Iraq and Gulf Analysis

At Long Last, Tehran Gets Its Alliance and the Clock Is Turned Back to 2005 in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 4 May 2010 22:28

Ever since the provincial elections in January 2009, Iran has worked steadfastly [PDF] to revive the then-defunct United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the sectarian Shiite alliance that was created back in 2004 and that largely collapsed in 2007. After Ahmad Chalabi played an initial role in bringing  the Sadrists and ISCI back together in the first part of 2009, the final reunification took place Tuesday night in Baghdad when the State of Law list headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki joined the other Shiites to form a single parliamentary bloc. The successful revival of the de-Baathification agenda was probably the key factor in destroying the promising tendencies of a more nationalist and less sectarian approach by Maliki in 2009.

Few details about the reunion have been published so far (and notably no PM candidate), but it is known that it was held at the house of Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Jaafari came out with the best result in the informal Sadrist referendum for the next prime minister that was held earlier.

It is expected that the new alliance (which so far does not appear to have a name or a bloc leader) will claim the right to form a government despite the fact that it was created after the elections and thus in disregard of the electorate (which was not told much about this prospect during the brief campaign). The all-Shiite bloc will likely turn to the Kurds next, but it is noteworthy that it is just four seats or so away from a parliamentary majority of its own so those smaller groups that dare will probably be handsomely rewarded if they opt to join and help the new alliance avoid painful compromises with Arbil. Of course, they also risk being labelled Sunni “stooges” of a sectarian Shiite government.

Under any circumstances, this seems to be a step backwards to Iraq and a return to the unhealthy sectarian climate that dominated much of the period between 2005 and 2007. However much they talk about “unity”, the members of the new alliance have little in common except the fact that they are mostly Shiites. It is a far cry from the situation just half a year ago, when Maliki was talking about political majorities and ideologically consistent cabinets.

76 Responses to “At Long Last, Tehran Gets Its Alliance and the Clock Is Turned Back to 2005 in Iraq”

  1. amagi said

    I don’t know, Reidar. As much of a disappointment as this appears to be (for the democracy-loving peoples of the world, at least), in 2005 the Sunni had no representation. Now they do. Doesn’t that in and of itself make an enormous difference?

  2. Reidar Visser said

    To my mind, it doesn’t. I mean there have always been people in the parliament that represent Sunnis on a sectarian basis, like Tawafuq in the previous assembly. What bothers me is that those attempts we saw back in 2008 and 2009 to create alliances that truly transcended ethno-sectarian identity appear to be almost gone. Even Iraqiyya is being reduced to a “Sunni” party by many commentators, even if this is to go way too far.

  3. Jason said

    Sounds premature. I will withhold judgment until they agree on a PM candidate. And let’s not forget that they have very little in common on the big issues.

  4. Hasan said

    For me Its was all expected (Its the law of nature). All the leaders in the two shiite alliances emphasized that their dismerger was temporary because of their disagreement about the intralist seat distribution.

    We should NOT forget all of the iraqi shiite islamists are born from the same uterus and they have a whole history in common.

    (Till now -as far as I now- they shared the responsibility of all the big decisions made in the Jaafari and Maliki governments, Hasan Alsaneed was in the committee that wrote the INA’s Election program and the intense merging negotiations had never stopped between the two alliances since the end of the elections)

    what I am expecting as a result now is the dismerger of the iraqiyya, which contains a rainbow of different necessity allied political forces that share only the Saudi support and the American pressure.

  5. This is a critical time. If someone from the US administration puts a positive spin on this and sees it as a gain then the international community will recognize the regime’s legitimacy and money will flow to a pro-Iranian regime. But if the international community sees this event as a loss and non-democratic then Iran will have to support its Iraqi ally but with strings attached.. Waiting for a PM to emerge like Jason suggests brings the recognition closer, we should expect delay.

  6. Xenophon said

    I think the expectations that Iraq could go from 0 to 60 on the democracy speedometer (ie in a handful of years) were always bound to be disappointed. Look how democracy has evolved gradually over centuries in those countries we think of today as bastions of democracy with vicious ethnic, racial and class politics along the way. The Shia voted overwhelmingly for Shia religious parties over the “secular” Allawi despite their dissatisfaction with the actual governance and overall performance of those parties (ISCI in particular of course). The bottom line is that the Shia will only move into a more secular voting pattern as they become confident that their empowerment cannot be reversed. Maybe they “should” feel that way now, as many seem to think, but they evidently don’t. At some point, when the Shia majority feels comfortable deserting the security blanket of Shia religious leadership–who knows when that will be–then, democratic norms will have the opportunity to stabilize in Iraq. Until that time, it will be a rocky road, and the government composition will reflect continued Shia attachment to the religious parties that have been their political/military bulwark, however imperfect and with however much dissension among them. Of course, the mini-Cold War the US is carrying on against Iran doesn’t help matters at all.


    I’m not sure I see the differences on the “big issues” that you do, especially between Dawa/SLA and the Sadrists unless you count the Sadr-Maliki enmity as a big issue.

  7. Mohammed said

    Dear Reidar:

    I sincerely appreciate your concern and good wishes for the people of Iraq. However, I think your hopes and estimates for the progression of the Iraqi political process are several years ahead of the reality of the Iraqi political scene.

    You may blame the de-baathification process that started right before the elections, but in analysis of the sequence of events, I would disagree. Maliki refused to join an all-shiite alliance when the election season kicked off. However, Maliki made a very concerted effort to get “sunni” partners. Abu Risha refused to join. The sunni groups that joined Iraqiya also did not want to join. Let’s face it, without having significant sunni groups, State of Law was destined to do poorly in the north and anbar, irrespective of the de-baathification process.

    In the ideal world, Iraqiya and State of Law would have joined forces, but Iraqiya showed nothing but disdain for Maliki in the press. Ironically, Allawi and Maliki had many things in common, but Allawi was far more critical of Maliki than he was of Hakim, and al-Sadr.

    I hold on to the hypothesis that until there is a true reconciliation process, there will not be much in the way of progress. I come from a mixed sunni-shiite family. I know many sunni relatives who have always despised maliki, and long for the days of saddam. They do not believe that shiites have any business ruling the country. They dont have any regrets about the days of Saddam, and they long for them. They do not even believe that shiites are a majority, and think that half the shiites are really iranians with fake iraqi passports.

