Monday, April 13, 2009

With the election this weekend of the first batch of new governors in Iraq, the new political map of the country is also beginning to emerge. The Iraqis have already stretched the legal framework quite considerably – the “15 days deadline” from the publication of the final results on 26 March has apparently been interpreted as “working days”, and the emphasis has been on holding meetings rather than necessarily electing all key officials – but around half or Iraq’s provinces now have new governors.

It can be useful to discuss the emerging landscape on the basis of two different ways of looking at Iraqi politics. One is to emphasise ethno-sectarian divisions betweens Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis (which in turn are seen as internally unified monolithic blocs), and to interpret the Iraqi parliament as a tripartite construction where an alliance of Kurds and Shiites dominate. For a long time this sort of paradigm prevailed in US policy-making circles, where it gave rise to such concepts as the “80 per cent solution” (i.e. “dominate Iraq through friendly Kurds and Shiites”) and an “alliance of moderate sectarians” (which in practice meant the two Kurdish parties, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq or ISCI for the Shiites, and the Tawafuq bloc as a token Sunni representative). The alternative view is to ignore the sectarian identity of Iraqi politicians and instead consider their position on key issues in Iraqi politics. From this perspective, the Iraqi parliament has a highly different appearance, with the main cleavage between those ethno-federalists who favour almost all features of the 2005 constitution (KDP, PUK, ISCI, and, more reluctantly the Islamic Iraqi Party or IIP) and those who criticise several aspects of it including federalism, ethno-sectarian quotas and how to deal with Kirkuk (the 22 July parties, including the Sadrists, Fadila, Iraqiyya, the Mutlak bloc and various defectors from the Tawafuq coalition). In the middle, leaning towards 22 July on most constitutional issues but still in government with the ethno-federal parties, are the Daawa factions and the group of independents that formed the State of Law coalition under Nuri al-Maliki’s leadership in the January 2009 local elections.

At the national level, it has become increasingly clear that the ethno-sectarian approach is fast losing its relevance. How, then, is this playing out in local politics after the formation of at least some new provincial councils? North of Baghdad the picture is a mixed one.


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