Thursday, March 08, 2007

Why the Fadhila story got distorted

The leader of the Fadhila Party in his statement yesterday about pulling out of the UIA, made the point as clearly as he could: UIA leadership is sectarian, and the dissolution of this kind of sect-based parliamentary blocs is the "first step" toward pulling Iraq out of its crisis. And the UIA got the message. Al-Hayat says UIA spokesmen expressed anger and concern over this move because it could signal other splits in the UIA, and in any event it represents a challenge to the UIA and to the Maliki government. The UIA people expressed fear about a broad program to set up parliamentary bloc what could challenge UIA dominance. But while the Fadhila statement talked about willingness to join a (not "the") new coalition provided it is nationalist and not sectarian, this was clearly and pointedly not a declaration of alliance with Allawi, which is another issue entirely. As the Al-Hayat reporter puts it: "This withdrawal [of Fadhila from the UIA] could well cause Allawi's secular group to woo it in the context of the efforts it and Sunni groups are making to form a parliamentary counter-weight [to the UIA]". In other words, that is a union that hasn't taken place, but might.

In any event, the point was clearly the attack on the sectarian nature of the UIA. Which raises the question why IraqSlogger and Cole both immediately assumed that Fadhila has already joined with the Allawi group. I believe this is instructive. As a result of the parliamentary election of late 2005, the Shiite coalition led by Hakim has been dominant in the government and in parliament, and the political picture rapidly polarized. But any complaints that were heard in the Western media respecting sectarianism under the UIA regime were systematically denigrated as themselves sectarian. The Istanbul Conference is a good example. The UIA was America's ally and could do no wrong.

Fadhila is a Shiite party, and its attack on the sectarianism of the Shiite UIA leadership is an important event and a positive sign in and of itself. But for the supporters of the US-allied UIA government like Cole and IraqSlogger, this cannot be. Their solution: Fadhila didn't really attack UIA sectarianisn, the real meaning of what it did was to ally itself with Allawi and his Sunni allies. This enables Cole to continue with his sectarian comments without missing a beat. As he said yesterday (wrongly assuming Fadhila had already joined with the Allawi group): "I also just don't think a coalition with hard line Sunnis and with the Islamic Virtue Party as well as Shiite secularists is likely to be stable or to last long." The UIA is falling apart, and Cole's reaction is to warn against instability if this particular Shia group allies with non-Shia groups. It is the reaction of any dyed-in-the-wool partisan. He skips over the precise question that Fadhila is trying to raise: How about looking at problems through something other than this sect-based prism?

As for IraqSlogger, it has two items today, one originally posted yesterday that says Fadhila has already joined in the new Allawi coalition, and one posted today that says it hasn't, and the one that says it hasn't is headlined "Enter Allawi", so you know you're getting all the sides of this complex story.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Badger, on the one hand, al-fadhila and `allawi-dulaimi were among the participants in building the sectarian system (which was doubly 'bad': for being sectarian and for sustaining a collaborative government), they also benefited politically from sectarian agitation.
On the other, `allawi's move is clearly not his own initiative:
The US now understands that more power to maliki will eventually mean more power to Iran, so they want to construct an alternative.
Taking both elements into consideration, we need to be skeptical, especially when sectarian leaders start talking about 'non-sectarianism' and collaborative ones start mentioning 'Iraq's sovereignty'

9:41 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Fair enough.
Skepticism is good. And I agree re Allawi. But I think you miss something if you turn skepticism into just lumping everybody together. I wonder just how "collaborative" Fadhila has actually been, considering they are SCIRI's rival in Basra, and seem to have ended up without cabinet representation...

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Badger, Fadhila was one of the parties that have perpetuated the institution of the occupation by giving legitimacy to the US-sponsored political process. This may be a moot point in the US where most people see the occupation as legitimate, but to many people in Iraq and the Arab World, this is a very big deal. Unlike how things may seem from Washington, anti-occupation parties in Iraq and the wider Middle East will not forgive those who collaborated with the US invasion, the occupational structure will falter, and many expect (I hope) that not a single individual who helped the US institute its occupational system will remain in power (or in Iraq).
There are many examples from the recent past to draw from, but Americans insist on re-inventing the Middle East everytime they engage with it, so history matters little to them.
In addition, do not be fooled by the anti-sectarianism of the Fadhila, there are two forms of sectarian politics: one is tribal, isolationist and ferocious, another attempts to construct a "nationalism" from a sectarian prism (the falangists in Lebanon, the Maliki-Talabani consociationalism), that second form may seem less violent and more 'liberal' than the first, but it is not qualitatively different . It may 'calm things down' until the new round of sectarian tensions, in fact, it could be worse, because it perpetuates sectarianism as part and parcel of the system, while, so far, sectarian politics are still seen to be of dubious legitimacy in Iraq.
Again, thanks for all the great posts and commentary, they're among the best on the net.

11:41 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Thank you for taking the trouble to spell that out. You're right, there's kind of a gravitational pull over here to implicitly legitimize the occupation. Who knows, maybe we'll have occasion to talk about "nationalism from a sectarian prism" or "seemingly more liberal" sectarianism more as things develop.

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

don't you have an e-mail, Badger? I wanted to tell you something in private.

3:13 PM  
Blogger annie said...

thanks again for an informative post and thread

5:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not too suprised to see Fadhila exclaiming a secular agenda, and so using that as a wedge against SCIRI, whom screwed them out of the oil ministry -- which by all accounts is secular and anti-privitization as well. The latter of which makes alliance with Allawi unlikely in the long run. But, I would agree that Fadhila the most interesting, perhaps prescient, small party in Iraq.

anna missed

12:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I speak as one American who does NOT "see the occupation as legitimate." I am far from alone in that view.

I also have strong suspicions that it is the U.S. that is actually encouraging the factional, sectarianism over there, just to keep the pot boiling. Anything we are told is always told through that sectarian prism, so it has de facto become well established in most minds. Any media, mainstream or other, always interprets events and identifies the players in those terms.

So, like Anna, I also find the Fadilla group the most interesting to watch, just as I find the Ba'ath exiles interesting to watch.

2:50 AM  
Blogger badger said...

anonymous A, I don't like to publish it, is there somewhere I could e-mail you ?

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