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Ali is an economist and political analyst, working at a private UK-based company. He worked previously at the World Health Organisation and has an MSc in Development Studies from SOAS. You can follow him on Twitter (@alialsaffar).

Iraq at the crossroads: Progress or Sclerosis?

Iraq has been progressing. The election took place without the Sunni boycott some analysts were predicting, violence was manageable, and despite some murmurings about fraud, international observers and Iraqi civil society organisations seem happy with the way in which the ballot was conducted.

The results of this election also represent an encouraging, tangible shift in Iraqi voting patterns. The provincial election saw the more outwardly sectarian parties trounced in favour of those advocating nationalism, and the pattern seems to have been repeated with the prime minister’s slate, State of Law, and that of Dr Ayad Allawi, Iraqiyya clearly the two front-runners.

However, just like most other gains we see in Iraq, the latest ones can easily be reversed. Neither list can gain the parliamentary majority they require without forming broader coalitions with other group, be they the Kurds, represented primarily in the Kurdistan Alliance and Listi Goran, or the largely conservative, Shi’a-dominated Iraqi National Alliance.

Two weeks ago, a prominent member of State of Law, Ali al-Allaq, made it clear that the largest party within the slate, Hizb al-Daawa, was looking to reactivate a quadripartite alliance with their partners in the last government, namely, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Beyond the obvious fact that this completely excludes any Sunni representation, this development has a number of serious and potentially grave ramifications.

An agreement between these four parties to form a government will have a disastrous impact on an already sceptical Iraqi public. Millions of people came out to vote for change, believing that their voices will be heard through the ballot. If the colouring of the next government retains the same as that of the previous one, despite the wishes of the voter (who clearly came out in favour of the nationalists above the ethno-sectarian slates) the sense of despair could well lead to those that have invested in the democratic process to withdraw.

The Iraqi people have shown time and again that they want democracy. Voter turnout, that has consistently been higher than those in many established democracies, is testament to this. They have suffered instability, hardship and occupation to achieve this democracy, and so far it has yielded very little, if anything, to improve their day to day lives. What it has provided though, is hope. Hope for change, hope for a better future, hope that those who have been downtrodden for so long will have a say in the way their country is run. Take away this hope, and we are left with a powder keg of frustration, cynicism and anger. This is what is at stake. The Iraqi people have made their wishes known, if these wishes are ignored, and it is mere mathematics (and the race to the requisite 163 seats) that brings slates together to form a coalition, instead of ideology, a shared vision and a real understanding, then we face the prospect of an incohesive, divided and ineffectual one that will again fail to provide the security and basic services the Iraqi people expect, deserve and are entitled to.

We are at a crossroads, we have a real opportunity to see a government in Iraq that truly represents Iraq’s people, this is because the two largest winners between them have enough legitimacy, enough of a mandate, and enough of a shared vision for a pluralistic Iraq to form the sort of government that can propel Iraq into peace and prosperity. If though, this chance is squandered, and there is a reversion to ethno-sectarian identity to form government, then not only will this chance be squandered, but we may not get another one like it again.

2 Comments on “Iraq at the crossroads: Progress or Sclerosis?”

  1. Ali March 30, 2010 at 11:47 pm #

    I struggle to see your point that Iraqis largely voted for a government they hoped would be of different colouring to this one. The two Shi’i-dominated lists that made up the former United Iraqi Alliance together achieved almost 50% of the vote in this election, and once again almost all Kurds voted for ethnocentric Kurdish nationalist parties. This does not point towards a significant desire for change. Even Iraqiya’s victory could be accredited to the presence of the same Sunni leaders like Tariq Al-Hashemi and Saleh Mutlak who the Sunni community voted for en masse in 2005.

    • Ali Rashid March 31, 2010 at 7:33 am #

      Hi Ali,
      Thanks your comment. I see your point, but I do believe there has been a shift in voter patterns away from the more sectarian slates. SoL have been campaigning under a more nationalistic message since last years provincial election; before that, Maliki’s Da’awa were a junior partner in the old UIA and most people doubted their ability to go it alone and split from the Shia slate. And I doubt the 12 seats Iraqiyya got south of Baghdad can be attributed to Hashemi and Mutlag.

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