Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Is Iraqiyya a Sectarian or a National Party?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 4 June 2011 19:04

After having previously dismissed it useless, Ayyad Allawi has recently expressed a renewed interest in the stillborn strategic policy council as a way of influencing Iraqi politics. Today, creating the council and furnishing it with real power are apparently once more official goals of his Iraqiyya coalition – which aspires to be the number one secular political movement in Iraq, but emerged in the last elections with markedly heavier support in Sunni-majority parts of the country than elsewhere. 

Leaving aside for a moment the would-be council and the legion constitutional problems involved in its creation (it is not even mentioned in the constitution of 2005 and would need confirmation by popular referendum before it could attain any real power), it can be useful to look at what sort of political demands accompany the demand for Iraqiyya as a prerequisite for “staying committed to the political process”. One item that stands out in particular is the requirement that there be “balance in the ministries of state” (التوازن في وزارات الدولة) . This is a concept that has popped up over and again during the past few weeks in relation to the endless discussion about a possible summit between Allawi and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for the purpose of healing rifts in the still-emerging “government of national unity” whose formation started as long back as last November.

What exactly is meant by this “balance” is not entirely clear, but almost regardless of interpretation it will bode ill for the future of Iraqi politics and the status of Iraqiyya as a nationally oriented party. In a more limited definition, it might refer to “ministers of state”, of which Iraqiyya has just two (which is less than Maliki’s State of Law). This sounds like a demand for more positions for Iraqiyya just for the sake of positions, and would be an affront to the limited Iraqi spring and the criticisms of a vastly oversized government that have accompanied it. It could also refer to ministries more generally, but the problem is that Iraqiyya has got more of them than anyone else, with one sovereign ministry (finance and possibly defence in addition), plus six regular ones (agriculture, communications, education, electricity, industry, science & technology).  In a recent interview, Ahmad Abdallah al-Jibburi of the Iraqiyyun (Nujayfi) faction of Iraqiyya presented yet another interpretation, and it is not a more promising one: In his view, there should be “balance (tawazun) in the institutions of state, and each governorate should have an entitlement in the security ministries proportional to its share of the population”!

Whatever interpretation is chosen, focusing on the concept of “balance” in the Iraqi government almost inevitably will mean making it even bigger, since the aim is to satisfy demands for quotas – whether as ethno-sectarian, party-based or governorate-specific shares. It is particularly worrying to hear Iraqiyya leaders focusing on this concept now since its inventors in post-2003 politics, the Kurds and ISCI who were the first to bring it into the constitutional rhetoric, arguably have less in the way of ministries today than their electoral result should give them based on a quota logic (especially the Kurds). It also comes at a time when Iraqiyya leaders at the local level appear more ready than ever to challenge the powers of the central government, whether in the name of the existing governorates or even in schemes for federal regions (including unprecedented demands that Iraqi security forces be withdrawn from certain areas).  But that is unfortunately the direction we are heading in after Iraqiyya, with American support, opted to join an oversized “government of national unity” instead of talking directly to Nuri al-Maliki about a more narrow coalition in the summer of 2010.

There really seems to be no way out of this process towards ever more government (and less governance) unless the Kurds tell Iraqiyya what Iraqiyya apparently cannot understand themselves – that Iraq would function better as a straightforward  asymmetrical federation where the Kurds would focus on the interests of the Kurdistan Regional Government only instead of constantly bringing Iraqiyya into taking illogical positions that prevent it from talking seriously to Maliki and staying true to its supposedly nationalist agenda. So far, of course, the Kurds have been pursuing a policy of maximum fragmentation in post-2003 Iraq, but possibly the realisation that Iran would ultimately gain from this could make them reverse their stance? And of course, Maliki would need to clean up his act as well: His latest decision to form a special military force for the Tall Afar area in Nineveh seems more calculated to resonate with Shiite sectarian interests there than anything else.

As a very minimum, there should be constitutional revision that would clear up the contradictions between article 115 and other parts of the constitution concerning the difference between a federal region and an ordinary governorate:  This might perhaps make the alternatives clearer and prevent Iraqiyya from continuing along its current path which will eventually turn it into the ISCI equivalent of the Sunni-majority areas of Iraq, with a narrow focus on sectarian interests (for more on this problem, see here). So far, however, there are no signs that Iraqi politicians are prepared to even reopen the pathetic constitutional revision dossier prepared by the previous parliament, and as long as Iraqiyya keeps talking about “balance” there really is no hope that even such a revision could set Iraq on a more promising course.

