Iraq's three-year budget bill has been 'hijacked' from the finance committee: Iraqi MPs
The Iraqi Parliament is expected to vote on Iraq's budget bill for 2023, as well as budgets for the next two years, on Thursday. If the legal quorum is met, chaos is expected to hit the session as divisions grow among the various political blocs and accusations fly back and forward over the bill's "hijacking" as time ticks away and the deadline approaches.
According to the parliament's website, the session will start by 1:00 PM local time, however, an Iraqi lawmaker and a Kurdish political observer told The New Arab that they expect the session will turn into 'a massive brawl' if the Coordination Framework (CF), an umbrella coalition from the Iran-backed Shia parties and forces, try to pass the bill with a majority of the vote.
The Iraqi government has sent the country's budget bill for this year – the largest in Iraq's history, totalling US$152 billion based on US$70 per barrel of oil - to the Iraqi parliament to authorise into law.
Different political blocs inside the parliament have several notes on the budget bill, mainly questioning the allocation of large amounts for a 95 per cent increase in the number of state-funded militiamen formally known as The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).
إعلان— حسين مؤنس (@HussainMouanes) June 7, 2023
على من يعثر على نسخة الموازنة المعدلة، إعادتها الى اللجنة المالية، بعد أن اختطفت منذ قرابة اسبوعين من بعض القوى السياسية، ليتسنى لنا تقديمها الى السادة النواب للاطلاع عليها قبل المناقشة.
عضو اللجنة المالية
"I do not know whether the session will be held or whether the bill will be put into a vote," Jamal Kochar, an Iraqi lawmaker from the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) bloc and member of the Iraqi parliament's finance committee, told The New Arab in a phone interview.
"We do not know what changes have been made to the bill by the political blocs since the finance committee failed to meet after the committee was suspended by the deputy speaker of Iraq’s parliament late last month," he added.
He stressed that the session might lead to "a massive brawl" if the CF tries to bypass the demands of some Kurdish and Sunni blocs and ratify the bill with a majority vote.
Shakhawan Abdullah, the deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament from Masoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), has suspended the finance committee apparently because the number of the committee members was not within a total legal range of 23.
But, the real motive behind the move was that the finance committee had amended a joint agreement between Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and Masrour Barzani, PM of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), on resuming oil exports from the northern fields to Turkey.
Iraqi lawmakers from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a main ruling party in the Kurdistan region and rival to the KDP, as well as the "New Generation" opposition bloc supported including some conditions to the bill. Accordingly, the KRG in Erbil must first deliver 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) to the federal authorities, along with non-oil revenues, before it can receive a share of nearly 12 per cent from Baghdad.
Other amendments were that the KRG should allocate 10 per cent of its share from the federal budget to pay off salary cuts to its public sector employees. The revenues from selling the Kurdish oil should be deposited "in an account belonging to the Iraqi Finance Ministry, at the Iraqi Central Bank", instead of an international bank account as previously agreed upon between Barzani and Sudani.
"I do not expect the parliament to convene and even hold the session. It might lead to violence because so far, the legislator's finance committee has not had a clear vision of what the final copy of the bill should look like because they could not convene. Without the committee's approval, the bill cannot be voted on legally. The bill's main conflicts are on articles 13 and 14, which are related to the share of the KRG," Awat Khairullah, a Kurdish political observer, said to TNA.
"Until now, the different Iraqi political blocs have not reached any deal on the amendments made by the finance committee. If the CF and the KDP try to pass the bill with the majority vote and without the finance committee's final consent, then the other fraction will not accept that and it would lead to tensions," he added.
"The draft bill has been hijacked by some political forces a fortnight ago," Hussein Moenis, a member of the parliamentary finance committee, wrote sarcastically on Twitter. "If anyone finds the amended draft, return it to the finance committee in order to send it to the MPs in order to have a look before voting on it."
The CF, with the attendance of Sudani, convened in the house of Iraq's ex-PM Haider al-Abadi late on Wednesday to discuss voting on the budget bill. However, no formal statements have been released after the meeting.
Several local media channels announced early on Thursday that the session has been rescheduled to eight PM local time.
"This reckless level of spending ignores the warnings of the United States, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank, which have called on Iraq to reduce its bloated public sector. The Coordination Framework is trying to buy the goodwill of Iraq’s political factions and its population through unsustainable spending," Michael Knights, the Jill and Jay Bernstein Fellow at the Washington Institute, specialising in the military and security affairs of Iraq and Iran, wrote in an opinion published on the Foreign Affairs.
Ankara stopped handling 450,000 bpd of exports from Iraq's north on 25 March after an international tribunal ruled in a nine-year-old dispute that Baghdad was right to insist on overseeing all Iraqi oil exports.