    On the other hand, shiites are paranoid that sunnis will once again dominate them. They could not take a chance allowing Iraqiya to take the lead in forming the government. Personally, I just cannot yet trust politicians who refuse to condemn the actions of the baath party. I dont mind if a sunni or shiite used to be a baathist, but I expect them to condemn the crimes of the past, and pledge not to allow a repeat of such mass crimes against humanity.

    We have taken a step backwards. I have no admiration for Sadr or Hakim, and I think they are corrupt to the bone. The difference between now and 2005 is that the Iraqi security forces are far more capable, and I strongly suspect that they can crush any major rebellion. So sunnis may object here and there, but they will have to be resigned to forming the opposition in parliment for now. It will probably take another 5 years for the iraqi political process to mature to the point that a truly non-sectarian coalition can emerge. It is akin to the USA. There is no way that Obama could have been elected president 40 years ago. Whites were not ready then to support a black american. Sunnis are not ready to support somebody like Maliki. My hope is that in the next 5 years with better security, Iraqi services and oil production can improve, people can reconcile, and be ready for the next election.

    This was not the outcome I had hoped for, but Iraqiya’s aggressive stance towards SOL is as much to blame. We need mature sunni and shiite leaders ready to lead people to the path of reconciliation and true cooperation.

    Let’s see who emerges as the PM. I hope it is somebody strong, and will not be influenced by Iran, and can win the hearts and minds of all Iraqis, regardless of sect.

  8. Reidar,

    Whilst recognizing the sectarian nature of the former exile political class in Iraq and the damage done to national unity by the list system by the aggregation of voter intent, to what degree do you believe the wishes of the electorate to have been disregarded?

    And once again, thank you for your continued commitment to understanding this state of affairs.


  9. Jwing said


    they agree on the most important detail, to keep the Shiite parties in power and control the prime ministership which has the most significant leadership role in Iraq even if they can’t decide right now on who that person might be.

  10. JScott said

    I’m as disappointed as you are, Riedar, but also agree with Jason: unti there’s a clear PM candidate to emerge I think such an alliance may be premature and won’t hold together long. Especially if Maliki continues to resist the Prime Ministerial limitations being forced on him by the INA. Even if Iran is insisting on the coalition I think it’s too artificial to last. Now if Jaafari became the consensus candidate for PM among this incoherent bunch, then that would really be turning the clock back! 🙂


  11. Jason said

    Where was Maliki for the announcement?

  12. Reidar Visser said

    Xenophon, as regards ideological incoherence, I think we also need to see this in the wider picture of a possible Shiite-Kurdish alliance, with ISCI and the Kurds pushing for decentralisation. Also, the Daawa has historically been somewhat more reluctant than the parties in INA when it comes to taking orders directly from the clergy. For example, SLA does not have as part of its programme the point about “adherence to the directions of the marjaiyya” that both ISCI and the Sadrists agreed on last summer.

    Steve, my point about disregard of the intent of the electorate has to do with how the campaign unfolded. In many areas south of Baghdad SLA and INA were the two main opponents. They were perhaps vague about their differences, but nonetheless they fought hard against each other and for them to suddenly join seems to undermine the message they sent to the voters back in February.

  13. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, in that photo I think you can see Hasan al-Sunayd, Ali al-Adib, Khalid al-Asadi and Khalid al-Atiyya, all from SLA, but, as you say, no Maliki.

  14. Salah said

    With due respect of your analysis, if you excuse me to say that most western writers and commentators they thought that the new Iraq after 2003 with the creation of tens of political parties on that ground starting writing about democracy and political domain in new Iraq.

    They forgot that most of southern Iraq sectarian party in fact represent one sect and all are close in their ideological believe the only differences is their leader and their spoken words to motivates mainstream Iraqis which they for so long they seek the opportunity to run the show.

    These Sectarian parties although their names different all created hosted and founded by Tehran so there are no surprises following Tehran’s advises with political dilemma.

    Ja’afari and Maliki both were Dawa members, they splits to play the political game. That’s make no difference between them ideologically created and support 30 years ago by Tehran. they are both two different face for same coin.

    “Dawa” The State of Law alliance (SLA), ISCI, Fadila, Hizballah Iraq branch each one headed by Mullah although Ja’afary and Maliki not wearing turban their mindset as much as a complete Mullah’s one. These parties each have different Marja’a in Tehran as support point for their communication and ended to the big boss Ali Khamenei.

    Some of you think that Maliki he is far from Iran or he changed as Rieder thinks and as most western sources, I quite agree and support what Xenophon described Maliki’s personality/political move by saying:

    Maliki has been called a stooge of the US, a stooge of Iran, a Shia sectarian, a moderate Islamist, a dictator in waiting, a shrewd bargainer and political operator, an incompetent bumbler, and almost every other term–good and bad–that you can come up with. Analysts have forecast–so far wrongly–his political demise countless times. I have oscillated between all of these views.

    This is the Mullah playing game make you can’t figureout what their path.

    As with Iran election were we saw apposition leader who was very close to Khomeini but he made himself a moderates, with election went on and recount and all settled down no change in political status.

    In Iraq what these sectarian parties done very similar to some extended with Iran election

  15. Salah said

    Now new spokeswoman coming to party of Iraqi political party

    Maryam Al_rayias?

    شددت مقررة لجنة كتابة الدستور مريم الريس على ان المحكمة الاتحادية ليست موضع حسم

    للقضايا المتعلقة بتفسير الدستور ،مطالبة السياسيين باللجوء الى المشرعين لتفسير نصوص الدستور.

    وقالت الريس مشرعو الدستور لازالوا على قيد الحياة ، ومن الاولى ان يتم اللجوء اليهم لتفسير النصوص الدستورية بدلا من اللجوء الى المحكمة الاتحادية التي لم تتشكل بموجب الدستور بل بموجب إدارة الدولة للمرحلة الانتقالية.

  16. Salah said


    There is some talk about ja’afar Alsadar, what your take on him?

