Iraqi politics makes my head spin, so I’ve been avoiding writing about it, deciding to leave it to the better informed and generally more intelligent. However the murky world of post-election negotiations that Iraq has been navigating since March just saw something unusual – an actual event. The two main Shi’ite parties in the Iraqi parliament, the Iraqi National Alliance and the State of Law, have formed an alliance and created a council of ‘wise men’ to choose a prime minister. The coalition includes Moqtada al-Sadr’s Sadrist movement, affiliated with the INA, who have in the past fiercely opposed Al-Maliki, who is part of State of Law – an uneasy alliance, then, and one which will presumably face difficulties in finding a prime minister. This new Shi’ite bloc is only four seats short of a majority in parliament, but now wields enough power to marginalise the Sunni Arab faction, which is largely made up of the secular Iraqiyya party led by former prime minister Iyad ‘Allawi.
The new alliance represents the most significant development so far in the post-election discussions that have been taking place since Iraqis went to the polls two months ago. It is a movement towards sectarianism that marginalises the Sunni Arabs, most of whom voted for Iraqiyya, and is also being seen as a victory for Iran, whose influence in Shi’ite Iraq should not be underestimated. Taking this even further, Reidar Visser writes that this is ‘a step backwards’ to the sectarian Iraq of 2005-6: ‘However much they talk about “unity”, the members of the new alliance have little in common except the fact that they are mostly Shiites. It is a far cry from the situation just half a year ago, when Maliki was talking about political majorities and ideologically consistent cabinets.’