Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for March 17th, 2011

Still No Security Ministers; Parliament Goes on Holiday “In Solidarity” with Bahraini Demonstrators

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 17 March 2011 13:42

It was all utterly predictable. A Reuters journalist wanted to get an eye-catching headline and a new angle on the conflict in Bahrain, and, no surprise, he managed to find one: “Bahrain showdown divides Iraqis on sectarian lines”. All he then needed was a single Iraqi Sunni who could present a dissenting voice to the Shiite parties – which have been loud in expressing solidarity with the Bahraini demonstrators. Unsurprisingly, he succeeded in that respect too. His victim was one Ahmad Yunis, described as a “Sunni lawyer”, who thought he saw an Iranian hand in the Bahraini uprising: “If we look at the critical situation in Bahrain, we would be too naive if we ignored the Iranian fingers. Having a Gulf country ruled by a Shiite majority would make Iran more proud than having the atomic bomb”. And voila, Reuters had its story, and the idea that sectarian conflict might re-erupt in Iraq because of Bahrain could find a receptive mainstream media audience worldwide.

Today, the Iraqi parliament presented a far more nuanced take on the situation in Bahrain. True, many of the speeches in support of the Bahraini demonstrators were given by Shiite Islamists, as could perhaps have been predicted. But there were other dimensions too. Kurdish and Christian deputies added their support for the Bahraini opposition. A gathering of female deputies seconded a motion to protest against the highhandedness of the Bahraini authorities; Salman al-Jamili, a Sunni from the Iraqiyya list expressed sympathy with the [mostly but not exclusively Shiite] demonstrators who in his view had been “marginalised” by the [Sunni] regime. And ultimately, it was the Sunni speaker of parliament, also from the Iraqiyya bloc, Usama al-Nujayfi, who cancelled the rest of today’s session in protest against what the [Sunni] regime in Bahrain is doing. He called the Bahraini uprising a “popular movement” and also condemned “interference” in Bahrain, which in the current situation can only mean the Saudis and other GCC states.

Nujayfi’s action should give pause to those who want to reduce him to some kind of Saudi marionette. At least from that point of view, his action today was a positive one, as it once more showed that Iraqi Sunnis are far ahead of most other Sunnis in the regions in terms of building relationships of trust with its fellow Shiite compatriots and in recognising true popular movements, whatever their sectarian make-up. Incidentally, relations between the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds also took a step forward today: Parliament formally issued a decision condemning as genocide the Halabja massacre in 1988 during the closing phase of the Iran–Iraq War.

What was perhaps less positive about the whole affair was the fact that the parliamentary recess had after all been anticipated anyway because of the Kurdish New Year celebrations this weekend (i.e. following the Persian calendar). It should be remembered that since it began a new session last summer after the 7 March 2010 elections, parliament has in fact only been able to issue two laws, i.e. the budget and a law on the deputies of the president (it has been unable to actually elect those deputies). Additionally, the whole affair provided yet another excuse for postponing the parliamentary confirmation of new security ministers, which appeared to have gathered some momentum this week only to be absent from the agenda when parliament convened this morning.

Parliament is now on vacation until 27 March. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will remain acting minister for defence and the interior. Who would have thought that one year after the declaration of the final election results and his defeat at the ballot box in late March 2010, he should be able to demonstrate such remarkable staying power?

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Sectarian master narrative | 45 Comments »