"Project on the Development of Political Parties in Arab Countries: The Case of Iraq
Political Parties in Iraq
Within the research project: Political Party Development in the Arab World Publisher: Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, Beirut, 2007 Study available online: www.appstudies.org
Copyrights in the documents on APPstudies website are owned by Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. Any person is hereby authorized to view and print these documents subject to the following conditions:
- The documents may be used for informational and personal purposes only.
- The documents may not be used for any commercial purposes.
- Any copy of these documents or portion thereof is permitted if source is declared.
- No modifications should be done to any part of the documents of APPstudies site.
The study of political parties in Iraq – and perhaps in Arab countries as a whole – represents a tremendous challenge for sociologists.
Indeed, political parties and movements today are extremely complex entities in terms of their organizational structure, leadership patterns and sources of legitimacy as well as ideology, social structure, practice, political positions, aims and objectives and modes of mobilization they adopt. This complexity further extends to the scope of their activities, or rather the diverse aspects of these activities and the way they manage the acquisition, control and orientation of their members, in addition to their relation with the State as a political entity, with other parties and with society as a whole.
These interrelated dimensions of the parties’ lives can be grouped in three fields, namely: The party as such (i.e. the party as an autonomous organization), the party in its relation with the society and the party in its relation with the State. However, the difficulty of studying political parties and movements is not limited to this aspect, but rather extends to the political, socioeconomic, legal and cultural conditions under which these parties operate. These changing and evolving conditions affect the structure, leadership and activities of these parties, especially with regard to the presence of underground parties and movements, of organizations that are partly underground and partly public and of armed parties, thus placing security hurdles before any serious research.
Another greater difficulty emerges as these parties, according to the Iraqi model, have not yet been transformed into institutions on the level of legal registration, the existence of definite legal bodies and regular records of revenues and membership – except for voters’ records - or even the existence of rules and procedures and an organized constitution.
The bulk of these difficulties is linked to another reality, which may be specific to Iraq. It pertains to the existence of an internal armed conflict that encompasses all walks of life and affects the actions and activities of these parties as well as relevant field research.
These difficulties are kept in mind while developing this research gradually from general description and data gathering, which remain incomplete and open to enriching additions, to primary assumptions and coherent analysis.
The research plan is based on elements, which have been agreed upon, namely:
First: The historical framework of the partisan phenomenon in Iraq. Second: An analytical overview of available literature on parties and the related intellectual discussion in addition to a primary compilation of this literature.
Third: The legal framework of parties (the law of political entities, the electoral law and the laws of public freedoms).
Fourth: A survey of current parties based on the following elements:
1 – Political parties in Iraq since 2003: Internal parties and external parties. 2 – The quantitative growth of the partisan phenomenon and its causes. 3 – The organizational structures and leadership patterns. 4 – The alliances and coalitions based on sectarian and ethnical identities. 5 – The ideological classification of parties. 6 – The relation of parties with the central power and their representation in the Parliament. 7 – The polarization and conflicts on political and constitutional issues.
First: The Historical Framework of Partisan Life in Iraq: Its Birth and Development During the 20th Century Iraq inaugurated partisan life on the eve the Iraqi State was established as an entity following the occupation of Iraq by the British, and its secession from the Ottoman Empire. The subjects of this empire encompassed several cultural and ethnic groups, and lived in a state of dual loyalty. Indeed, on the one hand, there was loyalty to the small kinship or primary social organizations, such as the religious group, craftsmanship classes, families, tribes, clans and noble families. On the other hand, there was loyalty to the Ottoman Empire, which took the form of tax paying, participation in military campaigns and invocations for the Sultan in Sunni mosques.
Cities and rural areas were in a state of war between “settled population” and “nomads” while cities themselves were divided into closed neighborhoods based on local partisanship.
Iraqi sociologist Ali al-Wardi noted that three main kinds of partisanship were prevalent in Iraqi society when the State was established, namely: the partisanship of the tribe (in rural areas), the partisanship of the city and the partisanship of the district (the quarter), which – in turn – was made apparent through other partial partisanships, i.e. religion, confession, occupation or locality. The Ottoman regime of sects gave non-Muslims (Christians and Jews) the freedom to choose their representatives and to express their interests. As the Ottoman Empire was a Hanafi Sunni one, religious consensus was the main criterion for choosing employees of its administrations and institutions.
During most of this period, political activity in cities remained based on traditional leaderships, such as tradesmen (represented in trade unions), the poles of Sufi life, key clergymen (scholars and judges), nobles’ heads and heads of crafts organized in bodies called “classes”. In contrast, the “natural” leaders in rural and desert areas were clan and tribe sheikhs, some of whom developed tribal unions out of which local emirates emerged with enough military power to impose their authority.
The governors of Ottoman provinces ruled in cooperation with local leaders (notables), including the leaders of local armed groups that protected the cities in a kind of self-organization.
However, this situation soon began to change as Ottoman reforms started with the establishment of a central administrative service, a permanent army, social services (printing, maritime transportation and telegraph lines) and some local industries, especially military ones, in addition to the establishment of a modern central education system (Averroes schools).
The modern transportation network, telegraph lines and railway tracks resulted in the consolidation of the central authority of the State at the expense of local forces, which survived in a state of semi-autonomous rule vis-à-vis the State. Due to the introduction of land ownership (Tabo), the nucleus of a “land owners” class with an interest in spreading security and land ownership rights was born. Moreover, the fact of centralizing security provided protection of trade roads, which flourished and led to the growth of cities. As a result, settled population in 1900 amounted to 24% of civil status records in what later became “the Iraqi Kingdom”. In contrast, the tribes settled as they turned to agriculture, thus recording the early tidings of disintegration of nomad tribes as they shunned away from grazing and plunder wars to stable agricultural production and emigration to the cities.
The British occupation of Iraq and its subsequent failure to win over city dwellers and tribes led to the establishment of a civil rule, which pushed forward the wheel of building the modern, centralized State.
This cultural transition paved the way for the emergence of new political movements and parties, which began calling for independence as they joined the political life. Yet most of these parties were headed by traditional leaderships and adopted stimulation and mobilization patterns of universal aspect, e.g. using the Prophet’s Birthday and/or Hussein’s processions as manifestation means in addition to using mosques as rallying points. These parties still had recourse to publications as the modern press witnessed a gradual growth.
In parallel to the British occupation, Iraq started having contacts – first through the press and books, and later through radio and travels – with its surroundings (Ataturk’s Turkey, the Arab world, the Iran of the Shahs), and soaked up in popular thinking trends, such as the nationalist (Iraqi) trend, Arab nationalism and socialism (Marxism). These transitions took place within a relatively short time frame, which led to a solid interpenetration of organization and leadership forms as well as loyalty patterns. The traces and effects of this intertwinement are still manifested to this day.
For instance, modern parties that are based on voluntary membership and election of leaders are petrified in fixed (and sometimes inherited) leaderships due to the influence of patterns of values and social organizations based on kinship (the family). Hence, one finds a communist party in Syria headed by the same leader for fifty years, only to be succeeded by his wife or son in that office. Even if old and modern mobilization is related to the stages of the parties’ foundation, one can say that political life in Iraq went through several phases, namely:
- The period of traditional leaderships during which there were no parties and no organized political entities.
- The period of modern parties of traditional aspects, such as the National Party, which was established by one of the independence pioneers Jaafar Abu al-Taman.
- The period of parliamentary parties under the monarchy: These were numerous parties, which organized themselves around influential politicians in order to form parliamentary and electoral blocs. They were totally dependent on the leader’s strength and his position within the State, such as “Hizb al-Ikha'” (National Brotherhood Party), “Hizb al-Aahd” (Covenant Party) and other parties of “salons” and “nobles”, that vanished as quickly as they emerged since they were united as politicians stood together and broke apart when they parted.
- The period of ideological parties: These parties date back to the early 1930s with the emergence of “Jamaat al-Ahali” (a nationalist leftist association), the Iraqi Communist Party (1934), the National Democratic Party (left-leaning liberal), the Arab Socialist Baath Party (early 1950s) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party in addition to other parties and movements, such as the Arab Nationalist Movement (as Jamal Abdel Nasser rose to power in Egypt, 1952 onwards), the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Call Party (1959).
The establishment of these parties led to a change in the political landscape and activities mainly in cities, and to a certain extent, in rural areas.
The Period of Ideological Parties (1930 onwards)
The emergence of ideological parties is a qualitative development in the course of partisan action. Indeed, they became stable parties with a centralized entity, a strict loyalty and a commitment to a platform. Unlike salons’ parties, these had a Leninist organizational structure, centralized and disciplined. They also had rules and procedures, definite platforms, publications (covert or public) and a definite ideological orientation (liberal, nationalist, socialist, Islamist). These parties managed to mobilize the inhabitants of cities and extend into rural areas, or even mobilize the clans (in the case of the Kurdistan Democratic Party). They were easily capable of extending their influence and crush the salons’ parties, which lost a lot of their former influence as it was linked to the growth of new urban classes.
However, the ideological parties did not have any legal legitimacy as most had recourse to underground action and built military organizations within the armed forces while developing ties with the Free Officers’ underground organizations within the Iraqi army. The Cold War mood, which was characterized by increasing animosity towards communism and radical nationalist movements (Nasserite), further drove the authorities to forbid ideological parties and forced them to choose underground, armed and conspiratory action. These parties used to represent the newly emerging social forces, namely the middle class, industrial workers and radical students’ circles in the cities, in addition to impoverished peasants in rural areas. In this sense, they represented social forces that were intellectually and culturally estranged from the traditional classes, which held the reins of power under the monarchy as both classes clashed against the backdrop of economic and social interests. Most of the opposition parties actively promoted the freedom of press, the emancipation of women, the Kurds’ national issue, the Arab unity, the evacuation of foreign bases and the opposition to the policy of military groupings (Baghdad Pact).
Nevertheless, the popular bases of these parties were still a relative minority. Indeed, middle and worker classes did not exceed 30% of the population in cities of a handicraft and traditional aspect. Moreover, the urban population represented less than half the overall population before 1958. Hence, these new societal forces represented a minority of city dwellers who were – in turn – a minority within the country’s population.
All kinds of political participation were blocked, and the same held true for the channels of civil and political freedoms while revolutionary movements were relatively weak. All these elements constituted an essential factor of feeding trends of violent underground change, i.e. military revolution.
