OpinionIran in the World PressIraq election: Sectarianism threatens Iraq's future

Iraq election: Sectarianism threatens Iraq’s future


ImageDaily Telegraph: Iranian influence must not be allowed to scupper the prospects of an Iraqi coalition, argues Brian Binley. The Daily Telegraph

Iranian influence must not be allowed to scupper the prospects of an Iraqi coalition, argues Brian Binley.

By Brian Binley

ImageEarly results in Iraq's elections show current Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's State of Law political group running neck-and-neck with former Iraqi leader Ayad Allawi's bloc, but electoral fraud and Maliki's sectarian stance threaten to push the country into further political fragmentation.

Independent election monitors have already highlighted electoral discrepancies and have expressed concern. The monitors specifically noted the presence of security forces in polling stations who were urging people to vote for a given party.

The ongoing delay in announcing results has also fed the rumour mill with more talk of electoral fraud. However, the greater question revolves around how the victorious party will go about setting up a coalition government. If, as early results suggest, Nouri Al-Maliki is victorious he will get the first shot.

Al-Maliki is already courting potential allies, but his sectarian attitude and his close ties with the Iranian regime raises deep concerns about his ability to project himself as a leader of all Iraqis. The fact that Al-Maliki was at the centre of a pre-election campaign banning significant Sunni figures from running for election, whilst his election posters concentrated more on the de-Baathification of Iraq than on leading the nation towards freedom and prosperity under a democratic government help to underline that point.

He has also been criticised by a number of human rights organisations for the way in which he has dealt with the major Iranian opposition group in their camp some 60 miles North East of Baghdad. The PMOI has been based in Camp Ashraf for over 20 years, however as the Prime Minister's ties with Tehran have deepened, he has laid siege to the camp restricting the supply of basic necessities and denying entry to doctors and lawyers.

The Prime Minister's close ties with the Iranian regime have the effect of making the followers of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr his closest bed fellows. Al-Maliki would do well to appreciate the Iraqi people's rejection of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq as part of the Iraqi National Alliance. The council is Iran's closest ally in Iraq and he should recognise that they appear to have faired badly primarily because of that closeness.

Al-Maliki's desire to please Tehran's leadership has made him a figure of hate amongst Iraq's Sunni minority. This hatred was made abundantly clear in early election results from a number of areas with a Sunni majority, where he received less than five percent of votes cast.

Al-Maliki's sectarian treatment of the Sunni minority was also instrumental in ensuring the overwhelming support for Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc in those areas. Consequently any attempt by Al-Maliki to sideline Allawi will be seen as a further slur on Sunni voters, adding massively to the feeling that they will be underrepresented in the political process and are being deliberately minimised.

Allawi, as a secularist Shiite, is seen by many to be an all embracing leader who has gained support from most factions of Iraq's diverse population. Consequently, the fact which must be borne in mind as Iraq enters into months of wrangling over the makeup and leadership of the next coalition government is that Iranian influence must not be allowed to scupper the prospects of an Iraqi coalition, which represents all of the Iraqi people and not just those who favour Tehran.

Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc has an important role to play in any new Iraqi government and any attempts by the Iranian regime to influence the Iraqi electoral process and sideline the Sunni minority, which has shown its support for a secularist Shiite, could lead to disastrous consequences similar to those in 2005, when a boycott of the elections by the Sunni minority led to two years of horrific bloodshed.

The Sunni minority must play a full part in a future of Iraq or Iraq will once again run the risk of slipping back into widespread violence, allowing Iran to emerge as the sole winner and that would present massive dangers for the stability of the whole region and harm Western interests immensely.

Brian Binley is a Member of Parliament from the United Kingdom's Conservative Party and a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom

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