    Jaafar Sadr, 40, has spent his entire adult life as a student, in Baghdad, in Najaf, in the Iranian city of Qom, where he pursued religious studies under ayatollahs, and most recently in Beirut, where he is close to earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology.

    An unlikely Iraqi leader emerges

    (السومرية نيوز) النجف – وصل رئيس بعثة الأمم المتحدة في العراق آد ملكيرت، صباح اليوم الأربعاء، إلى مدينة النجف حيث التقى فور وصوله المرجع الشيعي الأعلى علي السيستاني، في زيارة تأتي بعد ساعات من إعلان اندماج الائتلافين الشيعيين.

  17. Ali said

    As far as I remember, when the two alliances were first announced, there were a number of senior figures on both sides making promises regarding a post-election merger

  18. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, what Maryam al-Rais is expressing is a variant of this view:

    Salah, in your assessment I think you overlook some of the things Maliki did to reverse sectarianism in 2008-2009, such as going after Shiite militias, encouraging a revision of the constitution and a strengthening of the centralised state in particular, and the idea of using the lapse of power-sharing arrangements this year to build a political, non-sectarian coalition. On the other hand, he failed to take a clear nationalist stand on Kirkuk last autumn (and was encouraged by Westerners to refrain from doing so) and then came the de-Baathification issue and sent everything back to square one.

    Ali, for sure, there have always been some voices in Daawa that were unhappy with SLA and INA going separate from each other, but the main point is that at the time Maliki was loud and clear, saying he refrained from allying with INA because they did not share the same vision of the (centralised) state.

  19. Gösta Grönroos said

    Wonder what the next move will be. To invite Allawi to join a national government, but setting conditions that he could never accept? But what are options for Iraqiya? There’s hardly a sensible role to play for an opposition in the current atmosphere. A shia islamist/kurdish majority may well introduce legislation (through democratic decision making) to eliminate any serious challenge. Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani is the man of the day.

  20. Reidar Visser said

    My guess is that they will turn to the Kurds first, and that any invitation to Iraqiyya will be for decoration only. In an oversized government the deals that count are likely to be beween the Shiites and the Kurds.

    Still, unlike in 2006, the Shiites have the option of abandoning the Kurds altogether (if negotiations fail) and instead turn to Iraqiyya. In that kind of scenario, Allawi would have more leverage.

  21. Ali W said

    I just have to strongly agree with Moahmmed and Xenephone, well written, and it actually represents my perosnal fears, and that of my friends and family. Although I would have preferred something different, it does make me happy that we punched the Saudis and their sunni arab countries in the face, and slapped the baathist, this should go a long way in cementing the idea that shia are here to stay, when this does happen, then we can move away from secterianism.

    the problem is not with the shia but with the sunnis. As long as they praise Saddam, support the baathist, and do not admitt to their crimes, calling the shia Iranians, the shia will carry one voting for the religious parties.

  22. Hasan said

    The problem I see in this conversation is that we put the western cratiria as an absolute value in the democracy meter.
    Historicaly shiites gave Al Daawa party (the mother of the all islamists in iraq) all of their support, more than 88000 was kiled just in 1987-1988 (if my memory rescued me), their charge was supporting or joining aldaawa.
    for me the real problem is that why america and arabs don’t accept the fact that shiites are religous and if they had the choise they will choose the religous parties to lead them.
    Its a matter of history, its not a problem that came out after 2003.

  23. Reidar Visser said

    Hasan, I have to disagree with that. What about the tens of thousands of Shiites who were in the Communist and Baathist movements?

  24. Hasan said

    There were shiites communists in the 1950-1980 and Baathists but you cann’t compare, you should’ve seen the videos of the salat jomaa (the friday brayer) of Ayatullah Mohammad Sadeq Alsader (father of moqtada) in that scary dark days, all what you’ld wander is why all of these people dared to do that after the intifadah of the 1991, as a result Alsader got assassinated in 1998.
    You should read the book of Ali Almoumen about the Daawa its title in arabic (سنوات الجمر: مسيرة الحركةالإسلامية في العراق)

  25. Reidar Visser said

    Hasan, thanks, I have it on my shelf. I just don’t think it tells the whole story about the Shiites of Iraq. I mean, just to give an example, doesn’t the fact that the intifada in 1991 was crushed to a considerable extent by pro.government Shiite tribes suggest a greater diversity of political orientation?

  26. Thanks Reidar. The question was speaking more to the statistical underpinning of the notion that the electorates desire was being disregarded. Once you break down the list, party and individual based voting patterns for Iraqi nationalists vs decentralizing sectarians, what is the extent of the rejection of the will of the electorate?


  27. Ali said

    The media and Iraqiya spokespeople are saying this might lead to an increase in violence and a return to sectarian conflict if Sunnis feel disillusioned and alienated.

    Do you think Iraqi Sunnis are so immature and animalistic they will return to the killings and violence that ripped the country apart simply because they don’t like the outcome of post-election negotiations?

  28. Ali W said

    Reidar, thats just not true, many of my family took part in the shia uprising including my father, we were in Karbala to avoid the aliied bombing, it was crushed by the Republican guard, the tribes initially supported the uprising, however there many low life shia criminals who snitched on the us, the tribes only started “behaving” after the republican guard made it obvious that they were going to win. The vast majority of communists turned islamists and the shia baathist were baathist on paper only who are now voting to Islamic parties? Or most are, the hardcore baathists have all been killed or fled.

  29. Reidar Visser said

    Steve, I see. I guess the problem is that the paradigm of Iraqi nationalists vs decentralising sectarians doesn’t work that well anymore, which was probably the intention of the de-Baathification revivalists. I mean, you have a parliament where some 180 deputies (SLA + INM) ostensibly agree on a centralised state moving away from ethno-sectarian power-sharing. That, at least, was what the electorate was told and probably voted for. But that is all pretty academoic if their leaders insist on engaging in odd forms of coalition-building with sectarians and decentralisers instead of choosing the logical option of joining together in a strong government and exclude those who want an entirely different outlook for the Iraqi state.