In other words, political life did not give parties any opportunity whatsoever to implement their actions and develop them in a peaceful manner. It is worth mentioning here that the programs of ideological parties (the Communist Party, the Baath Party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the National Democratic Party) contained no mention of using violent means to “topple” the ruling power. The first such indication came in 1956 with the second convention of the Communist Party. The Baath Party also relinquished the parliamentary activity that characterized it in Syria as it turned towards organizational activity within the army (revolution) as a means of change.
Modern parties thus dropped the idea of legitimate parliamentary action to the benefit of revolutionary, self-legitimacy action, i.e. one that was justified by objectives rather than by a popular commission. The spread of the “revolutionary violence” ideology and the ideas of “pioneers” with a hint of elites among their ranks undoubtedly contributed to this transformation, which resulted in undermining the old rule and brought to power the organizers of violence (the Free Officers).
The fall of the monarchy led to the collapse of the traditional forces as political life progressively led to the emergence of what Hanna Batatu coined as the soldier-politician or the new power holder on the one hand, and the ideological parties’ rush for mobilization of the popular masses on the other hand.
Once again, preventing parties from initiating peaceful political action (abstaining from implementing the 1960 Law of Parties and Associations) further worsened the issue of blocked horizons facing institutional political action. The continuous war among various ideological orientations led to similar divisions within the ranks of military elites in addition to a series of armed revolutions and counterrevolutions, which ended in 1968 with yet another military coup in which the Baath Party played an essential part.
The Baath era (1968 – 2003) inaugurated the totalitarian, one-party system, which was characterized by annulling the repartition of powers, invoking revolutionary legitimacy, and controlling politics, economy, culture and society thus confining political life to the unique party and unique ideology.
The oil rush helped strengthen the basic elements of the one-party system, thus allowing it to ameliorate social services, raise the inhabitants’ revenues and develop industry and education. However, military adventures and the subsequent siege did away with the short period of prosperity, which was accompanied by an almost total abrogation of political and civil freedoms.
Second: Analytical Overview and Evaluation of the Literature on Parties
The list of literature on political parties in Iraq includes a vast number of volumes and books. It covers an extensive period over most of the 20th century and encompasses the monarchy (1921-1958), the military-Republican era (1958-1968) and the Baath totalitarian regime (1968-2003).
This literature is still not exclusively centered on the study of parties since it originally compiled historical, political or economic studies on Iraq. The study of parties comes within the framework of observing the political and socioeconomic development in the country. The use of these references is limited to the fact that they provide a global political landscape, which constitutes the background of these parties’ activities. They also contain data pertaining to the parties’ positions regarding several issues.
There are other more definite studies that deal with the lives of some leaders who founded their own parties, such as Jaafar Abu al-Taman, founder of the National Party (1921), Kamel al-Jaderji, leader of the National Democratic Party, Youssef Salman Youssef (Fahd), founder of the Iraqi Communist Party and Sayyed Mohammad Baker al-Sadr, who was the spiritual father of the Islamic Call Party.
These biographies are useful as they provide a dual reading of the evolution of parties and leaderships. This holds especially true for the monarchy and the Republic period, i.e. the era of traditional and ideological parties.
Furthermore, there is a series of other studies on a group of parties that are classified according to their ideological or ethnical orientation, namely: Islamist movements, nationalist currents, Kurdish parties, etc. Other studies tackle a particular party for the sake of chronicling. One such example is Nassir al-Kazemi’s The Communist Party in Iraq and the Agricultural Issue, which only dealt with agricultural reforms and the relevant role of the Communist Party in comparison with other parties (the National Democratic Party, the Baath Party, etc.). As for Hanna Batatu’s book, it paints a detailed picture of the Communist Party, the National Democratic Party and the Baath Party from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Other detailed studies relate to radical Islamist parties, which grew during the Baath era under circumstances of underground activity and action in exile. These include, for instance, Faleh Abdel Jabar’s The Shiite Movements in Iraq (annex 1).
These studies provide useful data on the individuals and categories that were behind the establishment of parties while delving into the details of these parties’ evolution and structure as well as their positions, divisions and confrontations.
The study of political elites and leadership patterns remains weak as only Batatu’s and Jabar’s books tackle organizational structures and evolutions.
Nevertheless, there are studies that specialize in political elites, such as Phebe Marr’s study on The Political Elites under the Monarchy and the Republican Period or Amatzia Baram’s The Elites during the Baath Era.
Despite the achievements of these works in the research field, the circumstances of underground action, the eradication of the opposition’s activity and its expansion in exile have weakened research capabilities and left huge gaps that still need to be addressed. However, the greatest difficulty remains in reading and analyzing the political parties that have rushed into the arena of political action after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003.
Indeed, the Independent Higher Electoral Commission recorded the existence of more than 300 political entities running in the parliamentary race in 2005. The study of this great amount is still in its early stages and does not exceed the boundaries of general classification and description of polarization and positions on key issues, such as occupation, federalism, religion, women, neighboring countries, etc.
An extensive amount of these parties’ publications is available in addition to websites that include loads of information, but studies and analyses are still in their early stages.
It is worth mentioning that Raad al-Jadda’s book Legislations of Iraqi Political Parties and Associations is an important documentary text, which includes all legislations that are relevant to the organization of parties from the Ottoman Empire up to 2003.
The texts of new legislations are available on the website of the Independent Higher Electoral Commission. Al-Jadda’s book on Iraq’s constitutions also provides abundant documentary material regarding all constitutions since 1908, in addition to election legislations, distribution of electoral constituencies, organization of parliaments and other similar subjects related to the public political life. Annex 1 sheds light on the most important studies and literature on political parties in Iraq.
Third: The Legal Framework of Parties
Before getting acquainted with the legislations and laws relevant to the parties that were established after 2003, it is necessary to look into the legislations promulgated prior to that date and give a comparative picture of the legislative and legal criteria that ruled partisan action in Iraq.
Legislations and decrees regulating partisan action from the creation of the Iraqi State in 1921 to the fall of the Baath regime in 2003 share two main common causes. The first is the imposition of limitations on establishing parties and the expansion of the ruling power’s interference in the parties’ internal life. The second cause pertains to the banning and prohibition of any political organization built on religious, sectarian, nationalist or regional bases. In fact, the 1922 law of political parties and associations, which was the first law aimed at organizing partisan action, made it necessary to obtain the government’s permission to create any political party (article 4). The same article prohibited the establishment of associations with purposes that contravene the laws and public ethics, that preach sedition among Iraqi elements and whose titles do not reveal their purpose or whose purpose is kept secret. Article 10 gives the Ministry of Interior the right to supervise and control all the associations’ matters and annul their licenses. This law remained in effect until the promulgation of decree nº 19 in 1954, which was not so different than its predecessor with regard to the restrictions on establishment of associations and parties per se (article 3). Article 5/a stipulated that educated classes, including school and college students, in addition to employees, civil servants and people under 18 years of age are not allowed to be party members. Moreover, the law stipulated that communists should be deprived of their nationality while article 25 abrogated the associations that were created before this decree came into force. Under the first Republic (following the 1958 Revolution), a new law pertaining to associations was promulgated in 1960. It transferred the competence of parties’ licensing and control from the Ministry of Interior to the Supreme Court. Every adult, including students and employees, was permitted to participate in partisan action to the exception of armed forces and diplomatic corps (article 2/31); however, this law was never implemented.
In 1970-1971, the temporary constitution laid the foundation of the “leader party” system, which allowed a limited participation within the framework of the official National Front, as it also allowed to annul this participation and impose the one-party system. Law Nº 30 pertaining to political parties was issued in 1991 and allowed each Iraqi man and woman to establish a political party (article 2), provided that its principles do not violate those of the July 17th Revolution, are not opposed to the achievement of unity and take pride in the achievements of the revolution authority. Furthermore, this law prohibited the formation of regional parties that are specific to a given confession, element or religion. Yet it did not lead to multipartism in Iraq and was not invoked in order to create any new political party.
In contrast, laws and orders passed after 2003 are different from their predecessors as they do not entail any State interference nor do they set any conditions for the creation, organization and activities of the parties. The most important of these regulations and laws are:
1 – The 2003 Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period This law is composed of sixty two articles through which an attempt is made to lay the foundations for running the political process in Iraq, organize the repartition of powers among government institutions, including the National Assembly, the three-member Presidential Council, the Council of Ministers and the judiciary authority, and draft the mechanisms and candidacy criteria for parliamentary elections. It also defined the shape of the government by adopting the parliamentary system (rather than the presidential one), which had repercussions on partisan life in Iraq. Indeed, some parties were able to put a large number of other parties out of competition since dominant parties are of a sectarian-confessional and nationalist nature with membership restricted to those who belong to a confession, a nationalist loyalty or a region. The adoption of the parliamentary regime gave the parties that represent the most numerous confessions the opportunity to exercise their hegemony on State powers and marginalize the remaining parties, which do not represent a given confession or section of the population, from political life and decision-making. The Law of Administration for the State also included provisions related to the preservation of public freedoms, mainly the right to freedom of expression and assembly, the right to form and join in associations, the right to demonstrate, the right to strike and the respect of civil society institutions. Nevertheless, it forbade members of the dissolute Baath Party and members of security forces under the former regime to stand for parliamentary elections. This law encouraged the conclusion of alliances among parliamentary blocs as article 35 stipulated that the voting system for key decision-making within the National Assembly was based on the qualified majority (a majority of two-thirds or three-quarters of Assembly members), which made it difficult for any bloc or party to realize its political wishes without striking an alliance with other blocs or parties. However, it did not define any criteria for these alliances and did not go as far as laws in several other countries in terms of prohibiting unions built on sectarian, nationalist, ethnical and regional bases, thus transforming the Parliament into a stage of conflicts over petty interests.
