There still are more than five months until the parliamentary elections in Iraq, which are scheduled for the end of January 2010. Despite the fact that there still is a long time to that date, anyone who follows up the moves of the parties and leaders will realize how sensational and controversial these elections are going to be, and perhaps decisive in the formulation of the new state. The election campaign was opened practically by the establishment of the new alliances, and by the flying of test balloons to understand the nature of the popular tendencies. Perhaps the most important issue in the election maneuvers is the promise of divorce from sectarianism.
Sectarian quotas have been the new order since the establishment of the Governing Council representing all the principal religions and sects in the country; then came the elections to reflect the state of sectarian tension, which became political headlines in the elections. Sectarianism has given birth to the first government so far, which is led by the leader of the religious Al-Dawa Party, Nuri al-Maliki.
Al-Maliki’s party has triggered a major sound bomb when it expressed its preparedness to leave the Shiite coalition, which brought it to power, and when it said that it was prepared to open the door for a coalition with the other sides, be they secular or religious parties.
We do not want to preempt the results, and say that the Iraqi voter has completely recovered from the sectarian belonging, which has colored all the principal theses in the past six years. However, indeed there are indications in this direction. The latest governorate elections surprised the politicians when both Sunni and Shiite religious symbols and parties lost in their principal strongholds. Also the latest Kurdish elections shocked the observers with their results.
It is not strange that we are less enthusiastic about dragging religion or ethnicity in the political process. This is because the religious difference is not the subject of the supposed political argument, and because the disputes among the religions, and the religious sects and groups are more destructive, as the battles of the past dark years have shown us.
Despite my doubts about the ability of the religious parties to shed their old skin and turn into real political parties, there is no option other than to wait and see how they will present themselves, and how the Iraqis will see them! If the prime minister’s party, Al-Dawa Party, leaves the Shiite coalition, and enters an alliance with the Sunni Islamic Party, this will appear as a consolidation of the Iraqi unity, but it is not sufficient. It is true that the consolidation of the religious unity is fundamental for the repairing of the relations among the citizens who have been divided by the “death squads,” “Al-Qaeda,” and “uprooting.” However, the hegemony of the religious parties will continue to be a permanent problem, because resorting to the sectarian disputes is an easy means to tempt and frighten to be used by the candidates who fail to satisfy the needs of the citizens.
It is too early to believe all that is said about the alliances, and about the changes in the geographical stances and directions. If there is something worthy of consolidation in the minds of the Iraqi candidates, it is thinking of their future as leaders and parties in the post-elections stage by getting rid of the burden of sectarian and ethnic theses in an explicit way, and by turning to partisan action that serves all the Iraqis, and not merely the Shiite serves the Shiite, the Sunni serves the Sunni, and the Kurd serves the Kurd.
The upcoming Iraqi elections will be a watershed. This is what has motivated the competing sides to open the doors of their campaigns very early, because they know that these elections will decide their fate; some of the defeated sides will face the danger of extinction for the next four years.