  30. Reidar Visser said

    Ali W. Yes it is true, just take a look in the lexicon of Iraqi tribes by Thamir Abd al-Hasan (note the name!) al-Amiri from the 1990s and you will find the name of many tribal leaders that chose to work pragmatically with the regime. Researchers who have worked with Iraqi government documents from the 1990s, including those of IRDP at Harvard, have reached the same conclusion. As said so many times before, the idea of Shiite exclusion and non-cooperation with the Baath regime (and the concomitant dismissal of collaborators as “criminals” and “beggars”) appears to be a fantasy that is strongest among exiles and Islamists (who obviously did not cooperate themselves).

    Ali, about your scenarios, I think there are other ways this could play out, more peacefully. Doubtless,various ways of boycott are being discussed. One alternative would be to focus strategically on the constitutional revision process, where any Shiite-Kurdish alliance is likely to be ripped apart anyway.

  31. Reidar, may I budge in? Steve, if I understand you correctly, you don’t need to invoke the Nationalist vs. Centralizers dichotomy in order to see the rejection of the will of the people in a post-election merger. The people vote for a party based on policy, the people’s vote to the party does not include a mandate to change policy, a merger is a change of policy which is not mandated by the previous vote, we need a new vote for this situation to stand, preferably with UN supervision preceeded by census. The merger i effectively an annulment of the elections IMHO.

  32. Ali W said

    Vali Nasr summarizes the Iraqi Shia struggle under Saddam’s rule:

    “…Shias have never risen beyond the glass ceiling that separates them from the Sunni elite. A few, such as Saddam’s last and highly colorful information minister, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, rose to prominence. But they were tokens in a world where Shia feet never trod the real halls of power. Saddam Hussein liked to make much of the second part of his name before his Shia subjects – especially during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s – but he nevertheless characterized Shias as Iranian lackeys, and he periodically purged the Ba’th Party of its Shia members in order to make sure that the levers of state power and the banner of Arab nationalism remained firmly in Sunni hands. Shia privates filled the ragtag conscript ranks of Saddam’s poorly equipped and ill-trained regular army, but the elite Republican Guards and Special Republican Guards were Sunnis almost to a man. ”

    Reidar, this quate from above comes from the most well known academics in regards to the shia in this region.

  33. Reidar Visser said

    Sorry Ali, I am not impressed by names. I am impressed by footnotes. The footnotes in Nasr’s book are not good.

  34. Jason said

    As we have seen in the past, sectarian glue may not be enough to prevent a fracture of the SLR/INA. First is the choosing of a PM. Second, history could repeat itself with Sadr running roughshod with corruption, abuses, and private militias, at the expense of the central government. (Those historical Shia ties were not enough to stop them killing each other in a bloody conflict only two years ago.) Third, differences over federalism, especially if the Kurds are involved. Fourth, doesn’t Sistani still have some influence in Shia Iraq as a counter-weight to Khamenei?

    NPR just reported that SLR/INA had agreed on a “procedure” for choosing a PM nominee. Wondering what that could mean? Seems like a straightforward vote of their new MP’s would put Maliki firmly in the driver’s seat. Would they willingly accept a backroom deal by party bosses?

  35. Hasan said

    Sorry for my cruelty Reidar, the Intifada is not just an example with estimates of more than 300000 killed in a few days.

    Another think that is difficult to get the consensus on it but it facilitates judgment is the accusation of islamists as sectarians, I think the most frank (cruel) sectarian in in Iraq now is Tareq Alhashemi (who turned suddenly from a leader in an Islamic party to a nationalist!!) with his demands the (Arabize) the Iraqi president

  36. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, I fear that Sistani will be happy as long as there are some token Sunnis in there, which is what Iran is aiming for. Another question is whether the USG may also settle for this.

  37. Kermanshahi said

    Reidar, I’ve that Hussein Shahristani was announced as their compromise PM, have heared about this or is it just simply not true?

  38. Reidar Visser said

    Have not seen that confirmed. I don’t think the Kurds would be particularly enthusiastic to be honest, but you know more about that than I do.

  39. Reidar Visser said

    Jason further to your query, AFP claims to have a story that there is agreement to let “the marjaiyya” settle any further disputes internally.

    This is significant for a number of reasons:
    -To take the advice of the marjaiyya was part of the INA programme but not of the SLA one.
    -It indicates a role for the Iraqi marjaiyya beyond the unhelpful quietist/activist dichotomy, and corroborates the idea of an Iraqi marjaiyya that is not afraid of power but rather shies away from institutions (on which more here: )

    It would be interesting to know whether the marjaiyya is really defined in the document (I somehow doubt it because it would just create problems). For some Iraqis “the marjaiyya” is Sistani. To some it is Khamenei. To some in the Daawa it is Fadlallah in Lebanon. To some Sadrists it is Kazim al-Haeri, based in Qum. The INA programme doesn’t even say the “marjaiyya of Najaf” let alone that “of Iraq”.

  40. Ali W said

    In regards to the other part of the AFP, it talks a lot of limiting the the powers of the PM, and forming committees between the two list to discuss policies, this will further slow down decision making.

  41. Kermanshahi said

    No, the Kurds are not very happy about Shahristani but it doesn’t mean it won’t happen. The SLC-NIA alliance is just 4 seats short of a majority, all they need is an alliance with Tawafuq, Unity or a few independents and they’ve got a majority.

  42. Jason said

    The agreement sounds unenforceable and unworkable. I can’t see Maliki and Sadr constantly running to Sistani to arbitrate decisions about how to run the govt. Will Sistani direct the Army when Sadr starts trying to throw his weight around and his cronies start to abuse their power?

    Once Maliki is securely in the PM seat, he will have support to disregard the power-sharing in order to keep Sadr in check. Even Iraqiya will support him.

  43. Ali, Muhammed and Xenophon,
    You have fear but you can’t lead by fear, Saddam did it before you and he was good at it. Saddam is gone and so did his style, a new dictator will not be as powerful but most importantly he will not be as lucky as Saddam. With democracy there will be no assurances, that’s the nature of democracy. You may not like Iran but if you chose dictatorship then you are with Iran and not with the international community. There will always be people who praise Saddam, Al Baath, Qassim, the monarchy..etc.. the only way to stop them liking their idols is by dictatorship, if you chose democracy then you must learn to accept them, but with your attitude of victimization you cannot lead a mixed nation.

