Monday, October 24, 2005

Vector Watch

In an earlier post I discussed the possibility, and desirability, of the emergence of political movements and parties that can appeal to Iraqis across ethnic/sectarian divisions. This, I argued, would help to dissipate power that might otherwise concentrate in ethnic/sectarian groups in ways that can choke off the liberal tendencies of democracies, regardless of what are serious underlying political divisions. The success of such a trend relies, in part, on the expectation that the UIA ticket of Shiite parties will not be able to hold together for the December elections, or that their influence will be somewhat lessened - perhaps stemming from a cool reception by Sistani, or a backlash from secular leaning Iraqis or those fed up with the UIA performance in power. In furtherance of this discussion, Juan Cole offers some relevant observations from a translation of a story, in Arabic, from the newspaper Al-Hayat:

Al-Hayat [Arabic] is reporting that Iraqi political parties are scrambling to put together joint lists again. It says that the fundamentalist Shiite Dawa Party has decided to run again with the fundamentalist Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The Fadilah (Virtue) Party may join that list, as well. But SCIRI is trying to attract some secular and Sunni candidates so as to combat the impression that its United Iraqi Alliance is a Shiite cat's paw of Iran. Al-Hayat says that the Kurdistan Alliance is exploring a coalition with religious Sunni parties. Several groups are negotiating to join the secular list of Iyad Allawi. For a while it seemed that the Iraqi Islamic Party (mildly fundamentalist Sunnis) might join Allawi, but it has decided to run alone. One subtext of the article is that both the Kurds and Allawi are trying to find ways to attract votes from the vast number of voters who used to support the secular Arab nationalist Baath Party.
From this there are encouraging signs, and others that are somewhat disappointing. First, the not so good news: if this article is correct, SCIRI and Da'wa will remain together which makes them, once again, a formidable electoral bloc. If this coalition receives Sistani's support, even tacit, it's quite possible that most Shiites will feel compelled to, or be persuaded to, disregard other political leanings in favor of confessional identification. This would negatively impact voter fluidity.

On the positive side, the flurry of activity and attempts at cross-ethnic/sectarian coalition building could be indicative of new Iraqi-styled vectors. Particularly encouraging is the effort by many groups to make inroads with former Baath Party voters and other Sunni groups. Bringing Sunnis into the political process is about as close to an unmitigated positive as you can find in Iraq at the moment. Also of note, early indications are that Allawi's more secular leaning slate (or Chalabi's?) has a significant level of popularity - at least at this stage. An invigorated secular movement could do much to counter what could otherwise be theocratic tendencies of the powerful Islamist/fundamentalist parties. Keep an eye on these movements, maneuvers and machinations.

(cross-posted at Belgravia Dispatch)

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