2 – Order N° 96 of the Coalition Provisional Authority for 2004 / the electoral law This order was issued by the civil administrator of the Coalition Authority Paul Bremer in 2004. As mentioned in its first part, it aimed at defining a legal framework for the election of members in the National Council of the transitional Iraqi government (which would be formed following the January 2005 elections). Paragraph 5 of Chapter 2 of this law defined the law of political parties and entities as the law that will govern the recognition of political entities in Iraq during the transitional period. The most prominent characteristic of the electoral law regarding political parties is the fact that it adopted the proportional representation system. It considered Iraq as a single electoral constituency and used the closed lists system. In fact, the law adopted the proportional representation system rather than that of the simple majority. The former allows the representation of all political currents since it gives all competing blocs the chance to win seats in the Parliament according to the proportion of votes they obtain while limiting the squandering of votes. According to this system, every party that is awarded 30 thousand votes wins a seat in the Parliament contrary to the simple majority system whereby the party with the greatest number of votes (even if the difference is narrowed down to a single vote) can form a parliamentary majority and win all seats. The system implemented in Iraq does not require any particular proportion of votes to be won by the candidate entity as a condition to enter Parliament, as is the case in other countries where a list has to record 5% or 10% of overall votes. Therefore, nothing – at least from a legal point of view – prevents small parties from participating efficiently in the political process. In theory, the system was supposed to increase the level of competition among various parties, thus contributing to raising the population’s political awareness. Nevertheless, reality has given rise to an entirely different data as this system exerted a negative impact on the formation of a coalition or consensus government. This entails the absence of the principle of opposition and the emergence of a new one: consensus. The electoral law n° 96 also adopted a single electoral constituency in order to give parties and minorities throughout Iraq the opportunity to be represented within the National Assembly. Yet, portraying Iraq as a single electoral constituency contributed to the emergence of nationalist, sectarian and religious lists, and the system did not achieve its objective as it rather resulted in an unfair representation of some regions compared to an overrepresentation of other regions and provinces. Accordingly, it was abolished in the second elections, and Iraq was divided based on the number of its provinces into eighteen electoral districts, which exerted a major influence on the balance of power among parties since moderate parties had counted on their alliance with Kurdish forces and parties and their running together on a single list. A few days before the elections, it was announced that electoral constituencies would be divided according to Iraqi provinces and this alliance broke up. The Kurdish parties announced that they would run in the elections based on lists of their own. Moderate democratic forces thus turned towards Arab voters whose sectarian identities ruled their voting trends as they opted for the sectarian parties. The electoral law consecrated the principle of compensation seats, as forty five seats were dedicated to the political entities that did not have any regionally-centered electoral base but rather one that was scattered throughout the country. These were awarded parliamentary seats on the level of provinces, albeit up to a certain limit. This concept was still enforced within the framework of a mechanism that was merely beneficial to major blocs given that a political entity had to record 50 thousand votes in order to be awarded a compensation seat. Hence, most compensation seats went to the major blocs, which is further explained in the following table:
Table 1: Distribution of compensation seats, winning entities and number of seats
Paragraph 2.1 of section 4 of the closed lists system stipulated that the political entity filing for candidacy should submit a list based on entitlements. It was also forbidden to classify or change candidates on the list after a given date to be defined by the Higher Electoral Commission. Every list should encompass at least twelve candidates provided that the third name on the list is that of a woman. The adoption of closed list had a negative impact on parties because it subjected candidates on that list to the dictatorship of its president who would choose the names of candidates to be included. Moreover, it curbed the parties’ chances to win the voters’ ballots as the voter’s choice is subjected to the name of the list’s president (the only person who is known to the voters) at the expense of the party’s political election platform.
Due to the adoption of the closed list system, any mistake by the list’s president on the level of political performance reflects on the party he represents, thus impeding political reaction between the people and the party.
3 – The Law of Political Parties or Associations / Order n° 97 This order was issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq as a complementary part of the elections legal framework. As in the first section of this order, paragraph 1 of the second section recognized the political entities that were formed in Iraq and defined a political entity as any organization or political party composed of qualified voters who regroup together voluntarily based on common ideas, interests or opinions in order to express their interests, gain influence and enable their representatives to file for candidacy, provided that the organization respects the requested conditions (the registration number from the Higher Electoral Commission). Hence, according to the law of parties, all certified political entities – except for individuals – are legal political organizations that have the right to own real estate property and enter into contracts as they are held as equal before the law (third section, paragraphs 1 to 4). The law forbade these entities to establish relations with any armed force, militia or military unit and banned them from obtaining direct or indirect financing from any armed militia (fourth section, paragraph 3 a, and paragraph 5). This law set a penalty for electoral transgressions in the shape of a judiciary warning, a financial fine and the suspension or withdrawal of licenses. Nevertheless, it did not make provisions for any penalty regarding entities that are linked to militias, nor did it define the authority in charge of punishing such actions. This article remained ineffective as electoral lists revealed that some militias had disguised as political organizations and gained access to the Parliament*.
4 – Iraq’s 2005 Permanent Constitution Article 20 of Iraq’s Permanent Constitution gave Iraqi citizens the right to participate in public affairs and enjoy political rights, including the right to vote, elect and nominate. Article 39 stated that Iraqi citizens are free to form and join associations and political parties. It prohibited forcing any person into joining any party, society or political entity or forcing him to continue his membership in it. Article 7 defined the conditions of political pluralism as it stipulated the prohibition of any entity or approach that adopts or promotes racism, terrorism, expiation or sectarian cleansing. This article makes an exception regarding the Arab Baath Party and the so-called “Saddam’s Baath”, which is not included in political pluralism under any denomination. The implementation of this article, especially in its first section, entails the annulment of most dominant parties on the political scene, whether the nationalist Kurdish parties (where membership is limited to the Kurds) or Sunni/Shiite religious parties, whose membership is limited to the confessions that these parties represent. However, the most important characteristic of the constitution with regard to its relation with political parties is that several of its articles seek to build a theocratic State based on holy right and divine will, thus (practically) annulling the establishment of any power based on the will of the people. This may lead to the construction of a political regime characterized by a rigid religious ideology resulting in a totalitarianism, which cancels the other’s opinions and orientations.
Fourth: Survey of Parties at the Current Stage
1 - Political parties in Iraq since 2003: Internal parties and external parties Partisan life was resumed in Iraq after the fall of the Baath regime in April 2003. The country witnessed a political rush of forces and personalities towards establishing parties and semi-partisan blocs of various denominations in order to express their eagerness to exercise politics. Amidst the chaos and confusion in addition to the weakness of diffusion and communication institutions, these blocs had to express themselves through slogans and catch phrases, which crowded the walls of buildings. The State institutions saw banners being hung bearing slogans of parties and organizations that the Iraqi people had not been used to. This abundance of parties came as a reaction to the political congestion left over by decades of domination by the totalitarian unique party and the utter deprivation of political action opportunities within Iraq ever since the failure of the National Front experience during the 1970s. This is added to the political void in any shape of power and the ensuing chaos, which individual and collective initiatives used as a basis for the formation of political blocs. Furthermore, the surrounding environment of democracy, the call for elections and parliamentary privileges constituted a strong motive to play the political game through establishing parties. The majority of parties that were established after the fall of the totalitarian regime and the hegemony of the single party were old parties that were trying to renew their ties to their old members and gain the sympathy of the new generation among their followers’ families, such as the Iraqi Communist Party, the Islamic Call Party, the National Democratic Party, the Independence and the Socialist Party. Some are sectarian parties spurred by feeling threatened into grouping within small political entities in order to call for the rights of the religious and ethnic categories, which they represent. Yet the parties that dominated the political landscape during this period were those of the so-called “new opposition”, the most important of which were established outside Iraq following the second Gulf War in 1991. These parties participated in the London Conference held in December 2002 and subsequent conferences as well, the most important being the Salaheddine Conference in Kurdistan in March 2003. The Conference committee elected a commission of five parties, namely the Iraqi National Conference, the Iraqi National Accord and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq as well as both Kurdish parties, i.e. the National Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. This committee, which later became known as the “five-member committee” or the “group of five”, tried to widen its basis by adding two more parties, namely the Islamic Call Party and the National Democratic Party, in light of their political historical background. The abovementioned seven parties formed the pillars of the transitional Iraq Governing Council, which was established by the Coalition Provisional Authority, and signaled the start of the political process. This group came to be known as “external parties” despite the inaccuracy of this denomination. As for “the internal parties” (whether old or new), which were established after 2003 and came to be known as the “2003 model” parties, they did not get an important chance at political action outside the realms of participation in the official political process. In contrast, some parties were represented within the Governing Council, and thus had the opportunity to extend their influence and control financial and moral sources of support, which transformed them into major parties. The “internal” parties accused the “external” ones of taking up the cake of power and not involving them in the ongoing negotiations to decide Iraq’s future.
The partisan landscape after 2003 was characterized by its rapid evolution. In fact, the emerging formations directly expressed an attempt to participate in power as the majority of new parties did not have any political program, popular base or any organizational framework and political committees. Some parties did not even have headquarters and settled instead in hotel rooms, which they designated as “their offices”. Anyone could rally a number of supporters around him and declare himself the secretary-general of a new party. Some parties ran in the elections and won seats in the Parliament whereas their bloc members were security officials and members of the secretary-general’s family. In light of these developments, a vocational category of entrepreneurs, poets and printing press workers emerged. Their job was to stage manifestations of support to a given party and print posters and slogans expressing their objectives while popular poets composed verses of praise in honor of its leaders. Meanwhile, some educated people and lawyers made a living out of drafting rules and procedures and political programs for these parties.
As for some of the old parties, they offered no indications that they were working on renewing themselves and evaluating their experience as they still suffered from divisions and scattering. They were unable to communicate with their former popular bases, especially that most of them expressed the views of old political classes or others that no longer exist, such as the National Democratic Party (the bourgeoisie’s party), the Nation Party (Saad Saleh Jabr), the Nasserite and nationalist parties as well as the Independence Party, all of which date back to the 1950s. This holds true even for the historical religious parties with a popular base like the Islamic Call Party, which was still counting on its old followers, whereas certain sectors had turned away from it by relinquishing political action or transferring their loyalty to other parties, such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution or the Sadr Movement. In fact, both parties are characterized by the reference and leadership of clerics who excel in the use of history as a weapon for winning the support of the masses. In contrast, most leaders of the parties that were established outside Iraq were unknown, and this made it difficult for them to amass a popular base for themselves with the same speed as the political process. This was only possible through the historical codes of communication expressed by the religious symbols that came to represent the identity of this community, as was the case with the Islamic Shiite parties returning from exile.
Except for the impact of Islamic parties, the political action, which affected the collective formation of the Iraqi public opinion, was totally inexistent. A partial marginalization of the ideological historical parties was noticed while small parties started as groups in offices with a number of members that barely exceeds that of their staff.
No new parties were established according to the modern sense of the word, i.e. based on the principle of functional specialization, voluntary affiliation and common interests.
