Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Iraq Political Party Primer

By Carol Gee

Recognition by Western readers of Iraq's political system is useful. Here is how I understand it at its most basic level, bolstered by other articles and references below this very simplified introduction.
First the Shiites -- Nuri al-Malaki is the Da'wa Prime Minister of Iraq. He governs in a coalition called the United Iraqi Alliance, made up of Da'wa and ISCI (with its Iranian-trained militia the Badr Corps), headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Opposing the United Iraqi Alliance is the Mahdi Army, a very large militia led by Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr.
Next the Kurds -- The President of Iraq is Kurdish Jalal Talibani. This powerful and respected leader holds the more ceremonial position than that of the Prime Minister. The Kurds have a relatively successful semi-autonomous form of government in their region.
Third, the Sunnis -- Under Saddam Hussein's now outlawed Baathist party, the Sunnis controlled Iraq until the U.S. invasion. Since their defeat, the Sunnis, always a numerical minority but only in Iraq, have not been able to integrate themselves effectively into governing Iraq. Last year the 11 member Sunni bloc returned to Parliament after a boycott. Currently the Awakening Movement in al-Anbar and other provinces meant that Sunni insurgents have joined with the U.S. forces in fighting al-Qaeda. Sunnis comprise by far the largest block within Islam in the larger Middle East.

Why al-Malaki attacked Basra: The three reasons the Iraqi prime minister launched his ill-fated assault on the Sadrists of southern Iraq." This story, an important article for, was written on April 1, 2008 by Juan Cole of Informed Comment. It is very good background reading to understanding the current political and military situation in Iraq, prior to the appearances next week of the Oracle of Iraq Truth, General David Petraeus.

Understanding the current political "system" in Iraq is essential to remain knowledgeable when reading news reports such as the following about what is going on in Iraq. Cole's most recent post (4/2/08), from which I quote, is rather alarming:
Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Tuesday honored the militias of the parties in the United Iraqi Alliance, i.e. the Da'wa (Islamic Call) Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. They were singled out for having fought alongside government security forces, and some 10,000 of them were inducted into the latter.

Al-Zaman points to a double standard, insofar as the government has not similarly honored, or accepted into the state apparatus, most members of the Sunni Awakening Council militias that have been fighting the Qutbist Jihadis.

The induction of Badr Corps fighters (the paramilitary of ISCI) and those of the Da'wa Party into security positions came in the wake of the firing of thousands of officers and troops who had refused to obey orders to fire on the Mahdi Army militiamen in Baghdad and the southern provinces. They were accused of mutiny.

If al-Zaman's reporting is correct, the scale of the mutiny is breathtaking, and helps explain why government troops did so poorly against the Sadrists-- the hearts of the thousands of them were simply not with the fight.

About the near recent past political situation in Iraq, Phebe Marr of USIP wrote in January of last year. To quote:

  • Third, and most important, many of the current leaders have spent the best part of their adult life engaged in opposition to the Saddam regime, often in underground or militant activities. Those who had any affiliation with, or simply worked under, the old regime have still found it very difficult to gain entry. The result has been a profound distrust between the new leadership and those with some association with the old regime. The continuation of the insurgency has helped this political struggle metamorphose into an ethnic and sectarian war.
  • A fourth parameter is emerging as significant: the development of political parties and groups, often accompanied by militias. While ethnic and sectarian divisions in Iraq have grabbed most of the headlines, it is these parties and their constituencies that are shaping the political agenda and are likely to be determinative in the future.
  • The most important of these parties now occupy seats, not only in the assembly but in the government. They include the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Da'wah, and the Sadrist movement in the dominant Shi'ah United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the Kurdistan Alliance, Tawafuq (Iraqi National Accord) among the Sunnis, and the weaker Iraqiyyah (Iraqi) ticket among the secularists. Each of these parties has different positions on issues and different constituencies to satisfy; in a number of cases these cross ethnic and sectarian divides.

Wikipedia has a list of Iraqi political parties but cautions that it needs to be updated. First, I have not included a very long list of secular parties, because of they have fewer members. I list the most significant ones of the three factions as a Wiki quote:

This has been a very eventful couple of weeks in the Iraq civil war. The ruling party's President took military action against their armed rivals in Baghdad and to the South. The PM and his Iraqi army did not prevail. Iran brokered a truce, and the Sadrists came out looking the strongest in the battles. The estimated loss of life for the week is 350, according to Juan Cole.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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