  44. Reidar and Faisal,

    Yes, I have a handle on what the parties are doing but I’m just trying to gauge the level of opposition they will run into if they continue along this kind of path. If they’re running against a social tide that opposes the policies they choose to enact (if different from the ones they espoused to make themselves electable), where will it lead? I don’t even require an answer to that specific question because that would be nothing more than mid to long-term speculation. I suppose I’m mainly interested in the percentage of the electorate that voted for an end to the nonsense we’re seeing re-enacted among the political parties.

    There is only one area where I’m really getting confused (perhaps as a result of early bad analysis?): what on earth are the Sadrists up to?

  45. Reidar Visser said

    Steve, I don’t have the national totals of votes in front of me but if you look at the distribution of deputies which is roughly proportional, then some 23% belong to the excplicitly decentralising parties – all the Kurds plus ISCI. But even if the Sadrists are centralists they have embraced power-sharing/consensus in what they call shiraka (Maliki first objected to this idea). And when they say this and at the same time make a clearly Shiite alliance then it effectively becomes ethno-sectarian power-sharing with Iraqiyya or others serving as the “Sunni” component.

  46. Depressing as it is; thanks Reidar.

  47. Salah said

    than 300000 killed in a few days.

    Reidar, do we need evidences/sources for this number some like to multiply here?

    I asked same Hasan to give HOW Many Iraqis killed in last 7 years did he know?

  48. Salah said

    but with your attitude of victimization you cannot lead a mixed nation.

    Well said Faisal, but did they like that? did they will live without it?

    I doubt.

  49. Ali W said

    Faisal, these are fine words and wise also. Neither one of us want to be with Iran, most of the shia want a strategic relationship with America, and good relations with all out neighbors.

    But we cannot stop being thinking about the return of tyrannical sunni domination, when they are actively still killing and bombing to get back to power.

    Like i said, when th vast majority of sunnis recognize the crimes of Saddam, and when they accept the shia as equal and the majority of the country, then sectarianism will end.

  50. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, I think I get a picture of which direction you want to go, but one thing I am wondering is how you would put the programme where “Sunnis” would “recognise the crimes of Saddam” into practice? Does this apply to everyone who worked for the regime? Only Sunnis?? Should they make some kind of solemn oath?

    I agree that the AJ law of 2008 is far from perfect – personally I would have preferred something that focused on specific crimes at the individual level – but I am wondering where this recognise-the-crimes-of-Saddam business will lead.

  51. JWing said


    The reason why State of Law and the National Alliance didn’t join together was that they wouldn’t promise to make Maliki their candidate and give him 51% of their candidates. I don’t think it had anything to do with ideology of centralism vs. federalism with the SIIC.


    It really doesn’t matter whether the two Shiite lists have come up with an agreement on the prime ministership. Unless Maliki pulls off some huge power move he’s going to be pushed aside eventually. I think what the two lists are focusing upon right now is making sure that Allawi doesn’t form a government with him as its head.

  52. Ali,

    My own experience in Iraq – mostly in Baghdad – was that the vast majority of people I met, no matter what their faith or sect, recognized the crimes of Saddam and the ruinous nature of his regime. It is unreasonable to say that he only committed those crimes against the Shia and Kurds when the reality is that he dealt brutally with anyone who opposed him. As one Imam told me, “In many ways Saddam was very fair in that he was unjust toward everyone.”

    Here is a good question; how many Sunni Arabs in Iraq did not have someone from the Shia discipline above them in the political, military or social hierarchy? I would venture to suggest it was very few.

    On the subject of mass graves. After all this time, there still has not been a full accounting of the numbers being thrown around by the exile groups and the Kurds in the lead up to the invasion. Despite the fact that a number of graves were excavated and the victims remains exhumed these numbers – 300,000 or 400,000 – were not approached. Inforce, the team of forensic experts who were conducting the exhumations found about 5,000 bodies in the 50 graves they excavated. There are estimated to be about 250 grave sites that were identified from satellite images. There is a report here:

    That is not to say that the crimes were not committed but the scale of the brutality would not, in itself, have been sufficient to have triggered any kind of humanitarian intervention if realistic estimates had been given by the Kurds and Shia exile groups. It’s also worth considering what provoked the bloodshed: an attempt to overthrow the regime. This wasn’t just Saddam’s military and police running amok around the country; there were real battles with enormous losses on all sides. This was a short-lived civil war.

    What I don’t understand is why people are all too willing to lay all the blame for this killing at the feet of Saddam – and the Sunni Arabs – with a little left over for GHW Bush but the Hakims, Talabani and Barzani get a free ride. All of them are responsible for these crimes.

  53. Reidar Visser said

    Joel, I beg to differ with that because that quota thing is just one side of the story (and the INA side). This is how Kamal al-Saadi of Daawa put it to Al-Sharq al-Awsat on 1 October 2009, on the eve of the SLA launch:

    وعن تأكيد الائتلاف الوطني أن المالكي طالب بـ55 مقعدا ومنصب رئيس الوزراء كشرط للانضمام إليه، نفى الساعدي ذلك قائلا: «لم يضع المالكي شروطا للانضمام إلى الائتلاف ولم تطرح في الأصل هذه القضية، إن الخلاف كان بسبب رفض المالكي إعادة بناء الكتل والأداء والمشكلات داخل الائتلاف على نفس الطريقة، سيما وأن ما حدث في الماضي يبدو أنه يتكرر، وهذا ما لا نريده»، مضيفا: «أردنا أن نتجاوز البنية الماضية والدخول بحكومة قوية تتجاوز الحصص والمذهبية السياسية السابقة التي تضع قدما في الحكومة والأخرى في المعارضة». وقال: «كل هذه المشكلات منعتنا الدخول في الائتلاف ولم نشترط أي حصص للعودة».

    There are many similar examples from the summer and autumn of 2009 of Daawa complaining about ideological inconsistencies and intra-Shiite squabbles as reaons to avoid a big Shiite alliance.

  54. Ali,
    You read my words but didn’t get my point: You are afraid and basing your position on fear. You may hate Iran but doing exactly what Iran wants: taking a position of fear. Only you can remove your own fear.

