This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 30/05/2011
Everyone in Iraq curses the sectarian/political power-sharing quota system, slugs away at it day and night, and attributes corruption and deterioration in security and services and all other problems to it. Till now, not a single politician has come out in the open and supported sectarian quotas, even those who came through it and wouldn’t stand up to scratch without it. But all, even those who are so vociferous in its condemnation, and those moaning (officially) about it, are committed to it, pursuing it with vigour, and protesting on non-implementation of its fine details in all areas of the state, and demanding their full share of the cake, no matter how small this share might be. All this is done not in public, but away from the eyes of the electorate. Sectarian quota is like onion: it’s eaten and cursed at the same time! But how long can this game continue?
The sectarian-political quota system that is being applied in Iraq since the days of the Governing Council was manifested clearly during the process of the formation of the current government, which lasted 9 months. Although the Iraqia List won most seats, it was deprived of the right to form the government according to article 76-first of the constitution. The reason is that its political majority was not from the sectarian majority in the country. Most weapons – political, judicial, religious, sectarian and regional – were recruited in that shameful battle which was fought in the name of democracy. Most sensitivities, be they sectarian, regional or tribal, were provoked. All types of manoeuvres and pressures, be they legitimate or illegitimate, were used until an inflated, limping government was formed from all political blocs (except one). But this government, for reasons manifest to all, represents only one group, and this is the State of Law bloc led by Prime Minister Noori Al Maliki. Everyone outside this bloc complains of marginalization.
In the ‘battle’ for the Vice-Presidency, which lasted six months, sectarianism and ethnicity were used alternately. Political blocs fought hard for this ceremonial post. The Turcoman, the women, the Christians, the Sunnis and the Shia, all wanted it for themselves. The contest reached a point where five vice-presidents were proposed in order to satisfy all factions. Most of the objections were centred on naming the former cleric and education minister, Mr Khudair Al Khuzaei, for Vice President. Reasons for the objection were numerous. Many, including senior Shia clerics, rejected his approach in managing the education ministry. They say his management style deepened sectarianism in the country, while others thought he was too close to Iran or religiously and doctrinally very extreme for this post. Mr Khuzaei didn’t spare any effort in employing every available weapon to remove obstacles in his way. The first and easiest of these weapons was sectarianism. He declared that the Shia were the ‘majority’ in Iraq. The aim is of course to appeal to the feelings of simple people who have suffered marginalization in the past. He wanted to employ these innocent feelings in his personal battle for the Vice-Presidency. Otherwise, what will the Shia ‘majority’ benefit form from Mr Khuzaei becoming Vice-President, which is a ceremonial post that has no benefit to anyone except the incumbent? In fact the ‘majority’, together with all other ‘minorities’, will be harmed by such an appointment because it costs the state millions of dollars in expenses, and the ‘majority’, more than others, will have to foot most of the bill. Also, what did the ‘majority’ get when Mr Khuzaei was education minister for five years, apart from harm, sectarian tension and more violence and terrorism? As for Mr Adel Abdul Mahdi, he was respected by all when he said he didn’t want another term as Vice- President. But, he went back on his word and sought the post. He proved that his public ‘asceticism’ was for political consumption and that he, just like others, was pursuing political office for personal reasons. As for Mr Tariq Al Hashimi, who got over 200,000 votes in Baghdad, he wasted all these votes in taking a ceremonial post that won’t enable him to serve his constituents. This will cost him dearly in the future. The three Vice-Presidents have done much harm to themselves and their electorate when they insisted on taking the post, and I don’t see that they can rise out of this fall; it has damaged their political future, and will continue to haunt them for many years to come.
If the battle for Vice-President was settled and the ceremonial President has now three vice-presidents to ‘help’ him perform his presidential duties, the battle for the three security portfolios is still flaring. Sectarian quota is clearly manifested in this battle. If no-one has publicly supported the sectarian quota, Mr Noori Al Maliki achieved the honour of precedence a few days ago when he publicly announced, in a clear and frank way (which are both to his credit) that he is committed to sectarian quotas in particular. He said that the post of defence minister belongs to the Sunni ‘component’ of Iraqi society and is therefore not necessarily part of the Iraqia List’s share of ministerial portfolios. He said he could choose a Sunni candidate to fill the vacuum even if his political partners didn’t approve of him, as he regards the post as sectarian and not part of the political power-sharing. He proposes the current minister of culture, Saadoon Al Dilaimi, who became defence minister for a few months in 2005, to fill the defence vacancy. Although the Iraqia bloc did propose many (Sunnis) for the post, it seems that the Prime Minister doesn’t trust any candidate proposed by his partners. This means he has plans for the defence ministry and he fears that these plans may not go ahead if he appointed a minister not loyal to him.
Thus, politicians are holding on to sectarian quotas despite their admission that it’s harmful to the interests of the country and the fact that it establishes a society where discrimination prevails rather than democracy, and infighting rather than harmony. But they are indifferent to this damage, it seems, as long as it brings financial and moral benefit to some and serves the interests of others. All the talk that condemns sectarian quotas lacks credibility, and this is no longer ambiguous. Most Iraqis have lost trust in a political class which practices cheating publicly in order to stay in power. The bigger problem is that religious parties resort to the protection of religion and its leaders whenever they feel serious popular pressure, as happened last February when millions of Iraqis decided to protest over corruption and deterioration of services, but found themselves faced with calls from clerics to be patient. Therefore, clerics and religious leaders must bear this huge responsibility; people’s confidence in them is beginning to shake, especially when politicians are claiming they are close to them and following their guidance. If current religious cover for ruling parties continues, the religious establishment risks pushing its own followers to rebel against it. It must make its position clear and publicly announce that the religious establishment has no relation with the political authority. It must also prevent the use of its name or any allusion to it in political matters. Sectarian quota has harmed the Iraqi state and society spectacularly, and it has brought the inefficient and incapable to positions of leadership. It also allows corruption and despotism and justifies them on sectarian grounds, and protects them politically. The time has come for sectarian quota to end once and for all so that Iraqis can turn to building their country on a sound basis.