Is Iraqiyya a Sectarian or a National Party?

The following article was published on Saturday by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford and currently based at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

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” . This is a concept that has popped out 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!”

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