2 – The quantitative growth of the partisan phenomenon and its causes The fast-increasing number of political parties and organizations exercising partisan action is manifested by the number of political blocs and entities registered with the Higher Electoral Commission, and which have defined themselves according to different denominations including the party, the gathering and the movement. Indeed, there are some fifty six parties, sixty two political gatherings including more than one party and four organizations calling themselves “currents” in addition to forty eight movements and eight so-called fronts. Each of these denominations has a formal organizational structure and is competing for power. The number of political blocs registered with the Higher Electoral Commission until the end of 2005 amounted to 467 blocs, including 249 political organizations. This variety of denominations was due to the political landscape’s being overcrowded with organizations that had similar names. Accordingly, they chose distinctive linguistic features that did not however reflect the nature of the organization or expressed a genuine difference in their orientation. Few of these organizations actually understood the difference in terminology and chose what expressed their aims. Another reason explaining the multiplication of denominations is found in the Iraqi people’s being incapable of coming to terms with the word ‘party’ as it had become associated with the previous experience of the totalitarian party system. This vast number of parties denotes increasingly important social and political contradictions and reflects intellectual chaos on the level of convictions as well as conflicting interests, all of which helped heighten the level of relative tension within the political system.
Some factors contributed to this increase in the number of political parties, the most important being social fragmentation, foreign influences and new legislations.
a – Social fragmentation and diversity of identities One of the most important factors behind this deluge of political parties in Iraq is the social fragmentation and the plurality of sub-identities (nationalist and sectarian) whereas there was no reference capable of assembling all groups under a single Iraqi identity. Against the backdrop of this fragmentation, several parties emerged with the aim of guaranteeing the rights of the ethnic and religious minorities they represented, even if they were of a small size demographically speaking. Indeed, there are four different nationalisms in Iraq, namely Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Chaldean-Assyrians. These identities include other subgroups, such as the Filian (Shiite) Kurds, the Yezidis (a religion within Kurd nationalism) and the Shabak people, who do not recognize themselves as belonging to Kurdish nationalism. Christians also consider themselves as belonging to a different category of nationalism as they felt threatened by the establishment of an Islamic State that would treat them as second-class citizens (Dhimmis). They encompass a variety of confessions with no harmony among one another as each is seeking to create its own political entity or party. This led to the formation of parties that express a complex (racial/religious) identity. For instance, there were four Filian Kurds’ political organizations, which refused to merge into the Shiite or Kurdish mainstream for fear of being exploited and absorbed, thus driving all of them to participate in both electoral processes. Moreover, twelve Christian political parties and organizations were divided as parties, unions, political organizations and movements whereas the Turkmens joined forces within fourteen political blocs.
This profusion of political organizations within the Iraqi minorities, which barely amount to 1% of the overall population, indicates the existence of political divisions and social fragmentation even among members of the same social community.
b – Fragmentation and divisions within parties Another factor that contributed to the multiplication of parties in Iraq so that they came to constitute a social phenomenon pertains to the very nature of these parties, which are plagued by fragmentation and divisions. As a matter of fact, there are more than twenty nationalist parties in Iraq today. For instance, the Nasserite Party split into four different parties and organizations, namely the Nasserite Socialist Party, the Unified Nasserite National Party, the Socialist Nasserite Vanguard Party in Iraq and the Unionist Nasserite Grouping. The phenomenon of fragmentation and divisions applies to political organizations of all forms and orientations in Iraq, whether Islamic or liberal, old or new (table 2). It also holds true for Arab and non-Arab nationalist parties, which reflects the instability of their leaderships and organizational structures as well as the acuteness of their internal divisions.
Table 2: Divisions within the parties
The fragmentation and divisions that these parties are witnessing reflect the absence of a healthy political life as well as a leadership conflict. Some parties have thus become more similar to “small shops” for those coveting leadership positions, which grants them the chance to win a position in power or a seat in the government as secretaries generals of some party. These divisions also reveal the absence of democracy within the parties as such and the dictatorial nature of their leadership whereby the party leader marginalizes the leadership during the decision-making process, thus driving the others to secede from the party. This characteristic of partisan life in Iraq is added to the disintegration and splitting of parties due to ideological crises and poor organization, as was the case with the Iraqi Communist Party and the Islamic Call Party.
c – The role of laws and legislations organizing the political process The legislations governing the political process in Iraq after 2003 contributed to increasing party membership. These legislations include the Law of Administration for the State, the Law of Political Parties and Entities nº 97 (2004) and the Electoral Law nº 96 (2004). The Law of Parties gave each individual the right to establish a political entity that is entitled to compete in the elections upon offering proof of support and the signatures of 500 qualified voters. This means that any person can file for candidacy individually or within a bloc bearing a political denomination.
These legislative facilities encouraged the multiplication of parties since they offered some guarantees and privileges allowing these organizations to become active parties in the political process, especially during the electoral period, while changing their classification from structural parties to forces participating in the decision-making process, which is the reason behind the creation of any political party. However, any chance these parties had to benefit from the legislative qualities was undermined by the real data resulting from the first elections and the fact that large numbers of these parties came out without any advantages in light of the sectarian polarization revealed by these elections. Many were therefore compelled to find alternatives. Some chose to withdraw and freeze all partisan action at least during the current period. Indeed, tens of parties closed down their offices and their leaders were forced to move out of Iraq by the security conjuncture. The lists of blocs running for the second elections (as published by the Higher Electoral Commission) showed that fifty six parties and political organizations were absent as they had abstained from filing for candidacy following their failure during the first elections. Some leaders disbanded their entities and joined an alliance or a new electoral list on an individual basis, such as Wael Abdellatif, who had been the representative of the Peace and Development Movement and who joined the Iraqi List during the second elections on an individual basis. The same holds true for Abdel Khaleq Zankana who represented the Kurdistan Popular Movement in the first elections while running on an individual basis in the second elections after joining the Kurdistan Alliance list. On the other hand, other entities chose to enter into new coalitions and alliances in order to make sure that they would reap some political benefits.
d – The external factor Another objective factor behind the profusion of parties is represented by the existence of foreign interference and States acting upon different interests, at the head of which one finds the Coalition Authority, which ruled Iraq for more than a year before the transitional Iraqi government was formed and power was transferred to it. Iraq’s civil administrator Paul Bremer played an important role in the emergence of political denominations affiliated to several persons and blocs with no experience in the political field. He actually encouraged the leaders and notables of known clans in Iraq to form political blocs and parties, such as the Al-Jabbour and Al-Tamim clans, in return for promises of substantial profits within the new Iraqi State. Sources shed light on two institutions that are affiliated to the US Department of Defense, namely the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI). The offices of both institutions in Iraq had sums earmarked for financing parties. More than one explanation was given for the civil administrator’s encouragement for establishing this great number of political organizations. According to some, these trends denote a US will to divide the internal front of political forces and prevent the formation of a single unified front by funding multiple parties, hence multiple – and sometimes conflicting – convictions and interests, which can derive from partisan pluralism. Therefore, according to supporters of this opinion, the idea of extensive partisan plurality in Iraq comes from an external source aimed at achieving a single purpose, i.e. the absence of an extended Iraqi front. In contrast, another opinion explains the encouragement of pluralism as the will of the victorious United States to leave a special impression regarding the implementation of the democratic principles proclaimed during the Iraq War and justify the war against this country to its people.
The Americans are not the only ones to support the formation of parties. Indeed, several Arab and Islamic countries are known to provide extensive support to some Iraqi factions in order to further particular interests. These include Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and even Libya, which is financing at least two parties. The existence of these supporters contributed to the growth of new parties.
3 – The organizational structures and leadership patterns Iraqi parties are established according to various organizational structures ranging from pyramidal (Leninist) structures, military structures (militias’ parties), bureaucratic structures (offices) and charismatic ones, which do not encompass any partisan body as they are rather limited to the leader (charisma) and the base, the majority of which is elitist (salons’ parties) and merely composed of their office employees.
In Iraq’s case, parties have noticeably intertwining and mixed patterns. For instance, the organizational structure of a political organization such as the Supreme Council joins the charismatic and bureaucratic patterns to the military one due to the existence of an affiliated militia, the Badr Brigade.
The rules and procedures of more than twenty parties (which were the object of a study) indicate that all parties have an organizational structure composed of the general secretariat or the general body (as in the rules and procedures of the National Accord Movement and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution), the general convention and the political bureau, which importance varies within the parties’ organizational structures. Indeed, it represents on the one hand the highest authority or executive body, which is responsible for policy management in some parties, such as in the Virtue Party (Islamic Shiite), the National Union of Kurdistan (nationalist) and the National Accord Movement (liberal). On the other hand, this bureau is merely one of the series of committees composing the party’s structure, such as in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution and the National Conference, which replaced the political bureau by a general secretariat composed of thirteen members elected by the general body. Religious parties adopt the concept of consultation, and the consultative body is part of their structures, such as the Kurdistan Islamic Union, the Islamic Action Organization and the Islamic Call Party. The Consultative Council here represents the highest legislative authority while the Central Committee in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution stands for the highest body within the Council and is headed by the Council’s president, who is elected by the Central Committee. The rules and procedures of some Islamic parties included positions, such as the guide, the emir and the jurist as is the case in the Kurdistan Islamic Group. A description of the most prominent patterns found in the main Iraqi parties is provided in the following:
a – The Leninist pattern: This highly centralized system is composed of a pyramidal structure of positions with each obeying the one above it. This pattern is found in old parties with a historical dimension, such as the Iraqi Communist Party, the disbanded Baath Party and the Islamic Call Party. The latter is formed of pyramidal partisan positions at the top of which lies the Conference with the partisan rings at the basis.it is based on the principle of commitment and obedience. The ring stands for a concept that is synonymous to the committees or bureaus. Each organizational or specialized committee in the party is viewed as a ring, and is composed of a head and members. The National Union of Kurdistan is an example of the pyramidal Leninist structure since its structure at the base of the pyramid is composed of cells, which are linked to the division supervising them. The latter is, in turn, supervised by an organization section headed by an organization committee, which is responsible for managing the organizational sectors within a given geographical area. On a higher echelon, one finds the organization center, which is composed of the heads of organization committees. The next in rank is the organization bureau, which is a leadership body that runs all organizations of the National Union of Kurdistan. It is superseded by the leadership commission, which is the highest authority between two conventions. It is composed of thirty five members and is responsible for electing the political bureau. The latter is made up of nine to eleven members and a secretary-general. On top of this pyramidal structure lies the conference, which elects the party’s president or secretary-general. This pattern guarantees the party’s continuity, contrary to the charismatic pattern. In the case of Iraqi parties, it also guarantees easy negotiations with the leadership to which the party responds as a body. However, this pattern is exposed to the threat of divisions and does not give any chance to individual initiatives.
