Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Who is the Ban Targeting?

Feeling the need to provide an explanation, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki asserted that the decision to ban 500 candidates from general elections is not targeting Sunni Arabs. He said that Sunni Arabs are more than necessary as partners in the political process and that their participation in the March elections is even more important than it was in 2005.

Maliki told al-Iraqia TV on Tuesday night that although the list of banned candidates includes many Sunni names, it also includes Shiites, perhaps in greater numbers, according to Maliki. He also pointed out that 70% of the Ba’ath Party members were Shiite.

Maliki might be right in saying that more Shiites were banned than Sunnis. However, it is obvious now that, unlike with Sunni candidates, none of the banned Shiite candidates is a prominent political figure. In fact, the media so far has not mentioned the names of any of those disqualified Shiite candidates. I suspect that even of the names are made public no one would recognize them nor would I expect their disqualification affect their blocs in any significant manner.

The other important and suspicious point about the ban is that the banned politicians have been part of the political process for several years. This and the timing raise suspicion about the intentions of the Maliki government and the “justice and accountability commission.” While major existing partners in the political process are banned over alleged ties to the Ba’ath Party, the government is at the same time making deals with hostage killers like the group known as Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and is trying to persuade them to join the political process.

In light of these facts and suspicions, the ban is perceived by some in Iraq as a systematic targeting of the Sunni political class. Others think the target is nationalist non-sectarian blocs. I agree more with the latter in that the targets are actually blocs that identify themselves as nationalist/anti-sectarian. We can see for example that Salih Al-Mutlaq and Saad Aasim AL-Janabi (two prominent Sunni banned politicians) are members of the coalitions led by Iyad Allawi and Jawad Al-Bolani respectively. Considering that both Allawi and Bolani are secular nationalist Shiites, it would be wrong to consider the ban as to be targeting Sunni Arabs.

These two coalitions I mentioned (Allawi’s and Bolani’s) represent the most viable and credible attempts at creating political blocs that transcend sectarian affiliations. That’s why I think these heterogeneous coalitions were seen as a serious threat to coalitions that are more homogenous in their ethnic and sectarian composition like Maliki’s, ISCI-Sadr, PUK-KDP. The ban is therefore a manifestation of the struggle between the proponents of a consensus-based political process (like the one in Lebanon) and those of an actual democracy.