Pakistan

Sectarian paradigms persist outside Iraq

shia-hizbuddawa A News Letter of Largest Shiite Organization of Iraq Hizbud Dawa on Sectarian paradigms When the Accountability and Justice Law was passed in January 2008, it was hailed by the international community as a significant milestone towards achieving political reconciliation and long term stability. It was considered by the United States a key legislative benchmark and an indicator of political success. The law’s predecessor, the de-Baathification Law, was seen as excessively harsh, excluding low-ranking former Baath Party members had been absolved of any crimes against the Iraqi people. The passing of the Accountability and Justice Law, which was overwhelmingly approved by the Council of Representatives, was also seen as a symbolic acknowledgment that Iraq’s Sunni Arabs were an integral part of the political process. However, the new law maintained the constitutional principle that senior Baathists and pro-Saddam sympathisers should have no part in the democratic process. It is therefore ironic that the Accountability and Justice Commission’s decision to bar 511 candidates from participating in the elections has caused some members of the international community to express serious concerns about the exclusion of these candidates, even calling into question the Commission’s legitimacy. Some political commentators and journalists have described the recent developments as a threat to democracy and warned of a looming political crisis. Even more alarming are the accusations that the barring of candidates is an attempt to exclude Sunni Arabs from the political process. For most Iraqis, these accusations are a stark reminder of the sectarian rhetoric that was so predominant in the early years of post-Saddam Iraq. In reality, all the main political blocs have candidates who have been included in the Commission’s list, with two-thirds of them being Shias. Their exclusion from a list of over six thousand candidates will in no way diminish the inclusive nature of the upcoming elections. Those who have objected to the Accountability and Justice Commission’s work claim to do so in the interests of free and fair democratic elections. However, their alarmist reaction is simply stoking the very sectarianism that Iraqis have fought so hard to overcome. The baseless accusations that the government is influencing the Commission’s decisions may indicate an underlying misunderstanding of the political dynamics in Iraq. Alternatively, it may suggest a deliberate attempt by some to tarnish the credibility of Prime Minister Al-Maliki and his coalition. Either way, these claims conveniently ignore the basic democratic and pluralist framework within which the Commission operates. The Commission’s work is overseen by a separate parliamentary committee composed of representatives from all Iraq’s political blocs, which has concurred with the vast majority of names on the list. In addition, barred candidates have the right to appeal to a seven-member panel of judges, who were approved by a majority vote in parliament only last week. The government, which is also represented by the majority of Iraq’s political blocs, has no say in the entire process. Those who have sided with the excluded candidates have also ignored the genuine threat that Baath Party sympathisers pose to democracy in Iraq. It is the very same Baath Party that bred a culture of totalitarianism for thirty-five years, recklessly waged wars with its neighbours and threatened international peace and security. The presence of politicians who continue to defend such actions would not be tolerated in any established democracy. And yet there are Iraqi parliamentarians who openly defend the crimes of the former regime, and accuse those who stood against it of treason. The Baath Party has yet to admit any wrongdoing, and refuses to apologize to the families of their victims. Iraq’s determination to marginalize the Baath Party and its ideology is therefore no different from the international community’s intolerance of the Nazi party. All Iraqis, whether Sunnis, Shias, Kurds or Christians, were victims of Saddam’s regime. They have moved on from the sectarian rhetoric that attempts to caricature the complex dynamic of Iraqi society. Perhaps it is time for some sections of the international community to follow suit and accept that the new democratic Iraq operates under entirely different terms.

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