b – The bureaucratic pattern:
This kind of structure is based on a series of bureaus, each being equal to the other. There is no pyramidal relation as it is an open organization. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution is an example of this pattern of organizational structures as it is composed of the general body, which includes a president, a vice-president and 300 members. It elects the Central Committee, which in turn elects the president. Five bureaus spring from the consultation, and each has its own administrative body and paid staff. This pattern started in the husseiniyyahs given that Shiite Islamic parties transformed places of worship into the cores of their meetings in which they called for endorsing the party’s ideas, positions and organizational political line.
c – The charismatic pattern:
This pattern is based on the charismatic religious structures. One example is the Sadr Movement whereby there is no party body or structural organization, but rather a leader, a cleric who enjoys sanctity inherited from the Sadr family in addition to financial resources. However, in the case of the abovementioned current, there is some kind of interrelation between the charismatic pattern and the decentralized military one. Indeed, it relies on militias (the Mahdi Army), which transformed into uncontrolled armed groups ever since the attack against the Tomb of the Two Imams in Samarra in February 2006. Each group then started to further its own agenda as the current’s leader is not capable of controlling them.
d – The military pattern:
A group of organizations that supported or were opposed to the political process adopted a military operation mode. Some of the main parties relied on their own militias to implement their platforms by force and promote their mobilization capacities. Militias were an essential basic component as some turned into partisan organizations and entered the arena of political competition, such as the Badr Brigade and the Hezbollah Movement in Iraq. These militias defined the party’s general orientation, tactics and shape.
e – The elitist pattern:
The majority of organizations on the partisan landscape, whether moderate or Arab nationalist, are elitist (structural) parties with a structure formed by the party’s cadre. Its number is limited and has no popular dimension. Even though their rules and procedures indicate the existence of an organizational structure, it is devoid of any substance. In this context, the National Dialogue Front is one of the few parties that were established after 2003 and won eleven seats in the Parliament. Its leader Saleh al-Mutlak declared that there is a great void in his party’s organizational structure as well as vacant positions since there are no personalities who have particular standards enabling them to fill these positions without leading the party into the trap of sectarian identity.
One of the most important indicators of the weakness of partisan performance in Iraq is the parties’ incapacities to attract the various classes and components of society (racial and religious). This holds true mainly for the parties that won most of their votes and came to power by playing the ethnic and religious card during the elections as they exploited confessional loyalties to mobilize voters. Accordingly, the individual’s confessional position became the first parameter defining his vote. These parties had recourse to mosques and husseiniyyahs as centers of mobilization activity in order to direct their supporters towards a unique opinion. Their electoral base increased thanks to their presence within power circles as they took advantage of the resources of the ministries they controlled in order to win and buy the voters ballot.
These parties’ crisis was further exacerbated by the fact that the Iraqi people abstained from partisan action. In fact, most of those who joined political organizations after 2003 are the sons of former followers of some parties, such as the Iraqi Communist Party and the National Democratic Party (except for the Sadr Movement, which was joined by a marginalized social class mostly composed of youth). The Iraqis otherwise had a negative reaction vis-à-vis the parties. A survey carried out in June 2005 by the Independent Institute for Administrative Studies and the Civil Society shed light on proportions that prove the parties’ failure to attract Iraqi public opinion and revealed the citizens’ distrust of parties in general. 49.84% of those polled said they did not trust political parties at all. 11.77% do not trust them to some extent while 16.93% trust them to some extent and 6.3% trust them completely. 78.02% of those polled also answered that they did not support any party or movement whereas 90.3% said that they had not been contacted by any party or movement.
f – The leadership patterns:
The parties’ rules and procedures reveal that all organizations adopt a democratic method in order to choose their leadership, and all of them indicate the existence of a general convention during which the leadership and the secretary-general are elected. However, reality reveals an entirely different story. With regard to the leaderships, it turns out that, in most parties, these are permanent, historical ones (elected for life). The leadership within a single party never changes, even in parties that hold conventions every once in a while. This entails the absence of the democratic mechanism, which oversees the party’s organizational action. Two patterns of partisan leadership can be defined in Iraq’s case:
i. Religious/clannish traditional leadership
Several parties revolve around the charismatic person as is the case in Shiite and Sunni Islamic parties whereby the whole party gathers around a cleric or religious symbol through whom it exerts its influence on the masses. The phenomenon of religious leadership on the Iraqi partisan landscape is most clear since parties have made use of their religious symbols in the emotional mobilization of the masses and exploited their emotional turmoil as means to obtain political gains. Nowadays, parties with religious leadership enjoy a clear dominance on the political stage in Iraq. Examples of this kind of organizations are the Sadr Movement headed by Moqtada al-Sadr, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution headed by al-Hakim family (a religious family) and the Virtue Party, which considers Sayyed Yaacoubi as its supreme guide, in addition to the Islamic Action Organization headed by Sayyed Mohammad Taqi al-Madrasi and the Association of Muslim Scholars headed by the cleric Hareth al-Dari. Moreover, several political blocs and entities that competed for Parliament seats are headed by clan sheikhs aiming at playing a political role. They thus benefited from their influence and their impact on their subjects within the clan since they have the capacity to finance their electoral campaigns, such as the Iraqis’ Bloc leader Ghazi al-Yawer, the Dialogue Council leader Khalaf al-Ulayyan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Massoud Barazani. Nevertheless, the influence of these tribal leaders is qualitatively and quantitatively different from that of religious leaders as it is related to the transformation in the role of the clan as an institution and the precedence of the religious institutions over it.
ii. Non-traditional leaderships
Non-traditional leaders, remain at the party’s helm by ‘inheritance’, controlled elections or the elite’s choice (the oligarchic group), which dominates the party leadership due to political, social and financial considerations. The latter is an important factor related to the problem of party financing, which is often in the secretary-general’s hands (in Iraq’s case) and depends on his capacity to find sources to finance his party. These may come from his private resources (e.g. the National Democratic Party, financed by Nassir al-Jaderji, the Dialogue Council, financed by Saleh al-Mutlak and the Gathering of Independent Democrats, financed by Adnan Bachachi), or from his contacts and his capacity to convince donors of financing the country, such as in the National Accord Movement and the National Conference. The leaders of these parties remain in their positions as long as they are the only ones capable of financing them. One partisan feature in Iraq is that the party is linked to its founder’s or its president’s personality, such as the Iraqi Nation Party, which exceptionally won a single parliamentary seat. Indeed, it does not express any sectarian or nationalist identity, but its members have rallied around its president Mithal al-Alousi rather than around its partisan approach or its political platform. The elections held by several parties as a power rotation mechanism did not succeed in changing the permanent leaders. For instance, the Iraqi Communist Party held a convention in 2006 to elect its leadership and heads of committees, but this led to the election of Hamid Majid Moussa, who had been the party’s president since 1993. The elections organized by the Islamic Call Party were equally unable to change the faces. The party’s president Nuri al-Maliki justified this by the fact that the cadre’s development requires field work that takes several years. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution also reelected Abdul Aziz al-Hakim as the Council’s president after he succeeded his brother Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim in this position. Hence, the repetition of the same faces at the parties’ helm and the presence of pivotal persons for a long period of time is the dominant feature of political organizations in Iraq. This means that the democratic methods implemented by some parties are not totally democratic and the elections they organize are controlled. Indeed, the same leader is chosen by a process that includes coercing members into expressing opinions contrary to their convictions, thereby reducing the margin of refusing the leader or by using tempting methods in order to win over convictions. Another adopted method is restricting the right to elect the secretary-general to few who are close to, and controlled by him in advance. Decision-making on the partisan level is conducted on superiority basis and nothing seems to indicate that the organization’s affiliates have a say in this process. Followers still receive guidance from leadership and middle-ranked party officials. Based on his own experience in this respect, one leader in the Islamic Call Party said that parties are subjected to the dictatorship of their leadership and that the renewal trend (democracy) is uncommon among the main party leadership. However, it has started to spread among the second- and third-class leaderships, as some among them believe in democracy more than first-class leadership does.
4 – The alliances and coalitions based on sectarian and ethnic identities As the elections drew near in early 2005, political parties forged alliances in order to unify and coordinate their efforts in the political process given that this mechanism was made necessary by the (elitist) structural nature of most parties. Small forces were eager to strike alliances either with larger forces due to financial restraints and the absence of support sources, or with other small organizations in order to coordinate their efforts within a new framework agreed upon by parties with similar objectives while each party retains its own organizational framework. Examples of such coalitions include the Democratic Gathering (before the creation of the Interim National Council), which encompassed parties and organizations with a long history in underground action. Nevertheless, the phenomenon of alliances grew increasingly clearer with the first elections aimed at forming a Constituent Assembly as a group of political parties and organizations entered into an alliance within the same electoral lists in order to form a greater bloc, which would enhance their chances in obtaining a higher proportion of seats within the National Assembly. The first elections, which were organized in January 2005, witnessed nine alliances compared to twenty in the second elections. However, these alliances had electoral purposes rather than political ones. Indeed, the largest of them, i.e. the United Iraqi Alliance, had no intellectual base to unite the alliance members even though it encompassed the largest Shiite Islamic parties, including Turkmen and Kurdish ones. Yet it also brought together lay and leftist parties that did not believe in the Islamic State and the rule of the Sharia, such as the National Conference, a liberal party headed by Ahmad Chalabi, and the First National Democratic Party (a socialist party). This indicates that coalitions were not formed based on platforms and objectives, but rather on sectarian and racial grounds since these blocs are brought together by the sectarian identity, which has been exploited even by parties with objectives and orientations that are opposed to the idea of political sectarianism. This phenomenon was most obvious in the Kurdistan Alliance list, which tried to gather all Kurdish parties regardless of their lay, leftist or Islamic orientations under the ceiling of ethnic identity (Kurdish nationalism). Some Sunni parties adopted the same mechanism as they formed alliances during the second elections based on their confessional identity. This increased the alliances' chance to win the highest proportion of Parliament seats (225 out of 275 seats) at the expense of liberal and leftist parties, which did not record any satisfying results despite their alliances based on objectives and platforms, as most of them did not win any Parliament seats. While these alliances resulted from the state of polarization and sectarian/racial divisions, they contributed to deepen and promote these divisions and polarization and paved the way for sociopolitical tension exposing Iraq to the threat of civil war. The Law of Parties nº 97 (2004) helped promote this polarization as it allowed the formation of coalitions without defining any relevant conditions and regulations. This left the door wide open for political parties to exploit the nature of these critical times facing Iraqi society, in addition to the social fragmentation, that this law played a predominant role in spreading. Some parties managed to achieve significant gains by striking alliances within the Iraqi Parliament with other blocs in spite of their ideological differences as was the case with the alliance between Kurdish parties within the Kurdistan Alliance Bloc and the Shiite Islamic parties within the United Iraqi Alliance bloc. Indeed, when the former parties did not obtain the support of the democratic forces with which they shared many common points on some issues and benefits pertaining to their Kurdish representatives, they joined forces with the Alliance list after they ensured its support.
