Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—The approval of Iraq’s controversial 2013 budget yesterday was marred by further controversy after a physical altercation broke out between two rival MPs, Asharq Al-Awsat has learnt.
The Iraqi parliament concluded its longest legislative session on Thursday with majority approval for the state’s fiscal budget for 2013. However only 168 out of a total 325 MPs were present at the vote following the complete withdrawal of the Kurdistan bloc, and the partial withdrawal of the Iraqiya bloc.
Although the parliamentary session was adjourned until March 19, there are still a number of unresolved issues in the state budget, particularly regarding strong Kurdish opposition to a number of articles. This includes article 24, relating to the entitlements of foreign companies, in addition to the issue surrounding the Peshmerga’s share of the federal budget.
However the conclusion of this tense parliamentary session was marred by another controversial incident. The parliamentary session had initially been characterized by a simmering verbal altercation between MP Aliya Nassif of the Al-Iraqiya Al-Hurra bloc and MP Salman Jumaili, head of the Iraqiya parliamentary bloc. This verbal altercation boiled over and ended with Nassif striking Jumaili over the head with her shoe on the floor of the Iraqi parliament.
In an earlier television interview, Nassif had accused both Salman Jumaili and former Iraqiya bloc spokesman Haider Al-Mulla of forcing Iraqiya MPs to boycott the controversial budget vote. These claims angered Jumaili who attacked Nassif during a press conference yesterday. It was this media exchange that provoked the initially verbal, and then physical, confrontation on the floor of the Iraqi parliament during the critical budget vote.
In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Jumaili denied attacking Nassif and made no mention of the shoe incident. He said: “I consider myself above responding to the accusations of an MP who has grown accustomed to living off lies and fabrications.”
He then went on to say, “There is no truth at all to what Nassif said, and we have informed the head of her bloc, Qutaybah Jubouri, of her false claims”.
Jumaili emphasized that “the Iraqiya bloc has officially responded to Nassif’s claims, and we do not want to overstate the issue.”
However Nassif told the press that “the Iraqi judiciary will have the final say with regards to Salman Jumaili’s actions. His practices aim to disrupt the course of life in this country.”
She added, “Jumaili, with his vulgar and obscene words, has gone beyond all the norms of public taste and moral standards which Iraqi MPs are supposed to stand for.”
Nassif did not stop there, but went on to say, “I feel sorry for the poor people who are represented by an MP such as Salman Jumaili, who has shown himself to be nothing but a spanner in the works hindering every positive effort.”
Asharq Al-Awsat tried to contact Aliya Nassif for comment but received no reply.
The Iraqiya bloc, led by Iyad Allawi, issued a statement responding to this incident, claiming that “members of the Iraqiya bloc, after speaking at a press conference, were met with a torrent of abuse and language that is not becoming of a woman”.
The statement added, “Jumaili is above responding to these MPs who are used to provoking media interest in order to undermine the coalition in Iraq and its key symbols”. The bloc also asserted that “the reason that prompted this particular MP to launch the attack is that the Iraqiya bloc is in the process of filing a lawsuit against her, for her continuous lies against the bloc and its stances.”
The budget vote has been particularly acrimonious, and reports indicate that the altercation between Nassif and Jumaili was not the first of its kind to occur on the Iraqi parliament floor. A fierce verbal confrontation had earlier broken out between two Iraqi National Alliance MPs. According to parliamentary sources, State of Law coalition MP Haitham Al-Jabouri and Sadrist MP Adi Awad occurred on the floor of the vote on Thursday. The source informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “this argument also devolved into a physical confrontation.”