15 Responses to “Is Iraqiyya a Sectarian or a National Party?”

  1. Reidar,
    I believe that no major Iraqi party, not even the most sectarian, can afford to have sectarian rhetoric. The call for “balance” probably refers to the balance between the provinces and the center, not sects, so that policing and coercive administration is performed by locals. The balance in the center does not necessarily mean more staffing, on the contrary, if locals are involved then less police is required. Maliki under the guise of centralism surreptitiously pushes for a sectarian agenda, Tall Aafar is only the latest.
    As for the Strategic Policy Council, I think all Iraqiya acts should be seen in the context of future elections and appeal to the voters and future alliances.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    In terms of its genealogy in recent political history, “tawazun” certainly emerged as an ethno-sectarian term. It was first highlighted in Kurdish constitutional drafts where it was code for a certain percentage of government positions as a Kurdish quota. The late Hakim argued that a 9-governorate Shiite federal region was required for the sake of “tawazun” in Iraqi politics…

    What I think Iraqiyya needs to consider are the constitutional implications of demanding the right to sign gas deals in Anbar and exclude the Iraqi army forces from parts of Nineveh. What is left for Baghdad to do under that kind of scenario? Is there anything left of Iraq at all if this is turned into reality?

  3. kirkhsowell said

    I think the INM/Iraqiya needs to formally break up. The mutual personal animosity between Maliki and Allawi is so great that State of Law and the INM will never work together as long as the fiction is maintained that it is a unified bloc led by Allawi. He barely lives in the country and doesn’t control more than about 16 of its 83 remaining seats anyway. One of the reasons why he can’t just be in political opposition is that it would break the bloc, since Isawi and Karbuli would have to give up their ministries to do so. The Allawi-Hashemi conflict over the replacement for his seat in parliament (reminiscent of the Sajri-Bolani fight) also shows that it doesn’t have a unified leadership. Yet everything is framed in terms of “Iraqiya” wanting or having this or that post.

    Of course, any serious alliance between Maliki Shia MPs and Sunni Arab MPs would require Maliki to do more to assure Sunnis that the security services will be nonpolitical; all these allegations that Maliki is arresting officials in Sunni provinces for political reasons indicates the gulf that exists between them. Of course the “National Alliance” is if anything more of a fiction than Iraqiya. And now that Maliki is in office, it’s not like they need them anyway.

    If Maliki is going to pass an extension to the US agreement, or pass any coherent political program for that matter, the blocs need to be reshuffled, but I don’t see much hope for that.

  4. S. said

    Sorry to ask a rather dull question of you (one which you may have already answered elsewhere), but could I ask you what are the sources you frequently consult for your information on Iraqi parliamentary proceedings? I mean newspapers, blogs, particular people’s editorials – both in English and Arabic. I’ll be doing some research on these matters and would love to hear your advice on some decent starting points.


  5. Reidar Visser said

    S, for the parliamentary proceedings I use the parliament website at

    Note that the verbatim record of the sessions, which is very useful, is often published several weeks after the relevant session took place so this requires a bit of patience.

    Other than that I scan the Arabic headlines on the major news agencies (NINA, Aswat al-Iraq, Sumaria, Buratha etc) in order to identify the main stories and then try to dig into more obscure sources (local newspapers in the relevant governorates etc) if an interesting story appears to be evolving.

    Kirk, yeah, the struggle about Hashemi’s replacement is interesting. I assume Fattah al-Shaykh (who was first suggested as replacement for Hashemi by some Iraqiyya sources but subsequently rejected by Hashemi’s own bloc, Tajdid) represents Allawi’s desire to maintain some kind of dialogue with the Sadrists going, since al-Shaykh used to be with them before he joined Iraqiyya.

  6. Kirk,
    Distrust works both ways, Maliki also doesn’t trust Allawi, and on balance there are many more who distrust Maliki than Allawi. I believe that Maliki’s stature nowadays depends more on external support than on popularity, I don’t think any reshuffling can bring back his popularity.
    The latest example of external support is the cheap approval of his human rights record by Ed Melkert, which I find so outrageous and out of place for the UN. For what its worth, I call for the removal of Mr. Melkert.

  7. ali w said

    Very good article, it further proves that iraqia has different agendas within it. It seems the white iraqia which seems to be mostly Shiite aspire to be this national secular Iraqi movement whilst the other parts tends to be more after positions and money. Many of them are also paid and work for the gulf states which right now are the biggest threat to Iraq’s interests, particularly when it comes to security and economy.

