Iraq’s Secular Opposition: The Rise and Decline of Al-Iraqiya
31 Jul 2012
The demise of Iraq’s Al-Iraqiya Alliance, at threat of marginalisation, would remove the country’s sole credible political representative of a very important community: the secular, non-sectarian middle class.
Iraq’s Secular Opposition: The Rise and Decline of Al-Iraqiya, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the declining fortunes of the cross-confessional, predominantly Sunni and mostly secular Al-Iraqiya Alliance and argues it will need to engage in serious soul-searching and internal reform if it is to survive and play a constructive role in Iraq’s current political crisis.
“Iraqiya is experiencing an existential crisis due to a series of missteps at the time the present government was formed in 2010, as well as dysfunctional internal decision-making”, says Joost Hiltermann, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director. “It will need to urgently address these issues if it is to effectively stand up to a prime minister with an authoritarian bent and retain its broad constituency as the country heads into new rounds of provincial and parliamentary elections”.
Led by a secular Shiite, Iraqiya garnered more than 80 per cent of the vote in predominantly Sunni areas in the March 2010 elections, and also made inroads in majority-Shiite areas. In winning 91 seats in the 325-seat parliament, it beat the State of Law coalition of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. However, it lost its chance to play a dominant role in the new coalition government by overplaying its hand: by insisting he be prime minister when he lacked the required support, Iraqiya leader Iyad Allawi ended up being marginalised; and by rushing to grab senior positions, other Iraqiya leaders failed to use their leverage to create effective institutional checks on Maliki’s authority, leaving Iraqiya as a weak junior partner in a government led by a prime minister intent on amassing power.
Iraqiya was thus at a disadvantage when, joined by other parties, it decided to challenge Maliki in April 2012, seeking to unseat him via a parliamentary no-confidence vote. This faltering effort has served to highlight Iraqiya’s waning power as a force that could limit the prime minister’s authority. It also demonstrated that what remains of the country’s secular middle class lacks an influential standard bearer to protect its interests and project a middle ground in the face of ongoing sectarian tensions that Syria’s civil war risks escalating. And it underlines the marginalisation of Sunni Arabs and Sunni Turkomans by the Shiite-led government, further increasing the potential for violence.
“An emboldened prime minister, growing sectarian tensions and a deeply mistrustful opposition are a recipe for violent conflict, especially in light of alarming developments in neighbouring Syria”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director. “Iraqis across the divide express fears that a spiralling sectarian-tinged civil war across the border could exacerbate tensions at home and usher the country into another round of sectarian conflict”.