After the political crisis in Iraq broke out as the elections and the promulgation of the Constitution proved incapable of achieving political stability in Iraq, even a relative one, the major alliances of forces participating in the political process were dismantled following the strategic evolutions of some parties’ positions. The other forces and currents thus realized the dangerous consequences of the alliances that were based on sectarian and racial grounds and their role in deepening the social division. Against the backdrop of these circumstances, some political organizations sought to rebuild new political alliances, including the alliance of the so-called “moderates”. In a proposal submitted by former US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Administration had indeed called for the creation of such an alliance between the Islamic Party, the Kurdistan Alliance (the major Kurdish parties) and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution with the aim of isolating the Sadr Movement (the largest bloc within the United Iraqi Alliance) from the political process. On the sidelines of the official political process, new alliances among political parties and organizations thrived in order to exert pressures or form a common action front to face the prevailing situation in Iraq. One example is the “Gathering of Rights and the National Salvation Front”, which encompasses some thirty political blocs –from within and without the political process– and which has not been announced so far in a constituent conference due to the failure to enlist the support of one of Iraq’s neighboring countries in order to host such a conference. Another example is the “Alliance of Nationalist Currents”, which is made of twenty nationalist parties that met in Syria to hold their conference. However, these alliances were not meant to succeed due to the internal conflicts on the repartition of positions, as was the case in the United Iraqi Alliance and the conflicts it witnessed, which led to the withdrawal of the Virtue Party. Furthermore, the alliances developed by major parties, such as the Kurdish parties’ alliance with the Shiite Islamic parties, were tactical rather than strategic ones given that they are alliances among leaderships and do not extend to the bases. This is added to the constant changes on the map of alliances whereby yesterday’s foes became today’s allies, and vice versa. This was the case of the alliance between the Sadr Movement (Shiite) and the Association of Muslim Scholars (Sunni). It soon transformed into war among them after the former joined forces with the United Iraqi Alliance as the Sunnis entered the political game.
5 – The ideological and political classification of parties
a – The intellectual and platform trends The number of political parties and organizations in Iraq cannot be accurately defined due to their profusion and the speed at which some parties are established or dissolved. The main reason behind this is the absence of an official body or institution responsible for registering or licensing these parties, with the exception of the Higher Electoral Commission, which records the parties for electoral purposes only. Therefore, parties that are registered with it are the ones that entered the field of political action. According to unofficial media sources, there were over 200 parties while one attempted survey counted more than 250 political organizations, some of which participated in the elections whereas most did not. The number of political entities, which were registered with the Higher Electoral Commission in January 2005, and were active on the partisan level one way or another and competed in the elections reached 167 parties, movements, gatherings and blocs out of 226 entities, including independents. In comparison, this number rose during the second elections in December 2005 to 249 organizations out of 467 in total, knowing that fifty six political entities that ran in the first parliamentary elections did not participate in the second elections and were not registered in any lists. This large number of parties includes a noticeable small group of main or leading parties with a remarkable history and political action on the Iraqi political stage whereas the majority was mere political denominations. It seems equally hard to set a classification framework for these parties based on their orientations because many of them, especially the gatherings that emerged after 2003, are not known for their clear political action, which may not give any indication regarding their ideological orientations. A large number of them do not have any means of mass communication (newspapers, radio or TV station) that shed light on their orientations. The majority do not even have headquarters to which a researcher may go and look for answers to his questions. This is added to the ideological evolution undergone by members and leadership of these parties. Indeed, when former communists establish a new party, its features are a mixture of democratic and leftist ones, which make it difficult to label it under a specific orientation. As for the denominations of parties, they all encompass words like democracy, nationalism, patriotism and Iraqi loyalty, albeit in different locations. These denominations bring about a new obstacle hampering the classification process, which transforms the difficulty of researching political parties into a feature component of the partisan landscape in post-2003 Iraq.
Nevertheless, emerging data on the Iraqi scene imposed certain classification frameworks. Some actually sought to classify Iraqi parties according to their support of the political process and their position vis-à-vis the occupation, as some parties were opposed to this process while others supported it. Sectarian polarization also called for another classification into sectarian and non-sectarian parties and forces. In addition to this, the parties’ strength and hegemony over the political landscape in Iraq dictated a classification within three main orientations, i.e. the Islamic one, the nationalist one, while the third places all other orientations (liberal, leftist and socialist) in a single basket due to their marginal role.
A close reading of the Iraqi partisan map reveals that parties are divided into five main orientations, namely Islamic and nationalist, nationalist religious, liberal, leftist socialist and Marxist parties. This classification gives a clearer picture of the partisan landscape in Iraq on the quantitative and qualitative levels.
1. Islamic parties
Shiite and Sunni Islamic parties dominated the political landscape in the Arab part of Iraq with their capacity to influence public opinion and steer action on the one hand, and to exercise hegemony over the State and its institutions as they won the majority of votes on the other hand.
The main characteristic of the partisan map after 2003 is the increasing number of Shiite and Sunni religious parties. Indeed, the number of political entities with an Islamic background that were registered on the electoral lists reached thirty eight blocs, movements and militias that have turned into partisan organizations. They are distributed among Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish and Turkmen Islamic parties. The hegemony of the Islamic religious current over the political landscape reflects major social and political evolutions in Iraq. These currents were unable to undertake any political action until the early 1980s as they did not find any space to work and spread under the leftist (Marxist) expansion, which went as far as the religious (holy) locations of Najaf and Karbala between the 1950s and the 1970s. Yet the Islamic movement (especially the Shiite one) expanded in Iraq following the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. The achievements of this revolution on the level of the religious evolution in people’s orientations were equal in importance to those recorded by the Islamic movement in Iraq ever since it first started in the 1930s. The 1990s provided a favorable environment allowing the Islamic movement to enroll supporters. In fact, the Iraqi society was witnessing difficult living circumstances following the economic embargo whereas the ruling nationalist party was ideologically broke and the Iraqi scene was devoid of any efficient political parties and democratic civil institutions. In addition, the faith campaign called upon by the then-ruling Baath regime as well as the cultural regression and collapse due to the embargo was countered by growth and prosperity in the religious cultural structure. This is due to the fact that the Baath Party kept the rostrums (mosques, husseiniyyahs and religious institutes), which have educated several generations on religious values and symbols and developed the historical religious imagination. They thus provided ready masses for the Islamic parties that resumed their activities after the fall of the former regime. These educative rostrums remained at the service of Islamic parties without their having to make any efforts in this respect as they held weekly meetings in these places in order to mobilize their supporters. What happened after 2003 is that these parties – whether Sunni or Shiite – became the only means to express the sectarian identity they represented, which led to the increase of their popular support.
Islamic parties in Iraq can be classified into two categories:
i. The Shiite Islamic Parties
The number of political entities with a Shiite Islamic orientation, which are registered with the Higher Electoral Commission, reached thirty three entities. They were active in Shiite regions in the south and center of Iraq in addition to the areas with a Shiite majority in Baghdad. They came to represent the political expression of the identity of this population group, which amounts to 60% of the overall population. The United Iraqi Alliance List, which encompasses eighteen political organizations – including nine Shiite Islamic ones, won 5,021,137 votes. This proportion recorded 76.08% in the center and south of the country in the province of Karbala and 86.74% in the province of Ziqar, which had been a communist stronghold until the 1970s.
The main parties classified within the Shiite community include:
o The Islamic Call Party: It is one of the oldest Shiite Islamic parties. It was established in 1959 in Najaf with the aim of founding an Islamic State and implementing the Sharia. The party held the premiership for two electoral sessions. It was subjected to several secessions, including the Islamic Call Cadres, the Islamic Call Party - Iraq Organization and the Islamic Call Group.
o The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution: Established in 1982 in Iran, it was originally composed of a coalition of movements and parties, which later withdrew from it. The Supreme Council believes in the Iranian model of power, which it views as the starting point of the Islamic revolution it is trying to reproduce in Iraq while trying to abide by democracy, which most forces in Iraq claimed to have endorsed. As of late, this party declared that it relinquished the tradition of emulating the Iranian Ali Khamenei who was replaced by the Najaf-based cleric Ali Sistani. This change alludes to relinquishing the principle of the rule of the jurist.
o The Islamic Virtue Party: Established in Iraq in 2003 after seceding from the Sadr Movement, it brings together the educated elite of the Sadrist movement and operates in Basra in Southern Iraq. Ayatollah al-Yaacoubi is the spiritual guide of this party, which joined the United Iraqi Alliance only to withdraw from it in March 2007.
o The Islamic Action Organization: Established in Iraq in 1979 by Mohammad al-Husseini al-Chirazi, it is renowned for being the party of the Iranian community in Iraq. It is currently led by Mohammad Taqiyyeddine al-Madrasi.
o The Hezbollah Movement in Iraq: This organization is formed by the militants who fought against the former Iraqi regime and who are known as “al-Ahwar group”. The party operates in the southern provinces, particularly in al-Aamara and Basra, and its secretary-general Abdel Karim Mahoud al-Mohammadawi participated in the Governing Council.
The Sadr Movement: The early beginnings of this movement date back to the 1990s when the movement’s spiritual father Mohammad Baqer al-Sadr launched a movement to attract the masses, which slowly started to grow in importance. Hence, it took advantage of the religious studies’ forums in Najaf in addition to the Friday prayer initiative, which was an exceptional measure within the Shiite movement under the former regime in Iraq. The core of this phenomenon was thus characterized by the fact that is was different from Mohammad Baqer al-Sadr’s project as it expanded the Sadr family and extended it into all Iraqi provinces, especially in the South.
