Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Iraq’s dual-nationality controversy

Conflict is raging in Iraq over a proposal to strip top officials of dual citizenship, writes Salah Nasrawi

Al-Ahram Weekly

Iraq’s parliament last month decided to put on hold a bill that bars Iraqis with dual nationality from holding senior government positions following a row over the bill which if endorsed will force dozens of top government leaders, security officials, diplomats, judges and lawmakers to quit their jobs.

The nationality-stripping draft law has stirred indignation above all among the ruling elite, many of whom lived in exile during former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and returned to the country after his ouster by the US-led invasion in 2003.

Among top officials believed to be holding dual nationality are Iraqi President Fouad Masoum, his deputy Iyad Allawi, Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari. The four officials hold British passports, though unconfirmed reports have suggested that they might have relinquished their British documents when they took office.

Many Iraqis believe that the country’s new ruling class of people with dual nationality contains individuals who are incompetent, corrupt, power greedy, detached from the rest of the population and closely connected to the countries of their second nationality.

Under the proposed law all Iraqis holding dual nationality will be banned from holding top posts, such as president, prime minister, speaker of the parliament and governor of the Iraqi Central Bank.

The proposed legislation also makes it impossible for holders of foreign nationalities to be members of parliament, ministers, members of the Supreme Judicial Council, ambassadors and provincial governors. A similar ban will also be imposed on senior officers in the army, security forces and the intelligence service.

There was relief in the government, however, after the parliament decided to defer discussion of the proposal although it had passed its first legislative reading as is required by law.

Many MPs are sceptical about whether the bill will appear on the parliament’s agenda’s again because of political pressure put on legislators by the country’s political elites.

“It will be impossible to reopen the debate without a consensus among the main political blocs,” member of the Iraqi Legalisation Committee Kamel Al-Zaidi told a local paper.

One of the first decrees issued by the US Occupation Authority following the 2003 invasion was to revoke Iraq’s nationality laws that banned dual nationality.

The reason behind the move was crystal clear – to reward the Iraqis in exile who had supported the US-led invasion and had collaborated with the American Occupation Authority by empowering them in the new regime.

There are no official data about the number of Iraqis holding dual citizenship, but some analysts say the figure could be in the millions.

Under legislation passed by Iraq’s first national government following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, dual citizenship was strictly banned.

A law enacted in 1924 bestowed the new Iraqi nationality only on those people who had been residents in Iraq and registered in the Ottoman records as citizens of the Empire.

The law was an attempt to exclude those who resided in Iraq at the time but were not regarded as Ottomans, especially a huge expatriate community of Persians before the name of Iraq’s eastern neighbour was changed to Iran.

Successive Iraqi governments maintained this law. A decree passed by Saddam’s Baath Party regime later made dual nationality illegal and punished Iraqis who held a second nationality by stripping them of their Iraqi citizenship.

Iraqi women who were married to foreigners were given the option of either being separated from their husbands or losing their Iraqi nationality. The Saddam regime even shunned Iraqis living abroad as “traitors to their homeland.”

Iraq’s post-Saddam nationality laws, however, allowed dual citizenship and in some cases even made receiving Iraqi nationality by foreigners easier. Many of those who have received Iraqi nationality have since benefitted from government jobs or generous pensions.

Hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have received Iraqi nationality under the new laws, among them Iranians whose families were deported from Iraq by Saddam and Kurds from neighbouring countries who were resettled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in disputed areas, especially Kirkuk.

Advocates of the new draft law say it is necessary to fill a legal vacuum as the constitution has stated that the issue should be regulated by law. They say once the new law is ratified all senior government officials should sign a document stating that they do not hold any foreign nationality or that they have relinquished it.

Since the US Occupation Authority introduced the present law, the issue of dual citizenship in Iraq has turned into a political hot potato that has divided the country’s political groups almost like no other.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fled during Saddam’s rule, and many of them obtained citizenship in the countries of their resettlement, such as Iran, the United States, Britain, Canada and other Western countries.

More than two million Iraqis are believed to have sought asylum in foreign countries during the civil war that erupted after the US-led invasion. Many of them have obtained foreign citizenships, creating a large Iraqi diaspora which extends from New Zealand to the United States.

Other Iraqis have managed to obtain foreign passports through different programmes by setting up businesses, owning properties or holding investments abroad.

The parliament’s decision to shelve the dual nationality draft law has once again brought this critical issue into the spotlight and revealed that the country is split down the middle on it.

Proponents of dual nationality accuse opponents of jealousy and narrow-mindedness or say that they are driven by jingoism in opposing individuals with dual nationality holding senior positions.

They also argue that Iraq will be harmed by the draft law because it will be deprived of the expertise of Iraqis who have received degrees and worked abroad, some in key academic jobs or in business.

The measure, they say, will adversely affect ties with the Iraqi diaspora, which they describe as an asset to the country and one that could act as a powerful engine of change for the good in Iraq.

Opponents of the law, meanwhile, say the stipulation in Iraq’s constitution banning Iraqis with dual nationality from holding senior government positions should be respected and applied.

They also argue that Iraqis with dual nationality have not brought good to Iraq and have even been a burden. In many cases, the holders of dual nationality have become entangled in legal cases abroad, they say.

Last week, the authorities in Dubai refused to set free an Iraqi MP who was arrested in the Gulf emirate over a bad cheque for Dh7 million (nearly $2 million) after the Iraqi embassy claimed he had diplomatic immunity.

The Dubai police said Mohamed Al-Taei had entered the emirate using an ordinary Swedish passport which does not give him immunity.

In 2004, Britain refused to extradite Salem Chalabi, an exiled Iraqi employed by the US Occupation Authority, on charges of the murder of a Ministry of Finance official in Iraq. London claimed Chalabi was a British citizen.

Faek Sheikh Ali, an independent MP, said some 68 former Iraqi officials with dual nationality had been charged with corruption or had fled Iraq using foreign passports.

Many Iraqis doubt the loyalty of officials holding foreign nationality and question whether they serve the interests of Iraq or those of their adopted countries. 

Among Iraq’s 64 ambassadors abroad there are more than 30 who have foreign nationality. Some of these have served in their countries of second citizenship. “This is not about a second marriage. It is about loyalty and patriotism, and we need to know whom they are serving,” one Iraqi lawmaker told Al-Ahram Weekly by telephone from Iraq.

Diasporas are often seen as talent pools that can be pumped to energise their countries of origin, help in their development and even advance their foreign relations and geopolitical interests.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case in Iraq, where an incompetent, selfish and greedy ruling oligarchy has tightened its grip on power and excluded all those who disagree with it, including members of the vibrant diaspora who could help in curing many of Iraq’s ills.

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