Iraq: the Political Puzzle

Building a body politic

Over the past four years, the Iraqi government has come pretty far; an interim government drafted a constitution that was accepted by the people (well, except almost all of the Sunnis) in October 2005; the first national election was held in December 2005; and after much horse trading a government was set up in June 2006 (unlike in the US, in a parliamentary system coalitions and leaders are selected after representatives are voted into office by the people). Regional elections in 2009, which were joined by Sunnis, was yet another promising sign that the democratic process just might be working (LAT, WP)

All three ethnic groups have representation among the leadership – Prime Minister Maliki is Shia, President Talibani is Kurdish and al-Hashemi, a Sunni, is one of two VPs – but there are considerable stumbling blocks and disagreements that make all three groups unhappy and on edge.

A lot of make-or-break issues that were discussed during the drafting of the constitution got glossed over – or bunted – to deal with at a later day. To win over the Sunnis, who missed out on writing Constitution #1 (they boycotted the elections before), the Iraqi government has set up a constitution review commission to consider a re-write.

The political hot-potatoes

Federalism. The constitution set up a fairly independent Kurdistan region and gave an opening for other independent regions (Shia-stan?) to be created in the future. Kurds and Shiites generally like the idea of a federation of somewhat independent states – largely because they both have a lot of oil where they live. Sunnis are relatively oil-free; that, matched with the fact that they’re used to ruling over the Kurd and Shiite areas, make them pretty unhappy about semi or fully independent Kurd and Shia states.

Oil. Part and parcel with the federalism issue is the question of oil. Right now the constitution says that all current oil money has to be fairly shared among all regions, but it leaves open the question of oil from newly tapped reserves. Again, the Kurds and Shia like the idea of oil belonging to the area that taps into it; the Sunni don’t. As of January 2008, The Iraqi parliament is still working on the specifics of oil revenue sharing (NYT).

Kirkuk, a small region of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, is also a potential political hot-rod. It was slated to have a referendum by the end of 2007 (which was put off) to decide if it becomes part of the greater Kurdistan region. Whichever way the vote goes, it could spark serious violence.

De-Baathification & the militias. After the US occupation, Saddam’s supporters – the Baathists, who are Sunni – were removed from all positions of power. Sunnis wanted like to see Baathists (those without a lot of blood on their hands) let back into leadership roles. Today, many in the government are extensions of outside Shiite militias. Sunnis, who are at the brunt of illegal militia actions (such as death squad executions), would like to see the militias cleared out. The Iraqi parliament voted in January 2008 to let a lot of low level Baathists back into government jobs, but some are concerned that other restrictions in the law may actually backfire and end up keeping more Baathists out (NYT).

next > the story of violence

Updated February 6, 2009

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