The Sadr Movement returned to the limelight in 2003 with its leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the son of Mohammad Baqer al-Sadr, who was assassinated by the former regime’s secret services. It is one of the largest Shiite organizations in terms of popularity, and its influence spreads throughout the Shiite areas of Baghdad and some southern regions as it is a populist, radical Islamic party that relies on armed violence.
o ii. The Sunni Islamic parties
It is hard to distinguish any party or organization professing a Sunni identity in general, and a Sunni Islamic one in particular. Indeed, except for the Iraqi Islamic Party, none of the numerous groups or blocs with an Islamic characteristic that have recourse to armed action and label themselves as Sunnis can be classified as political parties or organizations since, unlike the Shiites, the Sunnis were never able to establish a party based on sectarian identity throughout the history of partisan life in Iraq. This is related to the Sunnis’ relation with the Iraqi State, which was known for its adoption of the Sunni doctrine ever since the rule of the Ottoman Empire (even before Iraq was established as a State). Geographic, demographic and even class-related factors controlled the shape of the Iraqi State as the Sunnis dominated it. However, the Shiites historically felt that they were shut out and isolated from that State. Sunnis could think that they were a part of the State rather than a minority. This led them to accept the succeeding governments without organizing themselves within political parties with a sectarian identity. As for the Sunni Islamists, they have historically formed two parties, namely the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Liberation Party. Both organizations were introduced to Iraq in the mid-1950s by Jordanian and Palestinian elements. They managed to create a base for themselves among a number of religious youths whose line of thought did not get along with the method of the Muslim Brotherhood (which later became the Iraqi Islamic Party). Most importantly, several Shiite youths joined this party even though it was a Sunni one in terms of its intellectual basis, its sectarian trend and its leadership. Some deem that the first groups of the political Shiite doctrine emanated from it. Nevertheless, the Liberation Party remained self-centered and isolated as it did not work on creating a popular base. It resumed its activity after 2003 (there are no information regarding the nature of this activity as it did not participate in the political process), but it operates mostly in Sunni areas of Baghdad.
The two Islamic parties (i.e. the Liberation Party and the Iraqi Islamic Party) have a common feature. They both are an extension of Arab Islamic parties outside Iraq.
Established in 1960, the Iraqi Islamic Party is an extension on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Iraq. In 2003, it took part in the Governing Council as a representative of the Sunnis. Yet it did not participate in the elections of the provisional assembly in January 2005. It demanded the postponement of elections after the attack led by US and Iraqi forces against the city of Fallujah. Supporters of this party are found in Sunni areas in Baghdad, Samarra and Mosul. Many people still consider that its participation in the political process and its acceptance to take part in the Governing Council have cost it the support of the circles that were affiliated with it on the intellectual and sectarian level, especially in Western Iraq. The Islamic Party endorses the Islamic concepts from which it derives its whole process of action as it seeks to implement the Sharia as a mean of organizing society’s affairs. With regard to its position on the US occupation, it has evolved from calling for an agreement on an agenda for ending the occupation to stating lately that the occupation’s withdrawal from Iraq is not in the Iraqis’ best interest. In addition to expressing reservations and calling for abolishing the law of de-baathification and dismantling the Iraqi army, the party calls for acknowledging the role of the Iraqi resistance, which – according to it – has compelled the US Administration to review its calculations and its objectives. The party participated in the second elections, which were organized in December 2005, within an alliance with two other Sunni organizations, i.e. the Conference of the People of Iraq and the National Dialogue Council. These three entities created the Iraqi Consensus Front, which called for ending the Sunni boycott of the elections and for taking part in them.
Formed in 2005, The Conference of the People of Iraq was established by the former head of the Department of Religious Endowments Adnan al-Duleimi under the denomination of the General Conference for Sunnis in Iraq.
As for the Association of Muslim Scholars, which is headed by Hareth al-Dari, it is one of the most important Sunni forces that are active on the Iraqi landscape. It stands against the political process and is one of the fiercest opponents to the foreign presence as well as to sectarian division and federalism. Established in 2003 in Iraq, this movement of a religious character is held as a Sunni reference and deals with political affairs.
iii. The centrist current
Despite the profusion of movements and parties representing the centrist orientation from lay and democratic entities to tribal organizations, it was not able to translate into a strong political performance bearing an influence on events and on drawing the outlines of the partisan landscape in Iraq. Indeed, the majority of these parties remained weak with no popular base, organizational dimension or armed militias to guarantee their occupying a preponderant position on the Iraqi political map. These forces proved incapable of confronting two main issues. The first is the hegemony of Islamic parties and the subsequent sectarian polarizations especially after these parties had divided the State institutions among them, which enabled them to expand their influence at the expense of the moderate currents. The second issue is manifested in the emigration and splitting of the Iraqi middle class, which represents the main constituent of moderate parties which are its primary means of political expression. This class withered and disintegrated due to the living obstacles it confronted, in addition to the hampering of national industrial and trade structures during the 1990s. The fast changes occurring along with the transitional process did not allow the middle classes to fully express themselves while the currents representing them were unable to strengthen their ranks and mobilize their audiences.
These two challenges were even tougher to confront as most of these parties were small, scattered and incapable of forming alliances among each other, let alone coordinating their efforts vis-à-vis the fast-evolving events due to conflicts and rivalries among the parties of this current. One such example of the coordination incapacity occurred when these parties met in Kurdistan before the second elections in order to reach an agreement on postponing them. Most blocs recanted their agreement at the time, which put the forces that insisted on postponing the elections in an isolated and weak position. It is worth mentioning that there are no clear boundaries among centrist parties since conflicts are no longer ideological ones insofar as they are centered on leadership. The main problem centrist parties are suffering from in this critical period of Iraq’s political history is that they are not classified according to identities (religious or racial), which is one of the main factors leading to the regression of the lay and liberal parties’ roles. In fact, the nature of this period and the mood of sectarian/ethnic polarizations for which sectarian and nationalist parties paved the way made it necessary for any party to acquire a sectarian identity if it were to be active, affect the collective formation of the public opinion and, therefore, have a chance to access decision-making positions. The National Dialogue Front headed by Saleh al-Mutlak is a model of a political organization that went from being a liberal party representing all national components and confessions to a party with a sectarian identity. Indeed, voters in Iraq dealt with this party as a Sunni one and most of the votes it won during the second elections came from the Sunni provinces, hence the classification of parties and organizations.
According to some political leadership, the centrist current is devoid of any impact whatsoever due to US influence, which facilitated the emergence of conflicting sectarian parties – whether Sunni or Shiite – whereas it did not grant the same opportunity to the liberal parties. Other leaders still believe that regional parties also wished for the Iraqi regime to acquire a complex sectarian identity represented in the sectarian political elites, whose interests were guaranteed by the system of shares. Sectarian divisions have obviously had a bearing even on centrist currents, and were one of the reasons behind the secessions that these parties witnessed. Members of a given liberal party actually divided according to their confessions and established a new party. The partisan landscape provides two examples for this kind of secession. The first is that of the National Conference from which Mithal al-Alousi (who is a Sunni) seceded to establish the Iraqi Nation Party. The second one is the National Democratic Party as its Shiite leadership withdrew from it and formed a new organization entitled the First National Democratic Party. The main centrist parties are:
o The National Accord Movement: According to the Movement, it was first established in London in 1991. It transferred its activities to Amman in 1996 and exercised political action as a party opposed to the Baath Party in Iraq in addition to its publishing the Baghdad newspaper and running the Al-Mustaqbal radio station. The Movement participated in the formation of the Governing Council after 2003 and its leader Iyad Allawi became the first prime minister of the transitional government. The Movement stood against the law of de-baathification while calling for laicism and political pluralism. Its list ranked third in the first elections; however, its alliance with more than fifteen leftist, lay and clannish organizations and movements ranked only fourth in the second elections. The Movement is opposed to the establishment of a federal State in southern Iraq and to the withdrawal of the multinational forces from the country. It has branches and offices in Baghdad and in several Iraqi regions.
o The Iraqi National Conference: Established in London in 1992, it was at the outset a conglomeration of Iraqi opposition parties before transforming into a party affiliated to its president Ahmad Chalabi, who managed to restore the Conference’s ranks after the withdrawal of most of its constituent parties. The party participated through its president in the formation of the Governing Council and entered into an alliance with the United Iraqi Alliance (Shiite). It started establishing the “Shiite house” with the aim of bringing the members of the Governing Council (the thirteen Shiite members) together in order to take decisions, which was the core element on which the Iraqi Alliance was based. In spite of its calling for laicism and democracy, it joined the main Shiite Islamic parties in an alliance as they ran on the same list in the first elections. Its leader became vice-premier in al-Jaafari’s government before withdrawing from the alliance in the second elections as it objected that few seats had been allocated to it, knowing that its withdrawal from the Alliance caused it to win no parliamentary seats whatsoever. The Conference is opposed to the withdrawal of the multinational forces while it supports the establishment of a federal State in the South. It enjoys good relations with Iran and is one of the heralds of de-baathification. Upon first spreading in Iraq after 2003, it tried to enlist the support of clan sheikhs.
o The Gathering of Independent Democrats: It is not a political party in the “concrete” sense of the word, but rather a current that comprises a group of elites and technocrats. Even though it was established in 2003 in Baghdad, the idea behind the gathering was first forged earlier in London. Its leader Adnan Bachachi was a member of the transitional Governing Council and a strong candidate for the presidency under the transitional government. This gathering had hopes for an important role in Iraq’s future. After winning no parliamentary seats during the first elections, it joined the Iraqi List headed by Iyad Allawi. The gathering as a political organization withered and melted within the Iraqi List. The Gathering calls for separating religion from the State and expresses reservations on the law of de-baathification as well as on the establishment of a federal State in the South.
o The National Democratic Party: This old political party was established in 1946 and enjoys a major political influence in addition to extensive popularity. Known as the party of the middle class, and sometimes as that of the bourgeoisie, it was famed for its patriotic positions and the charisma of its former leader Kamel al-Jaderji (d. 1969). After putting an end to its activity in 1963, its remaining former leaders held a gathering after 2003 in order to discuss the introduction of amendments to the party’s procedure and rules in conformity with the current period. The son of the party’s founder and former communist Nassir al-Jaderji was chosen as the party’s president and participated in the formation of the Governing Council as a representative of the Sunni community. The party is viewed as a liberal current although its leadership classifies it as a leftist socialist party. It witnessed a secession movement due to conflict over its leadership, under the pretext of allowing communists to reach leadership positions.
