Thursday, February 19, 2009

Post-election sectarianism: No exit?

Fadhil Al-Rubaie, continuing a series of articles in the Qatari paper AlArab on the new Iraqi sectarianism, takes up the role of the recent local elections, and the likely method for alliance-forming. He says political alliances are normally based either on commonly-held principles, or common long-term objectives, or else common short-term objectives (and as an example of the latter he mentions the Mao/Chiang alliance to drive out the Japanese in the 1930s). But he says in the new Iraq there has been developed a different political culture entirely. He says:
In the new Iraq, whose shape is being formed with the results of the local elections, starting now, political alliances are not based on that type of solving of issues taking into account programs, principles and objectives. Rather, [they are based on] the degree and the nature and the intensity of enmity [or differences] between the parties, and the capacity and the possibility of adjusting them in the interests of a "political allocation" [his quotation marks]. Consequently, questions like "imperialism" and "the American attack on Iraq", for example, have become issues without meaning in the political culture, and they are as far removed as possible from the discussion. And there is a different and completely opposite basis on which all issues of cooperation and rapprochement, among them for instance the definition of a fair allocation to each of the "factions".

To put it another way, the power of the new political map has consecrated itself as a power speaking in the name of "factions" and not in the name of political programs; and in the name of the advantage and the benefit of persons and of parties, and not in the name of the common good. And for this reason alliances are going to be much more the object of attention, than the actual election results, which as we are seeing today, don't touch in any way on the spirit or essence of highly-disputed federalism project.
I think the seat-allocation results as reported by Reidar Visser today, with his comments on possible alliance-formation, could profitably be read in the light of what Al-Rubaie is getting at. The point being that Maliki has the opposite alternatives of allying either with the Supreme Council, or with the July 22 group (or what is left of it). Visser writes:
The new councils will meet within 15 days to elect their new officials, and new coalitions will have to be formed in this period. Precisely because of the relatively homogenous political map now after the seat allocation, the ongoing negotiations among party elites in Baghdad could have enormous significance. By way of example, a deal between Maliki and the Sadrists would give the Daawa coalition control of Maysan, Dhi Qar, Wasit and Baghdad. (In theory, Maliki could achieve the same, plus Qadisiyya and Najaf by turning to Hakim and ISCI, but would then have to reverse several months of intense disagreement.) Adding Ibrahim al-Jaafari to his coalition alongside the Sadrists would give Maliki control of Qadisiyya and Najaf as well. This leaves a group of highly fragmented Middle Euphrates governorates where ISCI was once strong: Babel and Muthanna, plus the interesting case of Karbala, where the two “local phenomena”, Yusuf al-Habubi and the Hope of Mesopotamia list, seem to be looking to Daawa and ISCI respectively as potential coalition partners. But whereas the Hope of Mesopotamia list is a significant bloc with 9 seats, Habubi has only one seat and Maliki would need the Sadrists in addition to gain a majority here.
In other words, as a result of one and the same election, Maliki now has the alternative of either (1) reconstituting his alliance with the Supreme Council; or (2) pressing on with the "July 22" alliance with the Sadr trend and others. Visser wonders:
One of the biggest questions now is whether there will be moves towards ideological or opportunistic alliances. Maliki has a golden opportunity to realign himself with opposition parties that share much of his ideology when it comes to centralism and state structure, such as the Sadrists, Fadila and Wifaq and other secularists. But there are also other tendencies at work. Recently, the secular Iyad Allawi has apparently been in dialogue with ISCI, and the heavily-decimated Fadila party has hinted at the possible reconstitution of the (Shiite-led) United Iraqi Alliance. These are both examples of moves that would negate the declared aim of these parties to move away from a political system of ethno-sectarian quota-sharing (is Allawi hoping for a quota for “secularists”?!) and would reverse the positive trends towards greater emphasis on issues and ideology in the latest local elections.
So you can look at this from the standpoint of a "relatively homogenous political map" versus "declared aims ... to move away from quota-sharing". Or you can look at it as Al-Rubaie does: In the new (occupied) Iraq, political problems are solved by slicing the pie--it is the new political culture. And as for those with "declared aims" contrary to that principle, they too are part of the system (something Visser seems to possibly intimate himself when he asks "is Allawi hoping for a quota for 'secularists'?!')


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