Iraq Sliding into Sectarianism

  • 10 May 2010

A new government is yet to see the light of the day in Iraq even months after the March 7 parliamentary elections. The delay – which has been due to the raging differences among political parties, mainly over the issue of leadership – threatens to create another political vacuum in Iraq that might lead to negative consequences at different levels. There was hope that these elections were a great opportunity for the country to engage in a nation-wide political process based on participation of people overcoming sectarian, ethnic and religious considerations. It was believed that this will help the country achieve consensus on national issues and will transcend all other affiliations and end the sectarian divide that has marred the Iraqi political scene since 2003. However, the developments in Iraq since elections suggest that matters might be moving in the opposite direction. Religious and ethnic divides have further deepened and alliances are being formed on that basis. The Shiite Islamic Supreme Council has now entered the political arena even though it had sought to maintain a distance from these affairs on earlier occasions.

Sectarian and ethnic polarizations pose the biggest threat to Iraq, the state and its people. It is the most destructive factor against values of nationalism and coexistence and is a threat to Iraq’s territorial unity. Besides, it also gives rise to dangerous political practices that have the potential to damage the political structure of the country and ignite conflict among communities. All this is happening at a time when there should be a greater emphasis on overcoming these divisive factors in light of the electoral process. Unfortunately that has not happened even though the general elections and the preceding provincial elections handed out a more nationalistic mandate and demonstrated the desire for a political regime that accommodates all sections of the society.

The return of sectarianism as a factor in the formation of the new Iraqi government would mean that the country is yet to elude its vicious cycle and that the elections could not change the political climate that has prevailed in the country since 2003. This might be a cause of despair for Iraqis and they may lose confidence in the political dispensation that was supposed to have been built on the rejection of sectarian quota system. Perhaps it is a matter of destiny that the elections have not produced clear victory for any bloc in Iraq and participation is the only way forward as far as the formation of a new government is concerned. Nevertheless, this is a historical moment for Iraq because the country now depends on its different political forces to work collectively for the future and explore the possibilities of coexistence between its various sects and ethnicities.