Political turmoil in Iraq deepens after top court asserts ouster of parliament speaker
The controversial decision by Iraq's Supreme Federal Court to oust the parliament speaker, Mohammed al-Halbousi, deepened the country's political crises and sowed division among the Iraqis and foreign diplomatic missions.
On Tuesday, 14 November, Iraq's top court revoked the parliamentary membership of Iraq's parliament speaker, Mohammed al-Halbousi, on charges of forgery, ending the powerful Sunni politician's tenure.
But the US ambassador in Baghdad, Alina Romanowski has intervened in the crisis. She met with the head of Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council, Judge Faiq Zidan, on 16 November. Romanowski stated that she discussed recent developments and the security situation in Iraq with Zidan. In a post on her official social media account, she emphasised the importance of having an independent judiciary that follows legal procedures and bases its decisions on the Iraqi constitution.
Met with Speaker Mohammad al-Halbusi to better understand recent developments and the security situation in #Iraq.— Ambassador Alina L. Romanowski (@USAmbIraq) November 16, 2023
Romanowski also met with the ousted Speaker of Parliament, Mohammed al-Halbousi, referring to him as the Parliament Speaker in a post on X social media platform.
"Met with Speaker Mohammad al-Halbousi to better understand recent developments and the security situation in Iraq, "she wrote.
Many Iraqi social media users negatively reacted to Romanowski's comments and considered it "defying" the decision by Iraq's top court and interfering in the country's internal issues.
The New Arab contacted the US embassy in Iraq for comment via email but did receive an answer at the time of writing.
The federal court's decision followed a legal action initiated by Laith al-Dulaimi, another Sunni parliamentarian, who accused Halbousi, also leader of the Taqadum [Progress] party, the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, of forging his resignation letter.
The court decided to terminate the membership in parliament for both al-Halbousi and al-Dulaimi. The top court also ruled out that the decision would be put into practice immediately, bound to all authorities, and not subject to appeal.
Halbousi has described the ruling as "weird" and stated that he would take measures to safeguard his constitutional rights.
Other Iraqis and legal experts, however, argue that the court's ruling was contrary to Iraq's constitution and its own previous decisions.
"The court's verdict is illegal and unconstitutional. The court does not have the power to revoke the parliament membership of lawmakers. The court has rejected several lawsuits in the past years for impeaching Iraqi MPs," a Kurdish legal expert told TNA on condition of anonymity. "The court's ruling is political and was made under pressure from Iraqi Shia factions that are aligned to Iran."
But another Iraqi legal expert anonymously told TNA, "We cannot say the court's decision is entirely legal or political. The court has found Halbousi to have committed forgery to the resignation letter by an MP, thus ousting him as speaker for violating his constitutional oath."
The expert also stated that the court did not want to aggravate the situation for the former speaker by allowing him to pursue his political career. "If the court had ruled the forgery as a conviction for an honour-related crime, then Halbousi could never do politics," he said.
On Sunday, the court clarified and stressed that its decision is based on the Iraqi constitution and binding laws, reiterating the decision is binding and not subject to appeal.
"Romanowski proposed a solution to the crisis through dialogue. She added that the court's decision was hasty and not based on the constitution. Romanowski affirmed that she would play the role of a mediator between Iraqi political factions to resolve the crisis, considering it serious, especially as the provincial elections scheduled for 18 December are approaching, "an Iraqi MP, speaking on condition of Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed, TNA's Arabic-language sister publication.
Halbousi launched political and legal manoeuvres in Baghdad to challenge the Federal Supreme Court's decision to end his parliamentary membership.
Following the court's decision, Halbousi's legitimacy to lead an electoral list in Anbar province for the provincial elections is also questioned.
Independent Iraqi lawmaker Basim Khashan has also filed extra charges against Halbousi, accusing him of attempting to normalise ties with Israel after the former speaker signed a contract with BGR US lobbying group that includes former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak as a senior advisor.
The court has ruled out that Khashan should file a separate complaint against Halbousi because investigations on the charges are not yet completed.