  8. kirkhsowell said

    Faisal, I totally agree that Maliki has broken more political promises than a calculator could count and hardly even seems interested in bridging political divides, but my negative stance on Allawi is partially a reaction to what I view as an overestimation of him here in the West. Even to the extent that some of his criticisms of Maliki are valid, he is simply not fit for the role of opposition leader in a democracy. So many things could be cited here; running for parliament but never attending, visiting Saudi Arabia the week before the election, focusing on media outlets many Shia – rightly or wrongly – view as Baathist-tinged, etc.

  9. Santana said

    In response to Ali W. – when criticizing Iraqiya regarding any support from the Gulf States – that may be true, but what about the Sadrists and ISCI and Fadheela ? Where do you think their money comes from ? I will tell you- it comes from Iran and the Kurds get their money from stealing Iraqi Oil revenue and Al-Daawa steals straight from the treasury on a daily basis….so don’t use that argument cuz everyone has his “sugar-daddy” or source of income…at least the Gulf States care more about Iraq than Iran or the Kurds do. Besides who would fund the secular Iraqis if the Gulf States don”t? Can you suggest some alternative sources please.?

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Just to complete the picture, I’m not sure the GCC states give a damn about the territorial integrity of Iraq. I’d be interested in knowing how much they give to Iraqiyya compared to what they invest in the KRG. After all, historically, the existence of Iraq in one piece has been a major source of trouble for them.

  11. Kirk,
    I understand your motivation and criticism of Allawi, and agree that he should show up in parliament more often, but your judgment that he is not fit to lead the opposition is overboard; he should not be in the opposition in the first place, the process is faulty and he is getting the short end of the stick and the US is complicit. I can’t speculate on his trip to Saudi a week before the elections and agree it looks bad but why should the President of Iraq get away with visiting Iran? I don’t agree that favoring friendly media outlets is bad, why should anyone agree to bad publicity on antagonistic outlets?
    And you are short, way too short, on your cutting back on blame for the USG; the political funding needed for Allawi is mainly for protection and the responsibility for the insecurity in Iraq which necessitate this level of protection falls mainly on the US. The US did not run census on time and instead of protecting the process it protected its own short term interests, now the process is losing credibility even with Maliki and his clan. One consequence of UN run census and elections is instant credibility and a reduced need for protection money. I am sure if Allawi trusted the process better he would not need to go to Saudi or anywhere else before the elections.

  12. Santana said


    You are correct as far as the North goes- the GCC may not care what happens there but what worries them is if Iraq is broken up weak and deeply infiltrated by Iran in the central and southern regions with Iran eventually setting up a Hezbollah type State- this to them is far worse than Iraq in one piece and able to help them keep Iran in check.

  13. Reidar Visser said

    But if the Saudis et al. are so worried about Iranian influence in a scenario of fragmentation then they should stop actions that will only encourage the Kurds to push for ever looser ties with Baghdad (which in turn will speed up the process of general territorial fragmentation), and also bring an end to the silly policy of never talking to Maliki no matter what.

  14. Santana said

    I agree Reidar- But I guess the Saudis don’t see any “fragmentation” effect in other areas as a result of the Kurds breaking off. So they are appeasing them and putting fancy medallions on Talabani’s neck (a lollipop if you will) cuz they know Turkey is not gonna let the Kurds have an autonomous region anyway. The Turks and Saudis have Ministerial level meetings monthly or quarterly over Iraq- can’t remember which?

  15. robinson said

    “What I think Iraqiyya needs to consider are the constitutional implications of demanding the right to sign gas deals in Anbar”

    Have Iraqiyeh MPs been making these demands? Or are you referring to the position of the Anbar Provincial council (only some of whom i would loosely describe as belonging to Iraqiyeh)? My sense is that the PC isn’t demanding the right to unilatteraly sign gas deals; rather they are trying to influence the terms of the deal being penned by MoO.

    If there are some Anbari Iraqiyeh MPs from Issawis bloc making this claim, it gets back to Kirk Sowell’s point about the fiction of Iraqiyeh as a unified party

    And speaking of excluding the Iraqi Army…A totally different scenario than Tal Aafar, but interesting nonethelessالجيش%20يبدأ%20بالانسحاب%20من%20مدن%20الأنبار%20والمجلس%20يعتبر%20الخطوة%20%22نصراً%20سياسياً%22.html

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