Iraqi judiciary initiates procedures to hold MPs accountable on corruption charges

The Supreme Judicial Council in Iraq is seeking to interrogate a number of members of parliament on charges of corruption and defamation.

al-monitor Members of the Iraqi parliament are seen voting on Cabinet ministers at the parliament headquarters in Baghdad, June 24, 2019. The Supreme Judicial Council wants the parliament to lift the immunity of 18 of its members. Photo by Iraqi parliament media office/via REUTERS.

المواضيع

speaker, mohammed al-halbusi, immunity, adel abdul mahdi, mustafa al-kadhimi, iraqi politics, iraqi protests, iraqi parliament, supreme judicial council, corruption

ماي 23, 2020

The Supreme Judicial Council in Iraq has asked the speaker of parliament to lift the immunity of a number of legislators in order for them to be investigated on charges of corruption. While this request was previously made on an individual level, this time around, the immunity lifting request was for a group.

On May 11, the judiciary requested that the immunity of 18 members of parliament belonging to various political blocs be lifted on charges of corruption and defamation. The parliament, which has yet to convene, has not been able to respond to the Judicial Council’s request.

A source in the office of parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi told Al-Monitor, “We have received these requests but have yet to respond thereto. We will do so during the coming period. The speaker of the parliament is to include such requests in parliament’s agenda and put them to the vote in a bid to lift the immunity of MPs included in the requests.”

According to Article 20 of the internal regulations of the Iraqi parliament, a member of parliament cannot be arrested during their legislative term unless caught in the act of committing a crime or accused of a crime, and only then once a majority approves of lifting the concerned legislator’s immunity.

The same article also says that a member shall only be arrested beyond their legislative term if caught in the act of committing a crime or if accused of a crime and only if the speaker approves of lifting their immunity.

Among the members of parliament who were included in the Judicial Council's request is the Faik Sheikh Ali, a controversial lawmaker whose immunity was previously lifted at the request of a number of legislators. This time around, however, the request was made by the judiciary. 

Member of parliament Alia Nassif, who is well known in the Iraqi media for “fighting corruption,” was also among the legislators whom the judiciary is asking to have their immunity lifted. She indicated that she thought there was no real case against her as the charges are related to three cases previously filed against her, two of which were dismissed.

Nassif said in a press statement that the first dropped case against her relates to her saying that Mosul residents who approved of Islamic State crimes are partners thereof. She said the second lawsuit was closed after the former defense minister was questioned in the previous parliamentary session. She said the third case concerns the Publishing Court and that will she "will appear in court in response to all the cases filed against me.”

Salah al-Arabawi, the former director of the office of the leader of the al-Hikma political coalition and a legal specialist, told Al-Monitor, “I think that the immunity issue will be politicized just like other issues that included the replacement of MPs. The speaker of the parliament should be firm in enforcing the law.”

Arabawi said he believes that the measures taken by the government headed by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi can help boost accountability as far as legislative and governmental officials are concerned, and this is “an important message to the Iraqi citizens whereby lawmakers are accountable.”

During the protests witnessed in the country, the Iraqi parliament voted Oct. 29 to lift the immunity of lawmakers accused of corruption once their file is received from the judiciary. While this decision can facilitate the implementation of the judicial request, it is expected to face political obstacles.

Activists in Iraqi civil society consider the lifting of the immunity of a number of parliamentarrians as necessary and believe it is an essential step toward the Iraqi judiciary exercising its role in holding to account legislators who enjoy “and exploit” their immunity in illegal ways.

Musa al-Aaraji, a civil society activist who took part in the protests, told Al-Monitor, “We support such necessary measures. Most MPs took advantage of their immunity to indulge in blackmail practices and pass illegal contracts and deals.”

The Iraqi parliament does not seem serious about lifting the immunity of lawmakers and allowing the judiciary to interrogate them. There are many cases where legislators have been implicated in corruption files. About five years ago, former member of parliament Mishaan al-Jubouri admitted on Aletejah TV that he received a bribe during his work as a member of parliament, and no action has been taken in this regard.

A professor of political science at Baghdad University, Adel Bedewi, told Al-Monitor, “The judiciary’s request to lift the immunity of some MPs is a positive step, but I believe that parliament will deal with this request from a political rather than technical perspective, and favoritism may get in the way.”

Legal expert Tariq Harb told Al-Monitor that in order to lift the immunity of the legislators whose names were mentioned in the request of the Supreme Judicial Council, parliament needs a simple majority during its session, meaning half plus one.

“In the event that the parliament does not lift the immunity of the MPs included in the request of the Supreme Judicial Council, the council will have to wait until the end of the parliamentary session to be able to interrogate them. If the immunity is not lifted, it will have no other option,” Harb added.

The first decision to lift such immunity in Iraq was in 2008 when the parliament voted to lift the immunity of former member of parliament Mithal al-Alusi following his visit to Israel.

In August 2019, the immunity of six members of parliament was lifted, but no action has been taken against them, as their blocs interfered, be it directly or indirectly, to mislead public opinion and accuse the speaker of the parliament of taking “a non-technical decision based on political calculations.”

After years of facing accusations of favoring politicians and serving their interests, the Iraqi judiciary is seemingly trying to stand up for itself, but it still may be unable to interrogate lawmakers who belong to large political blocs or are linked to armed factions. In the best case scenario, it will be starting with the most vulnerable members of parliament.

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