Sulaymaniyah: A man is looking for his name in front of a polling station on a voter register for the parliamentary elections. Picture by: Tobias Schreiner/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved. In the face of historical electoral results and popular uprisings against poor governance and corruption – Iraq’s ethno-sectarian quota remains assertively in power. The official quota or ‘al-mohasesa al-ta’ifiyah’ as it is known in Arabic, is the most fundamental problem with today’s Iraq. This is due to political parties’ ability in mobilizing communities through ethnical and sectarian motives, when the battle is nothing but political. Its function distributes the top governmental positions as follows: A Shi’ite Arab Prime Minister, a Kurdish President and a Sunni Arab Speaker of Parliament, as a proportional representation to the country’s largest three communities.
This quota was first introduced by the US occupation during its early stages in 2003 when the occupational ambassador Paul Bremer appointed pro-invasion Iraqi exiles based on identity backgrounds in the provisional government known as the Iraqi Governing Council and continued throughout the country’s interim and transitional governments. This communally divided quota unfortunately, became a political tradition that shapes the power sharing between the identity–based political parties until our current state. Voters for most of the post–2003 Iraq period also reflected significant identity–based preferences. Alarmingly, this is arguably due to the lack of non-sectarian options that enjoy similar influences, platforms, and powers as the sectarian ones. Such ethno-sectarian share of power motivated regional players with power determinations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia to exploit Iraq as a proxy battlefield throughout the years. Consequently, it debilitated intra–societal relations as witnessed during the rise of Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2004, the sectarian conflict in 2006-2008, the war with Daesh or ISIL between 2014-2017, and the rise of Shi’ite paramilitary groups funded and armed by Iran throughout the years, and in particular during the rule of former PM – Nouri Al-Malki.
Nonetheless, the surprising election results and the protests which swept the country’s capital and southern provinces presented the most threatening year to the corrupted regime, and in turn presented hope to many Iraqis affected by it. In spite of the low 44.5% turnout in the election results last May, the country witnessed for the first time since 2005 the fall and demise of the ruling Islamic Da’wa party and the unfamiliar alliance between the secular Iraqi Communist Party and the Shi’ite and formerly paramilitary Sadrist organisation known as the Sairoon alliance. The latter raised two signals: a secularist political rise and a growing Shi’ite anti-Iran inclination as commonly advocated by the Sadrist leader, Muqtada Al-Sadr, whom is one of, if not the most powerful figure in post-2003 Iraq. Iran’s proxy games in Iraq and support to paramilitary groups with public allegiance to their Supreme Leader – Ayatollah Khameni has played a major role in destabilizing the country’s security. Later in the year, protests swept the country’s capital and mainly Southern province of Basra. Apart from the anti-Iran factor that was witnessed as protesters burned the Iranian consulate in Basra, the uprisings were mainly motivated by the poor electricity services which most of the population depend on during the humid and hot summer. It was also a reminder of the poor governance by the corrupted political class, which alongside electricity, also failed to provide clean water, secured borders, efficient education, infrastructural development, employment opportunities for the youth and other public services.
A widespread youth-led activism also reflected a positive image of hope and determination in contrast to the pessimistic one commonly portrayed by the international media – ignoring Iraqis’ resilience, resistance, creativity and love of life in the face of hardships. In addition, the prominence of the protests encouraged both current and potential rulers to react with a sympathizing approach, as the anger on the streets was impossible to silence nor ignore. Whilst PM Haider al-Abadi sacked his Minister of Electricity and visited Basra as a way of calming violence, Sairoon surprised the post-elections governmental formation negotiations by calling for Al-Abadi’s resignation, after almost announcing the formation of a governmental coalition with him. Sistani’s call for the appointment of a PM based on merit instead of ethno-sectarian background was a turning point in Iraqi politics as the mere fact that Sistani, as the country’s most senior cleric, intervened in such a political affair with such a statement is a key milestone.
The political discourse was filled with promises of forming a technocratic cabinet that would appoint independent ministers and officials whom are professionally suitable for their roles and not party-politically driven. Nevertheless, Iraq still witnesses another government being formed according to the ethno-sectarian quota. Sunni Arab lawmaker, Mohamed Al-Halbousi was elected as the Speaker of Parliament or the Council of Representatives on September 15th, 2018, with his party, literally using the word ‘Sunni’ when describing their share in the government. Separatist Kurdish politician Barham Salih was ’elected’ as President of Iraq on October 2nd, 2018, while advocating and supporting Kurdish independence in last year’s referendum. Rumours on the heavy regional and domestic political Shi’ite negotiations are confirming the potential appointment the ethno-sectarian quota’s veteran, Adel Abdelmahdi as Prime Minister, as a result of a national and regional Shi’ite agreement. Abdelmahdi, if elected will face the challenge of forming a Cabinet which must appeal to the different political parties, all of which are ethno-sectarian driven.
Finally, following heavy regional and domestic political Shi’ite negotiations, Salih agreed to appoint the ethno-sectarian quota’s veteran, Adel Abdelmahdi as Prime Minister. Abdelmahdi would face the challenge of forming a Cabinet which must appeal to the different political parties, all of which are ethno-sectarian driven. Nevertheless, his appointment, as previously mentioned, highlights the certainty of Da’wa’s end in grabbing the premiership – as he presents himself as an independent politician after leaving the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.
Thereupon, not only are we witnessing the return of corrupted, unqualified, disloyal politicians, and a governmental formation by parties that did not even perform well enough in the election results, but also a repeated scenario of the ethno-sectarian quota. The continued use of this externally imposed, self-demising quota can be tied to the fact that Iraq’s most influential external actors such as Iran and the US are politically and economically benefiting from their allies in Baghdad. So long as this remains the case, a political class that serves foreign interests will remain in power and will continue to determine Iraq’s political and economic destiny.