By Yasar Yakis
May 21, 2018
There’s a joke that says that the US always
does the right thing, but only after trying all other options. What happened in
Iraq is perhaps a concrete example of this. The results of the May 12
parliamentary elections surprised only the observers who knew this country
The elections were held to vote in 329
members of the Council of Representatives, which will in its turn elect the
president of the republic and the prime minister of Iraq. US' involvement in
Iraq’s democratization process produced an unintended by-product that may set a
good example for the region’s countries: A relatively de-sectarianized
In 2006, the US lent its support to a
little-known politician, Nouri Al-Maliki, the leader of the Shiite Islamic Dawa
Party, because it did not threaten anyone. Once he became prime minister,
however, Al-Maliki devoted, with strong Iranian support, most of his efforts to
a sectarian agenda. At one stage, both the US and Iran were supporting the
Al-Maliki government without direct coordination between them. This contributed
to levelling the ground for the emergence of Daesh and its lightning victories
in Iraq. Sunni forces initially showed a reluctance to oppose Daesh, partly
because of their reaction to Al-Maliki’s policies. Al-Maliki’s government
divided Iraqi society to such an extent that, eventually, Iran withdrew its
support and he was removed from his post.
The practices of Iraq’s previous ruler
ushered in Al-Maliki’s anti-Sunni philosophy, and his policies in turn ushered
in the reaction of the Sunni community. Al-Maliki’s successor, Haider Abadi,
made laudable efforts in de-sectarianising Iraq’s domestic policy.
Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr’s coalition
emerged from this month’s elections with a surprising victory by gaining 54
seats in the Council of Representatives, 20 more than the previous election —
this corresponds to a 59 percent increase. The most interesting part of his
success is not only the number of seats, but also the composition of his
alliance. In addition to his own party, the Sadrist Movement, the bloc also
includes the Iraqi Communist Party, the Youth Movement for Change Party, the
Iraqi Republican Group, the Party of Progress and Reform, and the State of
Justice Party. The names of the parties that constitute the alliance give an
idea about its non-sectarian character.
Another important feature of the bloc is
that, despite the fact that the leading party, the Sadrist Movement, is
undoubtedly a Shiite organization, Al-Sadr is a strong Arab (or Iraqi) nationalist.
In other words, the result cannot be interpreted as a victory for Iran.
And, in addition to his political
leadership, Al-Sadr is also the leader of a Shiite militia called Saraya
Al-Salam. This militia was initially established under the name of the Mahdi
Army to oppose the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Therefore, his success
must have disappointed the US as well as Iran.
The number of seats won by Al-Sadr’s bloc
is relatively unimportant compared to the total number of seats in the Council
of Representatives, but he is a very important political figure. Therefore his
rise as a political actor will have consequences in Iraqi domestic policy.
In view of this background, one may
conclude that the biggest losers of the election are the US and Iran. Firstly
because Al-Sadr has always kept his distance from Iran, and secondly because he
started his political career as a strong opponent of the US.
Another important result of this process
was that not only Al-Sadr, but also the leaders of other Iraqi political
movements, conducted their campaigns on a non-sectarian basis and tried to
reach the electorate beyond their sectarian and ethnic clients. This may lead
to an issue-based political affiliation during the post-election period. This
will be perhaps the most important outcome of the elections. It may set a good
example for other countries in the region to adopt policies not guided only by
confessional and sectarian motives, which is badly needed both at domestic
level and in inter-state relations in the Middle East.
It is still too early to draw conclusions
from the elections results. Al-Sadr is a strong political and militia leader,
but one swallow does not make a summer. It is not yet certain that he will be
the only game-changer in Iraqi domestic policy. Even if he becomes a more
important political actor in Iraq, it is not realistic to expect that this
tendency for a de-sectarianized policy will be adopted by others in the region.
Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of
the ruling AK Party.