  55. Hasan said

    Riedar; I agree with what you said to Joel and I think that it is the most important difference between Almaliki and ISCI, Almaliki sees from now the Sadrists and alfadeela making a hurly-burly for no reason and claiming to withdraw from the government… He needed a commitment not to do that again so he gone out and the result was apparently for his good.

    Salah it isn’t a matter of numbers when we taik of murder. I think killing is killing but you cam reach an estimation of the killed during the last 7 years in the this famous link:

    its now about 100000.

    Its not good at all to hear numbers like that but we must remember that even these huge number is being exaggerated in the media there is always numbers like 1.5 million or 2 millions. and for the intifada there are photos and videos in the internet and a lot of documents says a lot of numbers if you like numbers too much… a long trial is being carred out you can follow its details…

  56. bb said

    Steve says:

    “That is not to say that the crimes were not committed but the scale of the brutality would not, in itself, have been sufficient to have triggered any kind of humanitarian intervention if realistic estimates had been given by the Kurds and Shia exile groups. It’s also worth considering what provoked the bloodshed: an attempt to overthrow the regime. This wasn’t just Saddam’s military and police running amok around the country; there were real battles with enormous losses on all sides. This was a short-lived civil war. ”

    Yes there were mass graves but it is better Saddam and Baath were still in power today because there were not sufficent mass graves to justify his removal. In any case, Saddam’s forces suffered enormous losses too in 1991, it was just a civil war. And besides, it was the shia tribes wot did it not the Repub Guard whatever has been said since at the war crimes trials.

    With this re-iteration of a still widespread view held by sections of Iraq, one kinda understands the Kurdish and ISCI “paranoia” (as labelled by Reidar) about the need for federalism, and perhaps the continuing need for it. One further understands why the two major shia parties would be of a mind to huddle together like a tribe.

    To help heal all this, perhaps Iraqiyya could have called for the institution of a national day of mourning for the victims of Saddam? Why didn’t it make this reconciliatory gesture, I wonder?

    Faisal Kadri: “The people vote for a party based on policy, the people’s vote to the party does not include a mandate to change policy, a merger is a change of policy which is not mandated by the previous vote”

    Your “mandate” argument might have legs if either of the shia parties had run on a specific policy of “not” merging or allying with the other. Neither of them did so, so don’t expect a UN intervention

    in democratic countries that have proportional representation it is not [comment ends here; published as received]

  57. Mohammed said

    Just to clarify:

    I believe that there is indisputable evidence that Saddam and his regime committed crimes against humanity. Whether a baathist criminal who aided Saddam is a sunni or shiite really does not matter to me. Any individual who was guilty of murder should be punished even if he is from a reputable shiite family of Najaf. Others who committed no crimes should be left alone, although anybody irrespective of their sect who would praise Saddam has questionable morals and judgment in my view.

    Reidar you asked: “I am wondering where this recognise-the-crimes-of-Saddam business will lead.” Simply, it will lead to more trust between Iraq’s sects. I would have no problem voting for somebody like Mithal Al-Alussi (a sunni who hates baathism), but how can you realistically expect a shiite to vote for somebody like Salih Mutlaq after Mutlaq is shown on TV praising the Baath party as the best party ever to rule Iraq? It’s not a matter of victimization. What vision and national program did Iraqiya bring forth that was appealing for shiites? Allawi surrounded himself with people that made him popular with sunnis, but left a disdain in the eyes of most shiites (who are in fact the majority of the country)…His allies care more about how the people of Mosul and Anbar are doing, not about Najaf and Basra. I want a strong central government. I wanted technocrats like Shahristani and Mahdi Hafez leading ministries. I want somebody who is willing to take on militias. Maliki is more appealing to me than Allawi because of who Allawi chose as allies. Again, to compare to Obama…for Obama to win the presidency, he had to still gain enough white votes, so he did not keep friends like “Reverand Jerimiah Wright” that scared the white vote. Mutlaq, Nujaifi, and Hashemi will scare away the shiite vote.

    In the end, you cant blame this on the “lack of the rule of law.” If Allawi cannot form a majority of MPs, then that is his fault. People cannot be forced to support him if they find many members of Iraqiya to be threatening of their interests. Iraqiya could have made an appealing offer to support Maliki to remain MP, and thereby gain some influence in government, but they refused to. They are basically saying that it is our way or the highway. That is their right, but they cant complain when people are turned off by them. That is democracy!

    Sunnis will have representation by virtue of the MPs. They cannot cry bloody murder just because they dont dominate the government. Even today, there are sunni heads of ministries. Under Saddam, no sunni, shiite, or kurd could dare criticize the government. Now you can curse Maliki all you want. Iraq is not perfect, and there is nepotism, party-ism, and sectarianism, but things will improve with time hopefully.

  58. Reidar Visser said

    Ok, Mohammed, I see what you are aiming for, but, like with Ali, I am asking for specific criteria and procedures to implement your vision of de-Baathification. For example, you seem to indicate that Tareq al-Hashemi is a Baathist; when this suggestion was made by Bahaa al-Aaraji earlier there were strong protests from across the political spectrum in Iraq, including all the other Shiite parties.

  59. JWing said


    So you’re saying if the National Alliance agreed to name Maliki as their candidate for prime minister and gave him 51% of the candidates, he would’ve said no thank you, I don’t agree with the Supreme Council’s views?

    Again, I see ideology as taking a backseat in all of these negotiations. I mean really, what do the Sadrists and Supreme Council have in common besides being Shiites and getting money from Iran yet they are allied together. Sorry if I get reductionist but I think what they all want is as much power as they can hold onto and everything else be damned.

  60. Salah said

    وأشار عثمان الموجود حاليا في أربيل للمشاركة في اجتماع رئاسة الإقليم مع ممثلي الكتل الكردستانية الأربع، اليوم، إلى أن «اجتماع الرئاسة سيناقش هذا التطور، وسنتبادل فيه الآراء حول الموقف الكردي من هذا التحالف، خاصة أن ملامح تشكيل الحكومة باتت أقرب إلى الوضوح مع الإعلان عن هذا التحالف، حيث إن الكتلتين ضمنتا 159 مقعدا في البرلمان بتحالفهما، وفي حال انضمام الكرد إلى هذا التحالف، سيحصلون على 216 مقعدا، وهذا سيسهل عليهم تشكيل الحكومة العراقية القادمة، ولكن تبقى المشكلة في إشراك بقية المكونات الأساسية في تلك الحكومة»،

    Well we were backward as in 2005! isn’t Mr. Mahmoud Othman congratulations for your political support.

