Iraq parliament strips outspoken lawmaker of immunity

Liberal lawmaker Faiq al-Sheikh Ali loses his parliamentary immunity after being accused of praising Saddam Hussein’s Baath party, a punishable offence in post-2003 Iraq.
Tuesday 17/09/2019
Iraqi liberal lawmaker Faiq al-Sheikh Ali speaks to Al Sharqiya television. (YouTube)
Iraqi liberal lawmaker Faiq al-Sheikh Ali speaks to Al Sharqiya television. (YouTube)

BAGHDAD – Iraq’s parliament stripped an outspoken liberal lawmaker of his immunity from prosecution on September 17 following accusations he praised Saddam Hussein’s Baath party, despite his long history of opposing the former president.

A constant critic of Iraq’s endemic corruption, Faiq al-Sheikh Ali won a parliamentary seat last year after promising to counter Islamists’ efforts to ban alcohol in the country.

In a television appearance last month, he railed against Iraqi politicians in general, saying: “Let them hear me: Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr’s shoe is cleaner than all of them put together.”

A leading member of the Baath party, Bakr served as Iraq’s fourth president from 1968 to 1979, overseeing a period of economic revival before Saddam took over.

In contrast to current “lowly” politicians, Bakr and Saddam had distributed land freely, Sheikh Ali said.

The MP had himself gone into exile in the 1990s because of his opposition to Saddam and returned after the dictator was ousted in the US-led 2003 invasion.

But a host of MPs, most of them Islamist, said the comments amounted to “glorifying the Baath” — a punishable offence in post-Saddam Iraq — and voted to lift his parliamentary immunity.

One MP, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the move was also triggered by a personal spat with Hanan al-Fatlawi, a former Shia lawmaker known for her divisive sectarian rhetoric.

“The immunity was lifted after a request from the public prosecutor over multiple charges, including glorifying the Baath and disputes” with Fatlawi, the lawmaker said.

The pair have traded barbs on Twitter that escalated so dramatically that Fatlawi’s tribe had to intercede.

In response to parliament’s move, Sheikh Ali — who has 140,000 followers on Twitter — posted a link to a traditional Kuwaiti song that translates to: “Happy Now.”