Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

An Update on the Iraqi Electoral Law and a Lesson in Undiplomatic Negotiating

Iraqi politics have officially reached a level of dangerous turmoil. As I noted in an earlier post, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi vetoed the long-awaited election law. The passing of the election law is necessary to hold national elections on January 18th.

The law was then sent back to the Iraqi parliament for revision. One would think that the Shia and Kurdish parties - in the interest of getting this law passed so elections can be held - would at least try to strike a compromise with the Sunnis regarding the percentage of seats allocated to Iraqi refugees abroad (about 2 million out of a population of 25 million, most of whom are Sunnis). However, the dominant Shia parties along with the Kurdish Alliance actually amended the law in a way that actually made the Sunni parties feel even more disenfranchised. I won't go into detail, but changes were made to increase Kurdish representation at the expense of Sunni representation. Al-Hashimi has indicated he will veto the latest version of the election law, throwing the entire electoral process in Iraq into limbo.

What does this mean? Unfortunately, it indicates the lingering presence of sectarianism in Iraqi politics since it's clear that the main Shia and Kurdish players don't feel the need to take Sunni demands seriously. After a year in which identity politics seemed to be on the wane, they have become ever more prominent during the last few months. I would like to emphasize that I am not a fan of using sectarian identity as a prism through which to view Iraqi politics. Far too often, sectarianism is over-emphasized at the expense of class identity, tribal/urban identity, regional identity and the actual substantive issues. Another error that people commit is projecting Iraq's current sectarian tension onto the past in order to explain the 'somehow inevitable' authoritarian nature of Iraqi politics. It's important to recognize that identities are always fluid; just because sectarian consciousness in Iraq has been particularly high these last few years doesn't mean it has been that way throughout the past. One must not essentialize sectarian identities but rather view them more as politico-economic constructs.

The Iraqi parliament can break the current deadlock in the election law process by overriding Hashimi's second veto with a 3/5 majority. If the Shia and Kurdish parties vote in line, they have the numbers. If this happens, the Sunnis have threatened to boycott the vote. And if thathappens, well, things might get ugly.

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