In December 2002, a gaggle of 350 Iraqi opposition politicians gathered for a convention titled “To Save Iraq and Obtain Democracy” within the Hilton Metropole Lodge on Edgware Street in London. Most of the attendees have been Iraqi politicians who had lived in exile for many of their grownup lives and who had spent a lot of that point supporting the plans of the United States for imperialist intervention within the nation.
It was throughout this convention, and underneath strain from the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, that Iraq’s political future was determined and the muhasasa ta’ifia, the ethno-sectarian apportionment system that was imposed on Iraqis following the invasion, was selected.
Jalal al-Talabani, then chief of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) who would later turn out to be president of Iraq, outlined the mission of the convention as “restoring unity to Iraq as a folks, territory and entity”. Masoud Barzani, the chief of the Kurdistan Democratic Occasion (KDP), who in 2005 would turn out to be president of the newly established Kurdistan Area of Iraq, emphasised the necessity for “a spirit of reconciliation and preservation of the [national] curiosity”. Ahmed al-Chalabi, who would later head the oil ministry, known as for “a brand new mind-set and the consolidation of democratic ideas”.
On the closing of the convention, the opposition printed a 10-page political assertion, which emphasised their need to root out sectarianism, which was outlined by way of Saddam Hussein’s persecution of the Shia group, and to construct a brand new Iraq primarily based on human rights and equality for all its residents.
In the present day, greater than 17 years later, it’s fairly clear that many of those pronouncements have been not more than empty rhetoric. In the mean time, Iraq is neck-deep in sectarian politics, which has led to an unprecedented political disaster and growing failure of the state to supply for the essential wants of its residents.
The origins of the muhasasa
The Iraqi opposition and its Western allies first got here up with the thought of the muhasasa, which distributes political energy and state assets between three predominant non secular and ethnic teams – Shia, Sunni and Kurds – throughout a sequence of conferences that occurred all through the 1990s.
The primary of those gatherings was held within the Salah al-Din resort within the Kurdish-controlled area of northern Iraq in October 1992. There, plenty of governing our bodies have been created with the concept that they might come to energy when Saddam Hussein was overthrown.
Positions on these our bodies have been allotted on the premise of the convention’s notion of the share of Iraqis who have been Shia, Sunni and Kurdish, due to this fact laying the groundwork for the muhasasa.
Attendees offered this new political system as a method of uniting Iraqis and presenting a democratic different to Hussein’s dictatorship. Throughout its opening session, Barzani introduced that the way forward for Iraq was within the palms of these current, declaring “we will save Iraq from dictatorship … we should save the Iraqi folks … we should overthrow Saddam Hussein”. He later went on to explain the gathering as “a victory for all Iraqis”.
Shia chief Mohammed Baqir al-Nassari stated the attendees wished Iraqis to be free and “to give you the chance to precise their opinions towards the federal government as they need, no matter whether or not the chief is Sunni or Shia or Kurdish”.
The affect of the US and its allies on the rhetoric adopted throughout these conferences was fairly clear from the best way the opposition instrumentalised the language of unity and human rights, in addition to imperialist calls to “save the Iraqi folks”.
John Main, British prime minister between 1990 and 1997, used this similar language when he acknowledged, “a united opposition is the one one that may present an actual different to Saddam Hussein”, referring to the opposition which got here collectively on the Salah al-Din convention. Afterward, within the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, George W Bush would repeatedly affirm Washington’s dedication to common rights, declare that every one folks “are entitled to hope and human rights” and make guarantees that the struggle would permit Iraqis to dwell in dignity.
Opposite to claims of democratisation and reconciliation, nonetheless, what the opposition was in actual fact doing was dividing Iraq alongside ethno-sectarian strains, as if this have been the central and solely organising issue of Iraqi society.
This was already obvious through the 1992 convention when, for instance, a consultant of the Iran-backed occasion the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, declared “we don’t want one other Iraq the place the minority guidelines”.
The divisiveness of the ethno-sectarian apportionment system didn’t go unnoticed by critics of the 2002 convention. The Iraqi Liberal Democratic Occasion, which boycotted the gathering, for instance, introduced that they stood “in opposition to all makes an attempt to unfold sectarianism on a proportional foundation” and harassed that that they had repeatedly “warned the convention in London in opposition to constructing on the solutions of the Salah Al Din convention”.
Equally, Ihsan Abdelwazir, a spokesman for the Islamic Motion, a gaggle of Kurdish and Arab Sunni Muslims primarily based in northern Iraq, predicted that the choices made on the convention would “carry city-to-city combating to Iraq”.
A dysfunctional system
When the opposition was ultimately put in energy by the US-led coalition following the invasion of Iraq, a lot of what critics of the muhasasa had predicted got here to move.
The system was largely liable for fuelling the post-invasion civil struggle, when the exact same politicians who had made countless speeches about reconciliation, unity and democracy, used violence to guard and improve their stake in a political system that was imposed with none session with frequent Iraqis.
What’s extra, the muhasasa has inspired rampant corruption. Ministerial portfolios, civil service jobs and authorities contracts have been distributed alongside ethno-sectarian occasion strains. Since 2003, successive Iraqi governments have been paralysed because of the conflict of sectarian and partisan pursuits. There has additionally been large institutional dysfunction.
Because of this, the Iraqi state which might obtain $6bn per thirty days in oil income has not been capable of present its residents with even essentially the most primary public providers.
It has not taken lengthy for frequent Iraqis to see the dysfunction of the muhasasa system. In reality, in response to its many ills, a mass protest motion emerged in central and southern Iraq in October final 12 months. Protesters have brazenly criticised the system and its failures and have known as for systemic political change.
At their demonstrations, they might typically chant “no to muhasasa, no to political sectarianism”, draw anti-muhasasa graffiti and put up satirical banners mocking the superficial claims that the present political system consists of all segments of Iraqi society.
Regardless of the reassurances about freedom of speech and human rights which the architects of the muhasasa gave previous to the US invasion, the violent crackdown on the protests has as soon as once more demonstrated that these have been simply empty phrases.
The killing of virtually 700 demonstrators and injuring of 30,000 others in simply six months laid naked the ethical chapter of these politicians who masterminded and applied the muhasasa and their willpower to protect the political system at any price.
The mass protests have challenged the rhetoric that enabled the imposition of the muhasasa, permitting Iraqis to think about a brand new Iraq for the primary time. In the end, the answer to the Iraqi disaster is not going to come from those that designed the present political system, however from beneath, from the Iraqi folks.
The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.