Criminalizing normalization in light of Iraq’s current political scene

Farhad Alaaldin

In a press conference held by the Save the Homeland Alliance on April 24, the Sadrist bloc announced its intention to pass a bill “criminalizing normalization with the Zionist entity,” supported by its allies, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Sunni Sovereignty Alliance.
The adoption of this law was no coincidence, but rather a part of the agreement signed between the tripartite alliance on January 7, which included 24 articles. Article VI of the agreement set out what it termed, “Iraq’s commitment to the policy of anti-Zionism and the criminalization of normalization with Israel.” 
The Sadrist Movement went ahead with the introduction of the law, with the first reading of the bill taking place on May 11, and the second reading on May 19. A unanimous vote on May 26, attended by 275 MPs, turned the proposed legislation into law last week. 
Although the majority of political blocs have welcomed the essence of the law, which is to prevent normalization with Israel (not named in the bill), the law has been subjected to severe and sharp criticism by many for a variety of, often contradictory, reasons. 
Some have pointed out that there are several loopholes in the text of the law, as well as the weak wording of legal text that would make it difficult to apply. In addition to the possibility of misusing the law to strike down opponents or to attempt to remove them from the political scene, others argue that the law contradicts basic provisions contained in Iraq’s constitution, including those related to freedom of opinion.
The legislation has also been interpreted as an attempt to escape the suffocating political impasse. Some observers have explicitly pointed out that the purpose behind enacting the law was an emotional attempt to preoccupy public opinion in light of the accumulation and fragmentation of the crises immersing Iraq’s streets.

Legal and constitutional concerns
Member of the Iraq Advisory Council Jamal al-Asadi has written that one of the negative aspects of the law is its vague and flexible language. The text of Article 11 states that, “whoever… or any other means shall be punished by death or life imprisonment,” and he notes that “this is a general text that may cover personal ideas and discussions, which may contradict with article 38 of the Constitution.”
Academic Aqeel Abbas comments in a recent article that the law “opens a wide door to tyranny in Iraq,” arguing that it radically and explicitly violates two of the basic principles stipulated in the Iraqi constitution in its second article. “Article 38 of the Constitution is also explicit in its contradiction with this law, as it states that “the state guarantees, without prejudice to public order and morals,” he says. “First: freedom of expression by all means, and second: freedom of the press, printing, advertising, media and publication.”
On the other hand, al-Asadi says, the law “did not regulate the mechanisms of its implementation,” and he questions the body that would monitor its application and “whether its implementation concerns internal, external or national security.”
It is worth noting that the new law repeats what was stated in Law No. 111 of 1969, about promoting Zionism and Freemasonry, without including a specific definition, and this generalization will cause controversial problems which may be used by some political parties to exclude opponents from the political process.

Political reactions
The law has been dismissed by many on the basis that a vast majority of the Iraqi people already reject Israel and have little relations with the country, not to mention a collective culture that includes several generations before and after 2003 that reject Israel out of sympathy with the Palestinian cause. 
The factions of the axis of resistance welcomed the law, but criticized some of its articles, considering them as a prelude to a project aimed at recognizing Israel, especially Article 5, which permitted religious visits after obtaining the approval of the Ministry of the Interior.
A statement by the Hezbollah Brigades described this by saying, “The clause allowing religious visits in the law is an official recognition of (religious normalization) with the Zionist entity,” adding, “Some clauses of the law in its current form are nothing more than outlets for the passage of some malicious Zionist schemes by some affiliated with the Zionists…. the joy and victory with this law cannot be completed without addressing its loopholes by loyal national forces.”
In its separate statement, Harakat al-Nujaba explicitly criticized the removal of some articles from the draft law, saying, "This law was supposed to be an addition to the strict laws against this crime.” 
Many observers remain sceptical as to the enforceability of the laws, whether it is issued or not, questioning if it will change anything of the political reality.