2. Nationalist currents
The nationalist current includes a vast array of parties from all nationalist currents that form the Iraqi society fabric (Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen, Assyrian and Shabak). The number of nationalist parties registered with the Higher Electoral Commission reached forty nine entities, including twelve Turkmen political organizations, eight Christian-Assyrian organizations, seventeen Kurdish political entities, one Shabak organization and eleven Arab nationalist political entities. Nationalist parties have various levels of influence. For instance, the Kurdish parties, which had been pitted against the successive Iraqi governments, now represent an influential force to be reckoned with in the Iraqi political equation. Their political influence was most obvious in the proportion of seats they won in the Parliament, their role in orienting the process of drafting the constitution, their participation in the government and the key ministries they obtained.
However, the situation seems different with the Baathist and Nasserite Arab nationalist parties, which amount to ten Nasserite organizations. Some of them were established after a group of nationalist parties merged together, such as the Nasserite Socialist Party (three parties) and the Unified Nasserite National Party (merge of six parties). Despite its old influence (which turned into a historical one), these currents remained weak and dispersed compared to the Islamic and nationalist Kurdish ones. Furthermore, they still retained their old leaderships as they have not sought to renew themselves or adapt their ideology to the developments on the Iraqi stage, which resulted in the isolation and the marginalization of many of them. Although a few of them entered into the electoral mainstream and ran for parliamentary seats, which means that they supported the political process, the majority of them is still opposed to this process and to US presence in Iraq.
The current partisan landscape in Iraq reflects a reaction expressed by the dominant parties against the nationalist current and any nationalist ideology of an Arab character. It labels all nationalist currents under the same category as the “banned Baath Party” and deals with them as clearly unwanted on the political level. Their previous Shiite extension vanished ever since the Baath Party took over the reigns of power in Iraq and attracted their popular bases in its favor. Most parties that represent this current are therefore “elitist” parties with no popular base. As for their audience, it lined up based on sectarian and racial grounds around the parties, which represented their sectarian and ethnic identity, be it Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish or Assyrian.
The two main parties within this current on today’s partisan map are the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the National Union of Kurdistan.
o The Kurdistan Democratic Party: The party was established in Baghdad in 1946 based on three main clannish and leftist currents in addition to the Current of Educated Kurdish Nationalists. However, it gave up its leftist wing in order to be able to obtain a license in 1960, and is currently labeled as a nationalist and centrist party. It controls the regions of Irbil and Dahuk since 1991, and its leader Massoud Barazani is the president of the province of Kurdistan. This party is bent on creating a federal State in Kurdistan, but the kind of federalism it is calling for is closer to a confederation than to a federation. Ever since the fall of the former regime in 2003, it enjoys good relations with the US Administration as it has been one of the heralds of de-baathification. The issue of Kirkuk and the normalization of relations in this city as a prelude to its attachment to the province of Kurdistan have been the central issue on the platform of this party.
o The National Union of Kurdistan: It was established based on the initiative of Jalal Talabani after the defeat of the Kurdish Revolution as Iran ceased to support it in 1975. Talabani has been leading the party ever since then after he seceded from Kurdish leader Mustapha al-Barazani, who was the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in 1964. The party was influenced by the Maoist thinking based on its belief that the Chinese model was the most suitable one in the Iraqi province of Kurdistan. The party leader has been the president of Iraq for two electoral sessions.
Fighting erupted between the two Kurdish parties in 1994, and resulted in the National Union of Kurdistan seizing control of the province of Al-Sulaymaniyyah and areas of the province of Kirkuk, which are its traditional regions of influence. The National Union is perceived as more moderate than the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Indeed, even though they share the same positions on the same issues, the former adopts a more moderate stance towards the law of de-baathification.
6 – The relation of parties with the State as a central power and their representation in the Parliament On the level of the relation to power, Iraqi parties are classified under three main orientations, namely parties that dominate the political process, parties that are participating in the process while being marginalized within the decision-making process and those opposed to the political process and are resisting the State power. With regard to the ruling parties, the constituent and legislative elections organized in Iraq in January and December 2005 gave rise to several factions, which took part in the political process on the level of legislative (the Parliament) or executive power (the Presidency Council). These factions include active parties that dominate the political process in addition to other parties and organizations, which merely have a formal and marginal presence within the power structure.
Table 3: The factions participating in power in addition to the nature and scope of their participation
Source: Electoral lists and Faleh Abdel Jabar, Civil Society in Post-War Iraq (in Arabic), (Beirut: Strategic Studies Institute, 2006), pp. 39-41.
A reading of the aforementioned table shows that the number of alliances, which include more than one party and which have won in the December 2005 elections, reached six alliances out of twenty that ran in these elections. The number of winning political parties and organizations within these alliances was fifty political entities; eighteen of them were represented in the Parliament while the rest of parties did not win any seats.
Furthermore, six organizations were represented in the Parliament without joining in any alliance. Hence, the number of so-called parliamentary parties reached twenty four political organizations out of 249 political entities that had filed for candidacy.
A striking fact in the results of both electoral processes is that the winning parties in the January 2005 elections retained approximately the same political weight during the second elections in December 2005. For instance, the Islamic Call Party managed to get the premiership twice whereas the presidency went to the Kurdish Party for two consecutive terms. The same observation holds true for the relative majority and the legislative weight within the Parliament as a few parties conserved their hegemony over the legislative power (the Parliament) and the executive power (the Presidency Council and the Council of Ministers). Some ministers even remained in the same positions even though the government changed four times since 2003. This is the case of the Foreign Affairs minister and the Finance Minister, both of whom are affiliated to the two Kurdish nationalist parties.
7 – The polarization and conflicts on political and constitutional issues Political factions are divided over a number of essential issues pertaining to the political situation and the shape of the system in Iraq. The most important of these issues are:
a – The position vis-à-vis federalism Federalism is one of the most important controversial issues. Political forces were divided between those who enthusiastically called for it and those who were opposed to the idea or to the means of its implementation. The core of the conflict among political blocs is the nature of federalism that will be applied in Iraq and the level of decentralization and participation in national resources. While federalism in Kurdistan is a nearly settled matter, the main debate is centered on the establishment of a federation in Iraq’s south and center regions, which was requested by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution as well as other Islamic and liberal Shiite parties (Ahmad Chalabi’s National Conference). These parties actually argued that it was the best formula for coexistence among the various groups that make up the Iraqi society. Other Shiite parties lined up against the concept of federalism, such as the Virtue Party and the Sadr Movement, and this notion was also rejected by the centrist forces (the National Accord Movement and the National Democratic Party), which tend for a strong, centralized State without expressing any opposition against federalism in Kurdistan. In contrast, the Sunni current represented by the Islamic Party, the Conference of the People of Iraq, the Dialogue Council and the Nation Party in addition to the forces opposed to the political process, such as the Association of Muslim Scholars and the Arab nationalist parties all expressed strong reactions against the federal formula for fear of the creation of a Shiite State affiliated with Iran and the disintegration of Iraq’s unity.
b – The position vis-à-vis the issue of Kirkuk Kirkuk is a city in which conflict brews within the major ethnicities (Kurds and Arabs) and smaller ones (Turkmen and Assyrians) as well over what will become a dominant ethnicity in a given province (the Kurds). The major Kurdish parties insist on attaching this region to the Kurds’ federation. They succeeded in their effort to impose a constitutional provision stipulating the normalization of relations in Kirkuk (bringing emigrates/immigrates back to it) and the organization of a referendum, which results would decide the fate of this region before the end of 2007. Political parties and forces were divided over the issue of Kirkuk’s annexation to the Kurds’ federation, which contains 12% of Iraq’s oil reserves, knowing that the Communist Party and the Assyrian Democratic Movement supported the Kurdish parties in this respect. In contrast, the Turkmen Front, the Arab nationalist current, the Association of Muslim Scholars, the al-Khalisi Group and the Sadrist current in addition to the Virtue Party, the dismantled Baath Party and the Syrian wing of the Baath Party are all opposed to Kirkuk’s annexation to the province of Kurdistan. The Islamic Call Party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution and the Constitutional Monarchy Movement expressed reservations on this issue.
c – The position vis-à-vis de-baathification The decision to dismantle the Baath Party was taken in May 2003 as a guarantee against the return of dictatorship and as a punitive measure through which the subsequently ruling forces sought to avenge what they endured from its oppressive regime. This decision gave rise to political and administrative problems as an extensive number of administrative civil servants were set aside under the pretext that they were affiliated with the Baath party. De-baathification and the fate of the former army’s officers and members were one of the most important sources of tension and rebellion in Iraq. The Shiite Islamic forces (represented by the Sadr Movement, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, the Islamic Call Party and the Virtue Party) and non-Islamic ones (the National Conference) call for implementing and expanding the law of de-baathification. This request is also endorsed by the Kurdish parties, the Iraqi Communist Party and the Assyrian Democratic Movement. In contrast, there are demands to abrogate this law, which is opposed by the National Accord Movement, Arab nationalist parties, the Syrian wing of the Baath Party, the Dialogue Council and the Nation Party as well as the Conference of the People of Iraq, the Islamic Party and the Association of Muslim Scholars.
d – The position vis-à-vis the occupation forces’ presence The forces opposed to the political process are represented by the Association of Muslim Scholars, Arab nationalist parties, the banned Baath Party and its subsidiaries and the so-called resistant forces in addition to the Sadr Movement and the Dialogue Front. They call for ending the occupation and setting a deadline for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq. The Islamic Party and the Conference of the People of Iraq were among the strongest heralds of the foreign forces’ immediate withdrawal. However, their positions with regard to foreign presence changed in light of the evolving political and security situation and the fear of having violence spread on a wide scale. As for the Shiite forces represented by the Islamic Call Party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, the Kurdish forces and the National Accord Movement, they are opposed to the withdrawal of the occupation forces and call for the extension and continuation of their mission. The parties dominating power emanated from the reality resulting from the elections. Nevertheless, this reality was modified in order to reach this result ever since the experience of the Governing Council. Indeed, the parties that joined in this Council used the evolutions of power to their own benefit by exploiting the State financial resources for electoral propaganda purposes as religion, reference positions and sectarian and racial grievances were exploited in order to win power once again, thus causing confusion in popular thinking.