Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

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

  1. Salah said

    came to power in 2006, a key issue for Iraq’s prime minister
    This looks for most who knew Iraq and its politics not quite correct or far from that, simply because Maliki came to power using sectarian environment which was already rooted deeply within Iraqi politics process which very odd as so called a democratic process.
    How it comes now saying he came to power to overthrown this issue and move forward?
    The battle field of last election was a sectarian fights within all parties specially Malik part to gain to power without sectarian aide he will never get his position or put in “power in 2006”

    Here is a good article which represent Iraq politics and democratic process (if it has any grain of a democracy) written by Jabir Habib Jabir he is a member of Al-Etlaf Kutla, member of Iraqi parliament, some news reported recently he appointed as Maliki Advisor talking about corruptions and sectarians as they bonded together in Iraq politics today.

    العراق: الفساد بأقنقته المتعددة

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, to be honest I am not sure whether I understood your question, especially since you are quoting two half sentences from my piece! Anyway, the point I was making was that Maliki has shifted back and forth. He came to power within a sectarian framework in 2006, tried to play nationalist between 2008 and 2010, and reverted to sectarianism after the last parliamentary elections.

    As for Jabir Habib Jabir, note that he was elected as a State of Law candidate this time. It is interesting that he should highlight items such as the all-inclusive government formula as a reason for the absence of strong parliamentary oversight (everyone is inside the tent). And it is of course touching to read him quote Qasem’s poverty as an indicator of his personal integrity. Jabir is not the first Iraqi politician to do this.

  3. Santana said

    For what it’s worth-Jabir Habib Jabir has been appointedby Maliki to be the new Ambassador to Washington replacing the Sunni Samir Al-Sumaidaie. Jabir is an intellectual that writes in the Saudi paper Sharq Alawsat.

  4. Salah said

    Yes you gave the right answer however apologies if my cut-past short, as you answered said Maliki playing on both lines sectarian and nationalist, that what I tried long ago apposing your thought he move away from sectarian veins but as for Iraqis and for me obviously he is just one of Da’awa folk with Iranian heart &mind will never change.

    As for Jabir Habib Jabir I cannot talk about him as don’t know or follow him, but this give more support to what he stated but from different reporter:
    العراق يغرق في الفساد والرشوةالعراق&date=03102011

    To look to further to the Da’awa’s party odds behaving like lazed changing their colour as if they did not came with foreign power on regime change scenario, let us read:
    مستشار للمالكي: نرفض تغيير نظام الاسد بالقوة

  5. Reidar Visser said

    Santana, I met Jabir once in 2009 when he was together with Qusay al-Suhayl of the Sadrist movement. Exactly like Amb. Sumaidaie he seems to be the kind of person with the right ideas for Iraq; I just wonder whether it would have been better to have people like these in Baghdad instead of in DC!

    Here is a commentary Jabir provided on the federalism legislation vote in October 2006 in which he stresses the fractures in the sectarian coalitions as a positive aspect of the vote. In other words the opposite of what Maliki told the Fayli Kurds yesterday…

  6. Sadoon said

    Abraham Lincoln would give an abolitionist speech in one town, and follow it with a pro-slavery polemic the next town over. Local preferences determined the content of his rhetoric. Does this indicate a tension in his views? Perhaps. But perhaps it also suggests Lincoln, like politicians everywhere, said what was politically expedient, what would secure the most support among the target audience. “A politician is an arse, upon which everyone has sat except a man,” said e.e. cummings. Indeed, if a “man” in this context is a person that has conviction and communicates to express true beliefs to others, then cummings is spot on, politicians are not “men” but instead “creatures,” greedy, duplicitous creatures that say and do anything to secure power.

    Maliki is a politician- sometimes deft, others seemingly on training wheels- appealing to local prejudices for his own gain. One might benefit by viewing him this way, and not conflating his rhetoric with his political reality.

  7. Sadoon,
    What is Maliki’s political reality?
    I think he is scared and will do anything to keep himself in power, what else do you see?

  8. Salah said

    In the end of the day, Maliki, the Fayli Kurds all other sectarian/ ethnic difficulties will be well defined and treated if the Iraqi constitution discussed fairly and honestly to clean it form those hidden and troubles making clauses that originally drafted when rushed to have constitution.

    The surprising thing the man who supervised the drafting of Iraq constitution now talking the opposite here:

    “The big problem faced by Iraq is not Islam and democracy, but divisions in the body politic and the state,” said Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law School professor who advised the Coalition Provisional Authority on writing the constitution that a national referendum approved in 2005.
    Well he is the man helped that Iraq get to this point of “divisions in the body politic and the state” isn’t?
    Then he added,

    “there is a tendency to regard Iraq as sui generis — a shaky democracy imposed by American force that offers few lessons easy to apply elsewhere in the Middle East. Professor Feldman sees it differently?”

    He was a U.S. Man in Iraq to get the democratic process right, now he accusing U.S. Forces for the fault! .
    US military were brought for launching war not build politics and democracy, those state department folks who came with Bremer with his CPA, U.S. Military have nothing to do with what set for Iraq?

    Now, U.S. Military to blame for the shaky democracy in Iraq? Well done Noah… cannot throughout blames on others instead of yourself and your folks who worked with you setting a “divisions in the body politic and the state,” in Iraq.

  9. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, please, we have covered this so many times before. As Zaid and others have demonstrated, and despite what the NYT may claim, Feldman left Iraq in 2003 and played no particular role in designing the 2005 constitution. He did participate in a limited fashion in the process leading up to the adoption of the TAL in 2004, from where some elements of the current constitution survive.

    At any rate, the constitution is not exclusively responsible for Iraq’s ethno-sectarian troubles. Apart from the transitional arrangements from 2005 to 2010, there was nothing in the constitution that dictated the formation of an oversized, ineffective power-sharing government in 2010. In theory, Iraqiyya and State of Law could have formed a much smaller government constitutionally; it was the political will that was missing.

  10. observer said

    watch the man actions not his rhetoric.

  11. Santana said


    Regarding Jabir Habib Jabir becoming the new Iraqi Ambassador to DC does worry me a bit -now-in all fairness when reading what Jabir writes he does come across as a moderate with sound ideas but what worries me is that he is still a VERY Maliki guy and he will reinforce the current pervasive misconception in Washington about Maliki being an Iraqi Nationalist,a secularist with no ties to Iran- and as most of us on here know this is all untrue and it is this perception among NSC and State that has caused great grief for Iraqiya in particular and the secular, democracy loving Iraqis of all kinds in general thru the American policy of “Hands-Off ” and looking the other way.

    So at a time when I was starting to have some hope and noticing some signs of Maliki’s true colors coming out here in DC and the USG finally starting to suspect that “all is not well” with this guy- what happens ? Maliki decides to re-kindle and shore up his image in DC? He sends a balanced intellectual that has good credibility – to save the day….and at the end of the day- he reports to maliki ….so…. as they say..” A government that steals from Peter to pay Paul can always rely on the support of Paul”.

  12. bb said

    Remember back to the days 6 years ago when the unknown Nuri became Prime Minister because the parties couldn’t agree on Jafaari. Saw off the Baath/salafi insurgency, saw off al-Sadr, saw off the yanks and look at him now.

  13. Bb,
    One thing you missed out in your Maliki-admiring comment: Saw Off Democracy.

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