Iraq: NCCI's Weekly Highlight - 08 Oct 2009

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Maliki and the "State of Law": The end of sectarianism in politics?

The Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the coalition that he will lead for the crucial January elections on Thursday 8th of October. He finally decided not to join the Iraqi National Alliance, composed of his former allies, Hakim and other Shia parties.

Some commentators would say that Maliki refused the alliance with Hakim and Sadr because no agreement was reached on the issue of power sharing (he wanted the majority of the seats in the Parliament and to hold on to his post). Others claim that he gained a lot of confidence after his strong showing in the last election where Shia parties (especially Hakim's ISCI) were defeated in the South, thought to be their unshakeable base. This would explain his apparent self-assurance in playing the role of nationalist strongman. The latter group, perhaps the more optimistic of the two, would probably defend the idea that Iraq is progressing and that Maliki's list represents considerable progress from a sectarian to an issue-based kind of politics.

It is undeniable that Iraq is moving forward and trying to bury its sectarian past, and it is clear that Maliki's list, even if it's not as broad a coaltion as some had hoped for, is definitively less sectarian than the Iraqi National Alliance. His coalition, "The State of Law Alliance" (the same name which worked so well for him in the last election) includes 40 different parties and political movements and members from nearly all the different communities of Iraq; " We hereby announce the State of Law coalition, which will participate in the general election to be held on January 16th ", stated Al-Maliki during a ceremony in the green zone.

Among the list's members are several ministers including Hussein Chahristani (Oil), Abdelsamad Rahmane Sultan (MoDM) and Qahtan Abbas Naaman (Tourism). Maliki has managed to gather important Sunni tribal leaders, such as one of the leaders of Anbar's Doulaim tribe, Ali Hathem al Sulaiman, and Ahmed Abou Richa, leader of the Sahwa movement in Anbar, in the coalition. Several other prominent personalities, known for their liberal views and political independence, will join him.

The main question now is whether Maliki is capable of convincing the population, and other secularist/nationalist parties, and obtaining a majority in parliament. If he does not secure the majority, he'll be obliged to share power with one of the stronger blocks. This could be with a secular alliance, or a strong Shia alliance such as the Iraqi National Alliance. This would mean creating a national unity government with people, especially ISCI, who are still talking about de-centralization and federalism (cf. an interview with Iraqi Television where Hakim still envisages the creation of a south region) in contrast to Maliki who has a vision of a strongly centralised state.

Whatever the outcome of the January election, Maliki's coalition should be considered a bold contribution towards extricating Iraq from the politics of sectarianism.