WEEK 57 and a half: The second of two op-eds I submitted to the NY Post that weren’t published. Prime Maliki’s List would lose to Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya in the 2009-10 election, but, with Iranian influence, would retain control of the government. Iranian involvement assured the Sunni would remain marginalized paving the way for ISIS to build influence and cause havoc for several years.
Shia Ship Listing
Despite having a near majority in the Council of Representatives, the Shia led Iraqi government has been unable to pass the vital legislation like oil revenue sharing and De-Baathification which may lead to a lasting peace. Even as the Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces make progress towards achieving security in Iraq with the help of the Awakening Councils and Concerned Citizens, the Shia political parties are experiencing internal disarray.
The Iraqi populace, to include many of the majority Shia, is dissatisfied with the government’s performance. As my Iraqi-Shia friend, Salaam, advised me, he is almost willing to vote for the Sunni Adnan Dulaymi because he is so frustrated with the current government.
The source of this discontent for many Iraqis is the feeling of being deceived in the 2005 National Election by voting for Lists instead of individuals. Under the current electoral construct, individual citizens vote for a List of political party names. Once voting is complete, however, the winning parties could substitute names not listed on the ballot to serve in the Council of Representatives.
The List especially left a bitter taste with many Shia as they feel betrayed by outsiders, Iraqis who lived in exile for many years and now have more foreign ties than Iraqi roots, assuming positions in the government. In previous Iraqi elections, Grand Ayatollah Sistani carried great sway when he recommended the Shia vote for the United Iraqi Alliance List.
This List contained the Prime Minister’s Dawa Party as well as two other major religious based parties, the Sadr Trend and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), who happen to have the largest militias. One of the militias is likely responsible for the assassination of two Sistani officials this Autumn. This is the militia way of saying thanks for the support.
Currently, these militias seek to control the religious shrines in Najaf and Karbala.
An Iraqi Army officer, whom I met a few weeks before I departed Iraq, openly discussed the situation of his home town Karbala. Karbala and Najaf should be the jewel cities of Iraq welcoming pilgrims and tourists. Instead, they are run down and controlled by militias of Jaysh al Mahdi and Badr Corps. To the Iraqi officer, the future of Karbala looked bleak.
The parent political parties of these militias, despite any public claims by their leadership, are feuding. The Sadrists are nationalists intent upon keeping Iraq united while SIIC supports federalism with stronger regional governments. In parts of Iraq, the Security Forces who support SIIC arrest or kill Jaysh al Mahdi personnel to enforce the law. This has the Dawa Party and Sadr Trend at an impasse as the Sadrists feel betrayed by the Prime Minster over the perceived targeting of Jaysh al Mahdi by the Iraqi Security Forces.
Amongst the chaotic political feuding and militia fighting sit the Shia tribal leaders. While the Sunni are becoming more organized at the grass roots level due to the Awakening Councils, the Shia tribal leaders face a different situation. They have difficulty organizing when not confronted by Al Qaeda. The Shia tribal leaders who want to keep Iraq secular or at least in the hands of Iraqis are faced with the daunting challenge of confronting the militias and the senior most Shia religious leaders.
The religious militias may not be as vile as Al Qaeda because they do not kill Iraqis as indiscriminately as Al Qaeda. Still, they promote a brand of religious extremism that stifles opportunity for women and other groups. Remember my previous inference to the “Holy Men”?
The move to change the election laws to stipulate voting for individuals instead of a party list is as hot an issue for the Iraqis as any other legislation. While a Shia tribal leader may coalesce to the militias as a matter of survival and perhaps even fortune, this appeasement may not translate into the Shia tribal leaders endorsing these religious parties come election time. Should Grand Ayatollah Sistani and other authoritative Shia religious leaders abstain from endorsing a Shia List or actively endorse individuals, the next Iraq election may produce a significantly different Shia political landscape.