Confessional politics ensured Iran’s colonisation of Iraq

If Iraqis weather the storm of Tehran-sponsored violence against their just protest movement, they stand a real chance of success in defeating the Iranian colonial project that has crippled their country for the better part of 17 years.
Wednesday 04/12/2019
An Iraqi anti-government protester rests during a sit-in at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, December 4. (AP)
An Iraqi anti-government protester rests during a sit-in at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, December 4. (AP)

Iraqis have been celebrating the downfall of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi who was forced to resign following a brutal massacre of protesters in the southern city of Nasiriyah last week. But these celebrations were somewhat muted in the face of the sheer amount of innocent blood that had to be spilled by security forces and Iran-backed Shia jihadists before demonstrations forced Abdul-Mahdi out of office. The demonstrators were also dissatisfied with the prime minister’s departure, saying that the entire system must go.

The system the protesters are demanding must go is the ethno-sectarian confessionalism, better known as muhasasa in Iraq, that has dominated the country’s politics since former President Saddam Hussein was toppled by the United States-led coalition in 2003. This system ensures that Iraq’s perceived three main demographics, the Shia, the Sunnis, and the Kurds, would share power through a division of the presidency, prime ministry, and parliamentary speakership posts. It would guarantee a succession of weak and ineffective governments with political parties jostling for control over ministries and their expansive budgets to line their own pockets while Iraqis suffered.

The muhasasa system was first agreed under the auspices of a US-backed Iraqi opposition conference held in the aftermath of the 1990-1991 Gulf War. Washington gathered a variety of Kurdish separatists, Sunni Islamists connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, and Shia Islamists who were Iranian clients. Between them, and with American encouragement, the parties agreed the muhasasa system and justified it by saying it would prevent the one-party rule of the Ba’athists. In reality, it was just a scheme to enrich these parties and their followers, and to keep Iraqis divided and at each other’s throats rather than on focusing on working together for everyone’s benefit.

It is therefore completely understandable that foreign powers, particularly Iran, would want to sustain the muhasasa system and the weak governments it has produced. Why would Iran, an imperial power with sectarian regional designs, want a strong and united Iraq that could stand on its own two feet and face the world? Such an Iraq would not allow its economy to be abused by Iran to escape international sanctions. Such an Iraq would not allow for its sovereignty to be breached, and its territory used to transport Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Shia jihadists to Syria to slaughter innocent people. Iran would simply lose its most valuable and prized colonial territory.

Similarly, it is completely understandable why Iraqis are not satisfied with the prime minister’s departure alone. Why would Iraqis not want a strong government capable of executed a legislative agenda that puts their interests before the interests of foreign powers? Why would Iraqis not want political parties to be formed on the basis of a common understanding of citizenship, rather than sectarian and ethnic divisions? These are enjoyed by effective and functioning democracies around the world, so it is not unusual that Iraqis would want the same for themselves.

Demonstrators first took to the streets demanding fundamental reform at the beginning of October and now the toppling of the country’s top politician even after some 420 protesters have been killed does mark a significant milestone. It proves that, with steadfast persistence, Iraqis can accomplish their aspirations, bring an end to the corruption plaguing their country, and finally set about the business of building a state system based on citizenship rather than sectarian partisan interests.

If Iraqis weather the storm of Tehran-sponsored violence against their just protest movement, they stand a real chance of success in defeating the Iranian colonial project that has crippled their country for the better part of 17 years.