  61. Ali W said

    Reidar, Sunni MPs can start visiting mass graves, speaking to victims of Saddam publically, and and maybe attacking Saddam and the baath more vocally.

    The question you need to ask yourselves, why would the shia not mind Mithal Allusi as PM (suuni) and not want Allawi (shia). Because Allusi speaks ill of Saudi, Syria and Iran, he hates the baath criminals and the shia militia. He is fair.

    So for secterianism to end, all sunni politicians need to be like Mithal Alusi or Hachim Hassani.

    All baathist should be sent to courses and study in detail the crimes of Saddam, take an exam on what they learn, and then sign an oath that they harbour no good will to the Baath. Only after that than they can be allowed into politics.

    Steve, 80% of all officers in the Iraqi Army were sunnis, the electricity in Tikrit, Anbar, Mosul was 3 times more available than it was in the south, Hospitals in the west were better than the south, roads were better, homes were better and the important medicines went to sunni areas whilst the shia areas got the expires ones. I really cant be asked to to prove to anyone that Saddam was Secterian. How many shia mosques were built in Iraq in the last 35 years, and how many sunnis mosques. Come on, please lets get real. Sunnis dominated Iraq. Have the shia held the defense minister, or Interior minister, or finance minster befroe the war????? Come on guys lets get real here, its frustrating to have to repeat the obvious. All we had was the propaganda minister, when we are 65%-70% of population, do u know how this makes someone feel to be a majority and rules by a minority?

  62. Reidar Visser said

    Joel, all I am saying is that this whole 51% thing may well be just one of the thousand rumours that were thrown at the press in the heat of the battle. I suggest we take a longer view of this and ask ourselves why the UIA disintegrated in the first place. In that analysis you cannot exclude ideology as one (among several) variables. This is how an opponent of Maliki’s centralism, Muhsin al-Jabiri, put it in an article for the pro-ISCI Buratha website on 30 December 2008, just ahead of the provincial elections back then:

    ما عاد خفياً ما يجري بين الحليفين الكبيرين في الائتلاف العراقي الموحد من إبراز الاختلافات بينهما، فمن بعد قانون المحافظات الذي شهد وقت اقراره الكثير من ضغط حزب الدعوة مع حلفائه (كتلة الشهرستاني العطية وتنظيم العراق) لكي يمرر القانون مع جدية مخالفته للدستور، ثم ما برز في مسألة مجالس الاسناد التي تبناها رئيس الوزراء نوري المالكي وحزبه حزب الدعوة والتي عارضه فيها المجلس الأعلى بشدة، ثم ما لا حظناه في الاختلاف الشديد في محاور أساسية في قانون الانتخابات ما بين الطرفين، ومن بعد طرح المالكي بعدم اقتناعه بالنظام السياسي المؤسس في الدستور ومطالبته لتغيير الدستور ليتبنى حكومة مركزية قوية

    And, as shown in the quote above, evidence of this kind of ideological polarisation remained alive and well in the summer of 2009 and cannot be annulled just on the basis of some scattered press reports indicating a competing interpretation. If you do a systematic analysis of Daawa versus ISCI statements on the structure of the state between 2008 and 2010 you will get the picture.

    Ali, that’s a fairly tall order, I mean the demand for every acceptable Sunni politician to emulate Mithal al-Alusi. You mean they should all go and visit Israel as well?

  63. Reidar Visser said

    Not sure if they will pass Ali’s criteria referred to above, but apparently Tawafuq is interested in playing a part as the “good Sunnis” in the new bloc, according to Rashid al-Azzawi today:

    اعلنت جبهة التوافق استعدادها للانضمام الى الائتلاف الذي اعلن بين ائتلاف دولة القانون والائتلاف الوطني العراقي بعد الاطلاع على برنامجه الحكومي. وقال عضو جبهة التوافق رشيد العزاوي :” ان وجدنا ان البرنامج الحكومي من صالحنا ومن صالح الشعب العراقي فلن نتريث في الدخول في الائتلاف الجديد”، مؤكدا” ان البرنامج الحكومي هو المهم وليس تشكيل الائتلاف”.

    He says they will study the programme for the next government presented by the new bloc and then decide whether to join it on that basis. But in principle he is open to the idea. He must know full well that this new political creature has given a committee of clerics the final say in any matters of internal dispute, amounting to an informal and slightly more pluralistic variety of wilayat al-faqih as per the Iranian model.

  64. Ali W said

    Not quite Reidar (-: lol

    Any news about the Kurdish response so far?

  65. Reidar Visser said

    As far as I have been able to glance from the news wires, the Kurds have welcomed it. Not too surprising, I guess, they have always been open about their preferences for politics in Iraq to be expressed along ethno-sectarian lines.

    They should know however that this time they may easily overplay their hand if they push too hard in negotiations. I keep coming back to 2007 and the inability of the Kurds to get what they wanted on Kirkuk even at the height of sectarianism when they and ISCI were strong together. Also these issues contain dynamite capable of creating trouble for the newly-created Shiite bloc, even if it was remarkable how they managed to stay together during the debate on the election law last autumn.

  66. Bb, Ali et al,

    The question raised is whether there is a viable alternative to the present disastrous de-baathification process. How about a South Africa style Truth and Reconciliation committee but with those who have committed the major crimes being tried. That latter part has mostly been done. I’d venture to suggest that the basis for objection to this would be twofold: firstly, it would require considerable answerability on the part of some now leading the charge against the former Baath and secondly – and I think this is of the utmost importance – is that it would force a sharing of a sense of victimhood that is currently exclusively held – and utilized – by one section of the society.

    Recognizing historical fact is not the same as expressing a preference for the rule of Saddam. To allege that it is simply infantilizes the discussion. Comparing the present with the rule of the Baath sets a very low bar for success and – so far – failing to achieve it speaks volumes.

    The statement I made about the majority of Sunni Arabs being below Shia in the hierarchy still stands – even with such dubious figures and ommissions you provide, Ali. Also, given the current appalling state of services in most of southern Iraq, wouldn’t you say that there may be other underlying reasons than sectarianism that could be the cause?

