The proposed ethno-majoritarian form of governance sought by the bloc of Muqtada Al Sadr, the victor in Iraq’s October 2021 election has caused much consternation, especially amongst Shia factions close to Iran. Previously, positions had been filled based on the country’s Muhasasa system, which saw consensus-based governance, but which is reported to have enabled corruption and of having influenced the October 2019 protest movement. Sadr has proposed that his bloc, which also comprises of Sunni and Kurd factions allowed to govern, with the losing Shia bloc having to sit in opposition.
Following the ratification of his victory, there have been attacks on Sunni politicians, including Khamis al Khanjar and the offices of Mohammed Halbousi, two Sunni politicians who support Sadr. Further, a session to elect a speaker saw chaos erupt, yet Halbousi was elected, indicating that Sadr not only has the largest Shia bloc, but also can count on the largest number of seats.
Iraq’s political system always sees the Prime Minister being a Shia, the President a Kurd and the speaker a Sunni, an in attempt to ensure ethnic representation and sectarian consensus.
Speaking to Radio Islam International, Hiwa Osman, a journalist and former advisor to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, reiterated that Sadr reforms risk upending the Intra Shia consensus, which previously informed the filling of ministerial positions. In addition, he noted how the other Shia factions have responded, yet also asserted that Sadr likely has a majority in both sectarian and ethnic dimensions – he has a majority in relation to seats and within the Shia factions. “There is a legal issue about whether they [the opposition Shia bloc] can form a block or not, ……. (nevertheless) Muqtada seems to have the majority.”
Osman also noted the fact that Iraq’s political system remains contested, mainly as there is no common vision and consensus on Iraqi nationality and Iraqi identity, with the different sects and ethnic groups having their own views and the current system trying, unsuccessfully to cobble these together. “The root cause of this, goes back to the very definition of being Iraqi. Since its establishment there has not been a serious discussion or debate or agreement on the Iraqi national identity, each side have their own vision or their own idea about what it means to be an Iraqi. And as a result, the other identities, the ethno-sectarian identities, were the prevalent identities in the various parts of the country.” Osman did, however, note that the current contestation is all about power and positions, noting that the other Shia blocs had previously partnered with Sunni and Kurdish factions to form governments; they want positions and are not opposed to ethno-sectarian consensus, but want to all constitute part of the government.
Last, Osman acknowledged that parties opposing this ethno-sectarian system have historically not done well in elections, and that although they have won some seats, they have so far not gained wide-spread national appeal. This has inhibited service provision and intensified corruption, with Iraq continuing to be place bottommost, in relation to unemployment, transparency and service provision.