Regional and international response
Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas have welcomed the law. The new Iranian ambassador to Iraq, Mohammad Kazem Al-e Sadeq, said in a tweet that his country "congratulate the representatives of the brotherly Iraqi people in the Parliament for their vote on the historic law criminalizing normalization with the occupying Zionist entity". Turkey, and the neighbouring Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have remained silent.
On the international level, both the United States and the United Kingdom have condemned the move. The US State Department, through its spokesman Ned Price, issued a statement on May 26, saying, "The United States is deeply disturbed by the Iraqi Parliament’s passage of legislation that criminalizes normalization of relations with Israel,” expressing concern at “jeopardizing freedom of expression and promoting an environment of antisemitism." The British Minister of State for Asian and Middle Eastern Affairs Amanda Milling tweeted that, "Iraq’s decision to criminalise normalising relations with Israel with the death penalty is appalling,” urging the Iraqi authorities “to repeal this law at once.” The European Union and its member states have remained silent on the matter. 
 A senior western diplomat in Baghdad, who requested anonymity, commented that "the law may put US-Iraqi relations to the test, especially with regards to military and economic support, as there are a number of US laws and regulations that prevent US companies and institutions from dealing with countries that ban dealings with Israel. In addition, the Israeli lobby in US Congress will work seriously against this legislation, and this will result in reducing the resources allocated to support Iraq in the future by Congress.” The diplomat added, “It is too early to judge the effects of the law and its real repercussions until it is issued officially, but I can say that it does not bode well for Iraq.”

Save the Homeland Alliance politics
The leader of the Sadrist Movement Muqtada al-Sadr, widely regarded as the leader of the Save the Homeland Alliance, tweeted that, "After passing the law criminalizing normalization, it became necessary for the Parliament to pass… the Food Security Law.” In turn, the First Deputy Speaker Hakim al-Zamli supported Sadr’s tweet and said in his own message that, “With you, our esteemed Leader... we are moving forward to pass the Food Security Law.”
It should be noted here that the legislation of the Food Security Law will collide with two obstacles. Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that it is not permissible for parliament to issue legislation that includes a financial aspect without the approval of the government. The second obstacle is the position of the federal court on the current caretaker government, as it issued another ruling in May stating that a caretaker government does not have the authority to issue new legislation.
Political parties opposing the leader of the Sadrist Movement criticized the practice of the Iraqi Parliament in its current session, and that after every tweet from the Sadrist leader demanding legislation or the issuance of a decision, the parliament moves quickly to issue it. Some liken this to Baghdad fast becoming similar to Tehran, and the ideological rule of Wilayat al-Faqih. 
A leading figure in the Coordination Framework, who wanted to remain anonymous, expressed his surprise and astonishment at the Sovereignty Alliance and the KDP being drawn into this method of governance, asking the question: “Is it possible that they are this weak and respond without scrutiny or discussion to each of the tweets, and vote on whatever is required without thinking about the consequences?”
Meanwhile, an informed source within the Sovereignty Alliance revealed that hot discussions have been taking place behind the scenes about the position of some of the coalition leaders and their role in decision-making inside the Save the Homeland Alliance. The source said that some members of the Sovereignty Alliance have rejected the policy of dictation by one party without consulting them and involving them in important decisions within the alliance.
A senior KDP official has privately expressed his astonishment at the effective participation of the KDP parliamentary bloc in drafting and issuing a law criminalizing the normalization of ties with Israel, and the attendance of KDP parliamentarians in full force in the voting session. He believes that the KDP and the Kurdistan Region may be the biggest losers from issuing this law. 

Impasse and new political reality
After the announcement of the final results of the early elections in October 2021, the Sadrist Movement led the political scene and formed Save the Homeland to become the largest parliamentary bloc, and the leader of the Movement has become the keyholder of the political process. Sadr had a clear idea of what he wanted from the political process and his partners, and these ideas are written in an agreement signed with both the Sovereignty Alliance and the KDP.
However, the fear of Sadr’s tendencies and his fiery speech on the eve of the announcement of the preliminary results on October 11 planted fear in the heart of his competitors, prompting them to unite in opposition. They have succeeded in putting the biggest obstacle in front of Sadr through the federal court’s interpretation of Article 70 of the constitution, which requires the presence of two-thirds of the members of the parliament in the voting session to elect the President of the Republic.
Sadr tried to overcome the court’s interpretation, but did not succeed, so he changed course and is now attempting to use the parliamentary majority to implement his plans. The passing of the law to criminalize normalization is evidence of Save the Homeland imposing its agenda on its political rivals, as is the recent dismissal of the governor of Salah-al-Din. 
If the alliance manages to pass the Food Security Law, this will become a new course and program in the near future. The law will give the government the funds it needs to keep going, which provides the ruling parties with funds through allocations in projects they control directly or indirectly. In other words, the Save the Homeland Alliance will use the parliamentary majority to implement its political agenda, even if the political impasse continues.
Just a quick review of the articles of the tripartite alliance agreement suggests that the political scene will shift remarkably if Sadr is able to implement the policies contained in this agreement.
Farhad Alaaldin is the chairman of the Iraq Advisory Council. He was the political adviser to former Iraqi President Fuad Masum, the former chief of staff to the KRG prime minister from 2009 to 2011, and the former senior adviser to the KRG prime minister from 2011 to 2012.