Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for October 2nd, 2011

Maliki, the Fayli Kurds, and the Return to an Ethno-Sectarian Political Discourse in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 2 October 2011 19:34

Ever since he came to power in 2006, a key issue for Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki has been the tension between, on the one hand, a majoritarian, all-Iraqi politicial discourse, and, on the other, a discourse that instead emphasises the identity of separate ethnicities and sects.

In a speech to a gathering of Fayli Kurds yesterday, Maliki certainly emphasised ethno-sectarian identity. Firstly, Maliki stressed that the Faylis had suffered more than any other Iraqi community because they are “both Kurds and Shiites”. But not only that. Maliki advised the Faylis to seek “unity” within the component (mukawwin), meaning he demanded political conformity across the imagined “Fayli Kurd community”. He went on to suggest that the census to be carried out in Iraq in the future would make clear how many Fayli Kurds there are in Iraq! This would effectively transform the census to a questionnaire about more than mother tongue (Arabic, Kurdish or Turkish) and main religion (Muslim versus Christian): It is mainly their Shiite sectarian identity that sets the Faylis apart from other Kurds.

Seen in isolation, one could wonder whether Maliki perhaps was simply following a strategy of reinforcing sub-divisions among the Kurds, as seen before in Iraqi history and perhaps most prominently in the case of the Shabak around Mosul. But Maliki’s tendency to focus more on the components than the whole has been a consistent trend since the disappointing result for his State of Law coalition in the 7 March 2010 parliamentary elections. Back then, Maliki expressed disappointment that his hope of building a political-majority government had been crushed, and that the alternative of an ethno-sectarian power-sharing formula would likely lead to ineffective government. However, Maliki soon seemed to adapt to the new realities. Already in August 2010, people in his alliance (and the US ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill) expressed the view that the prime minister “had to be a Shiite”. This year, Maliki and his State of Law allies have increasingly expressed the view that certain posts should be given to sects, as seen especially in the call for the defence ministry to go to a Sunni. These are all important steps towards the permanent Lebanonisation of Iraq.

There are of course examples of brave resistance and cases where Iraqi national sentiment clearly does survive. When Turkmens in Kirkuk recently demanded an ethnic Turkmen militia to protect them, Sunni Arabs from the same area instead called for central government intervention, notwithstanding the fact that the Iraqi army is now Shiite-dominated. Similarly, those Sunni Arabs were among the first to reject the idea of a Sunni federal region when it hit the political agenda this summer.

Away from political elites, many ordinary Faylis continue to express unhappiness about being labelled as anything other than Iraqis. However, it seems Prime Minister Maliki is now giving them pretty little choice.

Posted in Sectarian master narrative, UIA dynamics | 13 Comments »