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Hoping History Repeats:
Sunni Political Alliances For Election Only Offer More Of Same

Mustafa Habib
Sunni Muslim politicians’ alliances in the run up to May’s federal elections presented no great surprises. Will they satisfy the voters’ desire for change though?
1.02.2018  |  Baghdad
Some of the country's leading Sunni politicians line up behind Saleem al-Jibouri, the Speaker of Iraq's parliament.
Some of the country's leading Sunni politicians line up behind Saleem al-Jibouri, the Speaker of Iraq's parliament.

As much as things change among Iraq’s Sunni politicians, they stay the same. There’s ample demonstration of this, looking at the different alliances that Sunni Muslim-majority parties have entered into, to compete in upcoming federal elections.

“The same political figures are going to participate in elections,” Noura al-Bijari, an MP for the northern province of Ninawa, told NIQASH. “But they’ll do so in an array of new alliances. After the elections, they may well change their partnerships again.”

Two prominent Sunni politicians have thrown their lot in with the Iraq’s current, and still very popular, prime minister, Haider al-Abadi.

The map of Sunni Muslim political alliances for the coming elections, due to take place on May 12, has been impacted by the security crisis caused by the extremist group known as the Islamic State. It has deepened existing rifts within the Sunni political bloc, making some parties and politicians more popular at the expense of others. Part of the effect of the Islamic State, or IS, group is the splitting up of alliances that ran for election together in 2014.

Since 2003, and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the country’s Sunni Muslim representatives have remained fairly static. There is Saleem al-Jibouri, current speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi, prominent Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq and Jamal al- Karbouli, both of whom head their own parties, businessman Khamis Khanjar and cross-sectarian politician Ayad al-Allawi, who is actually a Shiite Muslim.

Several Sunni Muslim parties have reacted to the increased popularity of more secular and civil society groups and growing resentment against Islamic politics, and have chosen to team up with a coalition headed by Ayad Allawi. In 2010, their alliance with Allawi, a former Iraqi prime minister, saw them outperform their Shiite Muslim rivals by two seats in the Iraqi parliament. They’re hoping to repeat that winning scenario even though Iraq’s unofficial sectarian political quota prevented them from forming a government.

In 2014 elections, Allawi was largely left to fend for himself. This was due in part to sectarian tensions growing under the rule of former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

“Our coalition has opened its doors to all political parties who share our values,” politician Maysoon al-Damluji, the spokesperson for the Allawi-led alliance, told NIQASH. “Our only condition is that those who join us do not have sectarian ambitions that contradict the rule of law. We are strong supporters of Iraqi unity.”

 

Former PM, Ayad Allawi.

 

The Allawi-led coalition currently has more than 30 political parties involved in it, al-Damluji said. Sunni Muslim majority parties led by Saleh al-Mutlaq and another senior figure, Saleem al-Jibouri, the current speaker of the Iraqi parliament, have also teamed up with Allawi. Although al-Jibouri is closely associated with the Islamic party that represents the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq, he has not used the Islamic party’s name, perhaps because of the aforementioned trend for more secular politics.

On the other side of the sectarian debate is another alliance featuring well-known Sunni politician, Osama al-Nujaifi, and Iraqi business mogul, Khamis Khanjar, along with others.

This group has long demanded that Iraq’s Sunni Muslims be allowed to form their own semi-autonomous regions and run their own affairs, in a similar way to Iraq’s Kurdish minority. They have also accused the federal government of allowing Sunni Muslim areas and cities to fall under the control of the extremist IS group.

The larger national alliances have also decided to form smaller, regional partnerships. Some of these involve new Sunni Muslim parties that are trying to compete with the larger ones, usually at a regional level. Teaming up with these gives Sunni politicians the best shot at gaining more votes at every level. Often these new parties represent the formerly-volunteer militias who supported the Iraqi military as well as Shiite Muslim militias in the fight against the IS group.

Additionally, some Sunni Muslim politicians have chosen to ally themselves with Shiite Muslim coalitions. Two prominent names who did this - Qassim al-Fahdawi and Abdul-Latif al-Hameem, head of the Sunni endowment – have thrown their lot in with the Iraq’s current, and still very popular, prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, a Shiite Muslim politician.  

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