Sunday, January 1, 2012

Iraq - Will the sectarian tension leads to disintegration?

Iraq - one of the prominent countries in the Middle East, the cradle of Mesopotamian civilization, is also a region which came under a wide verity of prominent empires in the world. In her recent history US attacked and toppled the regime of Saddam Husain, followed a long running bloody insurgency and sectarian violence. But after a US troop surge in the early 2007 there was some improvement in the ground situation; by the end of 2007 Iraq slowly came back to normal state.

2010 General Elections

This normal behavior led to ‘Status of Forces Agreement’ (SOFA), according to which US troops withdrew first form the cities by the end of June 2009 and completely out of Iraq by 2011 December end. Elections were conducted on time - even though it gave fractured results. In the last one conducted on 2010 (March 7) Iraqi National Movement (al-Iraqiya) led by Ayad Allawi won a total of 91 seat (out of 325) making it the largest alliance. Incumbent Premier Nouri Al-Maliki's ‘State of Law Coalition’ came second with 89 seats. Well, people selected their leaders, but no one got outright majority. These results roughly followed the sectarian division. After months of difficult negotiations Nouri Al-Maliki's become the Premier according to a US backed power sharing agreement.

The solution was destined to fail as it is difficult to have a long term co-op between forces that are not in good terms with one another. Coalition navigated through difficult waters till US military left the country.  One of the main problems was, people are viewing each other more as a Shiite or a Sunni than as national leaders. Maliki is not considered simply as a premier but a Shiite premier, same is the case with other leaders too. A dangerous situation when the state and the religion are not separate, as I pointed out in previous articles religion should not interfere in politics; it’s strictly personal, limited to the person.

So when the leaders are taking the sectarian divides in to politics it is destined to make problems. In a stormy situation like the one in Iraq, leaders need to navigate through the water with considerable care - there personal feelings should not interfere in political decisions. Most importantly they should not make use of sects for consolidating or gaining power.

Crisis - Arrest warrant against Vice President

The recent crisis began when 'A day after the United States withdrew its last combat troops, Iraq faced a dangerous political crisis Monday as the Shiite-dominated government ordered the arrest of the Sunni vice president [Tariq al-Hashimi], accusing him of running a death squad that assassinated police officers and government officials....The government made its case against Mr. Hashimi in a half-hour television broadcast that was as aggressively promoted as a prime-time special. In grainy video confessions, three men said they had committed murders on Mr. Hashimi’s behalf. They said they had blown up cars, attacked convoys with silenced pistols and were rewarded with envelopes containing $3,000 in American bills... [1]'. Vice President fled to Kurdistan area, which is beyond the reach of Maliki's forces. Later Mr. Hasimi vehemently denied the charges on television.

'In addition to seeking Mr. Hashimi’s arrest, Mr. Maliki has recently sought a vote of no-confidence from Parliament against another Sunni leader, a deputy prime minister, Saleh al-Mutlaq, for calling Mr. Maliki a “dictator” in a television interview.' Well, the damage is done. Whatever be the reasons Maliki had, the timing - just after US troops left - and concentrating on Sunni leaders made an impression on the people - especially in ‘al-Iraqiya’ coalition - which later boycotted the parliament and cabinet meetings.

Demands for Autonomy

Next scenario was expected, demands for autonomy from Baghdad- in the lines of Kurdistan - started coming from the Sunni areas. In between the normal atmosphere of Iraq went back to critical with a series bomb blasts in the country, which invariably ends up in killing more people. If the trust deficit among communities didn’t filled up properly the country may go back to days of violent sectarian crisis, which can also lead to the dismembering of the nation in sectarian lines or end up as a loose federation of thee groups - each led by Kurds, Sunnis, Shiites respectively. Without international forces in the ground and high intensity of arms among people the sectarian violence can reach dangerous levels.

It is the time for central authority to act fast and reach a consensus. If the Premier tried to consolidate his authority by expelling his opposition it can end up in another dictatorship. In a heavily armed region like Iraq - running a dictatorship may prove too costly. We know what will be the results of never ending warfare in the form of Afghanistan. There is no doubt an all inclusive government is an invitation for deadlock and paralysis. But this is the way forward for Iraq, at least till the political institutions matured enough to enable a permanent democratic environment. If not only time call what is in store for Iraq.

External Forces

Actions of Shiite Iran and its arch rival Sunni Saudi Arabia will also be critical in case Iraq is heading towards a bloody sectarian violence. If one started involving in the internal matters of Iraq it may not take much time for the other one to follow.


Hope that better sense will prevail and the pressure from inside and outside will force Iraqi leaders to take the route of consensus and national building. The irony is Iraqi's may have to see more bloodshed, poverty, poor infrastructure etc even after having blessed with huge amount of Oil and Gas.


[1] New York Times Dec 19, 2011

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