Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for June 7th, 2010

Sectarianism Rears Its Head in Nasiriyya

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 7 June 2010 20:01

In his latest Friday prayer in Nasiriyya, Muhammad Mahdi al-Nasiri, a seat winner for State of Law (SLA) in the parliamentary election in Dhi Qar, gave some indication about troublesome tendencies of sectarianism inside a bloc that at times has attempted to portray itself as more national than the other Shiite-led coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA).

In his talk, Nasiri warns against repeating the “British policy of appointing a premier from the biggest component (mukawwin) but giving real power to a different component.” He goes on to clarify that this biggest component is different from those of the other Arab countries, who maybe don’t like that it has power in Iraq because it would be difficult to dominate it, given its strong ties to its religious leadership. As examples of the continuation of the British policy, Nasiri enumerates two examples of what he calls “figurehead” Shiites who held premierships during the Saddam Hussein era, Hamza al-Zubaydi and Sadun Humadi! Nasiri now fears the United States is supporting a repeat of the alleged “British” policy. He also reiterates his previous demand for a census that would keep track of sectarian identities (it has been expected that the next census will not sub-classify the various Muslim and Christian denominations), though without necessarily applying this information to identity cards…

The speech is a clear attempt at delegitimizing a premiership by Ayad Allawi, who is Shiite but comes from a different party than Nasiri, the secular Iraqiyya. It is also deeply flawed in terms of its claims to historical knowledge. It is true that the British were reluctant about giving power to Shiite ministers in the 1920s, when in long periods only the education minister was Shiite. However, direct British influence had declined considerably when in the 1940s Shiite premiers began emerging, and it would be highly reductionist to see the appointment of men like Salih Jabr, Muhammad al-Sadr, Fadel al-Jamali and Abd al-Wahhab Mirjan as mere reflections of British diktats.

Even more of a far stretch is of course the suggestion about continuity from the British policy of the 1920s to that of Saddam Hussein in the 1990s. But then again, it seems that both the law and history are cheerfully being ignored in today’s Iraq, and without any effective protest being heard.

Posted in Iraqi nationalism, Sectarian master narrative | 35 Comments »