Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The more the merrier...

Advancing a political track is indispensable for a stable future for Iraq for sure. Experts and observers differ in their suggestions for solutions; some think politics must be given the priority while others insist the solution is military, but in fact both tracks are essential and should go hand in hand without giving one track a priority over the other even though one or the other sometimes seem to pose the greater challenge.

This is the case in Iraq in particular and in the middle east in general due to historical considerations concerning the dominant ideologies and ways of thinking which, over centuries, produced factions that do not believe in dialog is a way to finding solutions, in other words, extremists and radicals.

And those I assert, you cannot reason with and are the kind of people with whom diplomacy and dialog is not valid method for negotiation. This is the case for one reason; the extremists believe that what they have and what they believe in is a heavenly divine path that cannot and must not be subject for compromise. This means dialog in their opinion would be only about making the other party submit to their ways whether willingly or at gunpoint.
This means for anyone to hold real dialog and rely on diplomacy as a way to find common ground the first and most essential step would be to identify a counterpart that is willing to hold real dialog, or else the effort would be a waste, just like trying to collect wind with a net, as we say here.

However, the good thing is that extremists are never a majority of the population even though there exist foci of extremism within governments which makes them more dangerous. Still in general, there is an emerging trend of rational thinking that is growing in the region after decades of relying solely on arms—some factions are absorbing the fact that using power alone, without dialog, had not taken us anywhere.

The Iraqi issue requires dedicated diplomatic efforts on the local and regional levels and here I'd like to talk more about the indigenous political effort in Iraq. Political division had often led to infighting that had almost consumed the entire country more than once. Given the impact of politics on life in Iraq, there must be a way to utilize politics in a way that moves the country forward instead of destroying it.

In Iraq, one of the biggest problems we had after we were freed from dictatorship was the division of the political scene along ethnic and sectarian lines which is a result of the negative legacy of the past which was full of oppression and abuse of rights of large components of the society. That's why gathering around the ethnic or sectarian identity became the defensive policy of choice, and the choice was made long before the fall of dictatorship.

Of course this wasn't what we aspired for but more like an evil we had to take. Thus the political scene after the first elections became dominated by three major blocs that represented the three major components of the people; Shia, Sunni and Kurds. The rise of these three formations was on the expense of the nationalist bloc which occupies only 10% of the parliament represented by the 'Iraqi Slate' that does not seek association with a particular sect or ethnic group.
Oddly, yet not unexpected, while so many voters were sympathetic to this political group, the violence and fear that accompanied the formation of the new state of Iraq pushed the voters to offer their votes to the other three blocs.

Now after two rounds of elections many of patriots endorse the thought that the political crisis we're going through and the deterioration this crisis led to will not be undone without the dissolution of the three major blocs.
This thought or call although a noble one in spirit that I wish to see it become true, is not practical at the moment because it takes a lot of time to reform the perception of the public. And this takes, along with time, a healthy environment free of pressure and intimidation that allows for an independent reevaluation of the situation by the public.

This does not mean stagnation will last long; it is possible within the limits of the current situation for a fourth bloc of comparable weight to emerge, to which again I think the 'Iraqi Slate' is going to provide the cornerstone.

But some might ask: what's good in having fourth bloc?

The point here is that so far any two blocs can align together and join forces against the third to sideline it, similar to what happened in 2005 when the structure of the government gave rise to the commonly used term of "Shia-Kurdish led government" and this continues to give the negative impression that a large component of the population is left away.
This happened because all of the three blocs are built around a sect or an ethnicity instead of a political platform.
If the underway efforts-which received a boost by Allawi's return to Baghdad-continue at the same pace then it won't be very difficult to form such a bloc that can create some sort of much needed balance in the political process.

The word about efforts to form a new bloc(s) is not a secret anymore and I think the time is good for trying because many people from all three components are not the least satisfied with the performance of the government.
As we hear now, the invitation is open to all political powers; whether parties or individuals, whether in or outside the parliament to unite under the umbrella of the new bloc.

The first reactions are quite interesting and we're hearing of independent lawmakers from the UIA considering the invitation. This coincides with news about independent lawmakers from the UIA and Accord Front forming two independent blocs.
I don't see these as 'breaking away' as much as an attempt to go back to a more "Iraqi" personality than the three mother-blocs.

I'm trying to picture Iraq's political scene a few years from now; with four blocs each having 20-30 % of the seats the game will be different and it will have a fresh new start with new rules. First, no two blocs would then be able to monopolize power and it would require the agreement of at least 3 out of 4 blocs for decisions concerning vital issues to be made, and second, I think the presence of a major bloc with no sectarian or ethnic stamp would put pressure on the other three blocs to revise their programs to include more reason and less emotions.

I know that with more players involved in the process naturally we'd expect a greater chance for political paralysis because the more people involved, the more difficult it is to have them find consensus but after a second thought it might be possible that with four blocs-with no huge differences in size-the chance for political paralysis will be in fact less than if there were only three of them because no single bloc will have the capacity to block the decision-making process and when any three blocs can have enough representation to pass legislations and make decisions, I think all of the blocs will show more flexibility toward making concessions in order to avoid being left away.

This is not our ultimate ambition for political reform in Iraq but it just might be the practical and realistic step for now.

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