    There is a very interesting quote from Ali Allawi’s book; “The political discourse in Iraq was therefore channeled in any number of directions – into Arab nationalism, socialism, modernism – but never into an examination of the sectarian basis of power .z The denial of sectarianism was so potent and deep-rooted that it pushed discussion of this problem to the outer limits of acceptable dialogue. In time, this denial created its own reality, and became an article of faith.”

    The exile returns after 35 years (his whole adult life) and when Iraqis tell him they’re not victims of sectarianism he needs to come up with some psycho-babble reasoning rather than face up to a reality that he now encounters. The reason these people were rounded up, executed or driven into exile was not because of their faith but because they were vying for power with a brutal dictator and his regime.

  67. Joe said


    Forgive the latecomer, thanks much for the dialogue and the opportunity. Lots of great points made. Particularly agree with Jason’s point earlier that this merger seems premature; I wonder if it will hold without splintering again before all is said and done. Three reasons:

    1. The lack of a PM-candidate sounds suspicious. Is Maliki really ready to put himself at the whims of a “vote” or other mechanism to choose, as NPR reports? My assessment is not. If Maliki sensed that this “merger” was really about to solidify support behind a PM candidate other than himself, he would bolt with elements loyal to him and take his chances with the Kurds and/or parts of Iraqiyya.

    2. The Baghdad recount. Think it was previous discussions on this website that alleged SLA’s main complaint was irregularities in Sadrist-dominated Sadr City section of Baghdad. Why push for a recount that would move seats from one entity to another within the same “merged” bloc? Doesn’t make sense.

    3. It’s early yet. The results aren’t certified and the new Council hasn’t even been seated, to say nothing of choosing a Speaker, President or Council of Ministers. We’ve said before Maliki doesn’t want his hands tied by an Iranian-supported governing coalition. As you’ve skillfully articulated, Reidar, the De-Ba’athification process has successfully poisoned the political atmosphere to drive SLA and INA together; that is the unfortunate but accurate situation we’re in. At the same time, another assessment is that Maliki is still shopping, holding close as many cards as he can in hopes that an opportunity to govern from a legitimately broader coalition presents itself. There’s still a lot of time left and much to do before the government is formed.

    An unsophisticated argument perhaps but that’s what I see.

  68. Reidar Visser said

    Joe, first to make clear that the Sadr City aspect you refer to was unknown to me. I suppose Maliki may have realised that the recount is likely going to go nowhere. It is interesting he announced defeat for his idea of a political majority (as opposed to power-sharing) just two days before the recount was given the go-ahead.

    The alternative to the interpretation of Maliki still being in the driving seat (or at least inside the car) is the possibility that others in the SLA have largely hijacked the process. One interesting aspect is that those SLA leaders that were present at the launch of the super-bloc earlier this week included several of those who advocated union with INA back in August 2009 (Adib, Asadi, Sunayd etc.), when Maliki resisted.

  69. Jason said

    A split in the SLA is very possible. It would explain Maliki’s non-appearance at the block announcement. I have wondered several times, here, who are the new SLA MP’s and where their loyalties lie.

  70. Joe said


    My mistake. What was written earlier about the recount in Baghdad was, “As for the mathematics of all of this, the numerical margins, based on the final IHEC figures, suggest that the seventeenth INA seat in Baghdad might perhaps be the one that is most vulnerable to small changes in the figures…” I read ‘INA’ here and jumped to the conclusion of ‘Sadrist’, perhaps because of the animosity between the two (Maliki and the Sadrists).

    Also to clarify the point about Maliki in the driver’s seat. Agree with you that others in SLA may have hijacked the process. What seems important to me is what Maliki thinks – if he thinks he’s still in the driver’s seat (my guess is he does) then he might pull out all the stops to ensure his name is still at the top of the list for PM, even if it means, as Jason asserts above, a possible SLA split.

  71. Salah said

    Steve Connors

    Well said.

  72. JWing said


    I’m not saying there aren’t ideological divisions, but again, when it comes down to that the parties have again and again put it aside to gain power. If ideology was such an issue then the Sadrists and SIIC would’ve never run together in the National Alliance. If ideology was such a big issue than State of Law and Iraqiya would’ve joined together long ago. If ideology was such an issue, then your earlier posts about Allawi making concessions to the Kurds in Tamim and Ninewa to get them to join together would’ve been dead before you even thought of it because they have diametrically opposed views about those two provinces. If ideology was such as an issue than State of Law and the National Alliance wouldn’t have joined together this week. If ideology was so prominent than Maliki would’ve have turned 180 from calling for a majority rule government to saying he backs another national unity one.

  73. Reidar Visser said

    Joel, please look again at our conversation above. I am not saying that ideology is everything, but that it means something, at times at least, as one among several variables, including in the breakdown of the UIA, the emergence of 22 July, the failure of the Maliki government to solve Kirkuk and oil with the Kurds etc. I was responding to your assertion below:

    “The reason why State of Law and the National Alliance didn’t join together was that they wouldn’t promise to make Maliki their candidate and give him 51% of their candidates. I don’t think it had anything to do with ideology of centralism vs. federalism with the SIIC”.

    To me this involves an assumption of mono-causality in a complex Iraqi setting where that kind of approach is many times best avoided.

  74. Wladimir said
    Who support Rafidayn? Talk about possible Maliki-Allawi alliance.

  75. Reidar Visser said

    Hope we get more of this. The argument for the alliance presented is to move away from ethno-sectarian quotas which would be a positive development.

  76. Thaqalain said

    Reid your article is clearly biased and why its hard for you to accept that Shais will turn up as major players in any honest and fair setup of rule. Off-course, what will you expect the outcome of democracy where atleast 65% of Population is Shias and they walk bare foot to Holy Cities from Tal Affar to Basrah, irrespective of any ethnic background.

    While you blame Iran role but you never wrote who are broking and negotiating deals in Baghdad’s US Fort Embassy to Tehran.

    The Axis of Iraq sits in Najaf and Karbala, their PENTAGONic power generates from their. Why do you or others mind in dictating us Washington/London powered democracy.

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