is unconstitutional. But Abadi, who informed me that I am not personally being targeted through this move, believes they are,” he added.
The cancellation of the vice president posts held by Nujaifi, former PM Nuri Al-Maliki and Iyad Allawi last month is part of a promised slew of reforms by Abadi to clean up the country’s political system, which critics say is sectarian and encourages corruption. Some of this criticism has centered on the three vice presidential posts—shared between a Shi’ite, a Sunni, and a Kurd.
But Nujaifi, who released an official statement on Monday while still using the title of vice president, told Asharq Al-Awsat he is still carrying out his duties in line with the post.
“From a practical point of view not much has changed at this point in terms of the legal position for the three vice presidents. As such, I am still using the title of vice president until the president of the republic [Fuad Masoum] removes us from our posts or requests parliament to vote on the matter.”
“The president of the republic has not until now made a request on this nor has he issued any decrees to remove us,” Nujaifi added.
Some reports from Iraq have said the three post-holders plan to return to parliament, but Nujaifi, Iraq’s former parliament speaker, denied that he has any intentions of standing as an MP.
“For me, this idea is not even being put forward at all,” he said.
Meanwhile, Abbas Al-Mussawi, the official spokesman for Nuri Al-Maliki, told Asharq Al-Awsat the former PM also regarded the cancellation of the vice president posts as unconstitutional and believed only President Masoum could remove the incumbents or cancel the posts.
“We support the reforms announced by Abadi and which he passed on to parliament, and Mr. Maliki supports them. But Iraq is a democratic country with a constitution and an elected parliament, and so the issue here is that even what is related to Abadi must be decided by parliament. In addition to this, parliament did approve the [reforms] but added a caveat that they should not clash with Iraq’s constitution,” he said.
He added that like Nujaifi, Maliki was still “practicing his post as vice president until now, since there is nothing in this that contradicts the constitution.”
Maliki is also facing the possibility of standing trial over his culpability in the fall of Iraq’s second city Mosul to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) last year. A parliamentary report issued last month, now referred to the judiciary, accuses Maliki and top military commanders of failing to take adequate measures to stop ISIS’s capture of the city despite having ample evidence of their approach.
Reports suggesting the outgoing vice presidents’ return to parliament center on Maliki seeking to gain immunity from trial by standing as an MP. Mussawi said: “Why should he [Maliki] return to parliament when he is still, until now, a vice president?”
However, Mussawi did not rule out Maliki’s returning to parliament in future. “This matter . . . can only be announced at the right time,” he said, adding that Maliki has not yet issued an appeal to Iraq’s Federal Court regarding the decision to cancel the VP posts.
The third vice president post-holder Iyad Allawi also does not wish to return to parliament as an MP, according to Intisar Allawi, a close aide.
She told Asharq Al-Awsat that unlike Nujaifi and Maliki, Allawi was no longer using the title of vice president as he “no longer cares” about the post.
“Allawi previously resigned from the post months before Abadi’s reforms, in May, but there was pressure on him to continue in the role so he retracted his resignation. However, he did not carry out the duties of his post . . . and he does not care if they [Maliki and Nujaifi] appeal the decision at the Federal Court.”