Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for December 17th, 2012

Pan-Shiite Alliances in Diyala and Salahaddin: Sectarianism on the Rise in Iraq before the April 2013 Elections?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 17 December 2012 11:09

After having approved the political parties allowed to run in the April 2013 local elections, the Iraqi elections commission IHEC keeps updating its list of coalitions as the various parties join to form greater alliances.

The current list is very preliminary, especially since the leading Shiite Islamist parties have not shown their hands as regards what they will do south of Baghdad (where they use to fight against each other given the Shiite majority population). However, their alliances for two governorates with Shiite minority populations – Diyala and Salahaddin – have now been declared. In both provinces, they will run on a joint Shiite sectarian ticket including everything from ISCI and Badr via Daawa to Sadr.

For anyone who is worried about sectarian tendencies in Iraqi politics, this development should give reason for concern. Suffice to say that back in the provincial elections in 2009, when the climate in Iraqi politics was considered at its most non-sectarian in the post-2003 era, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ran separately in both places. Not only that, he played a role in challenging the other Shiites (chiefly ISCI) when the battle for the governor position in those provinces got going during the months following the election.

To those who are interested in an Iraqi politics defined in non-sectarian terms, the ups and downs of the relationship between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdsih federal government in Erbil is not as worrisome as many analysts claim. As long as both parties stay within bounds, there is hope for a settlement, and the dispute itself often forces Iraqis in the central-government areas to rethink the relationship between their sectarian and national identities. On the other hand, what is happening in Diyala and Salahaddin regarding these new coalitions seems like miniature replays of 2005, when Iran played a key role in bringing together a unified Shiite coalition at the national level. Still, the most interesting part will be to see what coalitions the Shiite parties will form south of Baghdad over the coming weeks.

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