Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sectarian Foundation

We have heard any number of high level moderate Iraqi officials express open disdain for sectarianism in Iraqi politics. This, of course, was the standard position of Ahmed Chalabi and Iyad Allawi and it has been the aim of the Bush administration to keep sectarian wrangling to a minimum, both in government and on the ground. Sectrarianism in Iraq is now generally believed to be the source of most, if not all, of the extant mayhem and violence we see today. The major sects have well established militias -- the Kurdish Peshmerga number some 70,000 -- and are unwilling to disengage them from being the reality on the ground.

But one has to wonder if there is much hope that sectarianism in Iraq will ever dissapate when the political leaders themselves engage in sectarian horse trading for governmental posts [via Juan Cole]:
MP Ali al-Adib of the United Iraqi Alliance (religious Shiite parties) said Monday that his bloc "supports the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front in its nomination of one of its members for the portfolio of minister of defense, rather than having a Kurd. The reason is that Iraq is a member of the Arab League, and as long as the presidency went to the Kurds, it is necessary to achieve balance through having an Arab figure in Defense, so that Iraq will reach out to the Arab World."
A liberal democratic reference frame is a poor grid by which to measure this give-and-take. This kind of negotiation is nothing but the strictest confirmation that Iraq has and will have a government that is built upon sectarianism.

But the Bush administration has moved from the position that a non-sectarian government was a must to the realisation that a sectarian government in Iraq is now a must, because without a "balance" between the Shia, the Kurds and the Sunnis, the entire country would fall into an even more bloody situation that it is in now. If any sect perceives a slight, as the Sunnis were wont to do shortly after the election and not without reason, the entire enterprise would likely collapse. This was recognised by the White House and is the reason that Khalilzad and Rice were trying to "balance" out the cabinet selections. Khalilzad was excoriated for his actions by Iraqis who claimed that the US was "meddling." (I remember being amused by this at the time: the critics appeared unaware of the fact that US meddling is what had led them to be in the position of being able to criticize US meddling. A vicious circle, really.)

Nonetheless, meddle the US did, and government selections appear to be moving along in the most overt sectarian manner possible. And this is probably the only thing that will keep the Iraq project together. Because without "balanced" sectarianism in the Iraqi government, the situation will only worsen. Of course, this assumes Iraqis actually trust this government to begin with. Given the security situation now, it is entirely unclear that they do. The irony of this is that, at the same time sectarian violence is tearing the country apart, sectarianism will be the only path to a viable government that has any hope of putting a stop to that violence.

To say the least, this will be a delicate balance.


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