Arab Sunnis in Iraq almost boycotted the just-concluded elections in a sign of the deep rift that threatens the future of this country. Arab Sunni members in the next Parliament in Iraq will not exceed 50 members, a number that is much less than their relative weight, both in population and in politics. Usama Al Nujaifi, a prominent Sunni politician, tried to justify the results, which are considerably lower than the previous election of 2010, putting the blame on “the security situation.” But a large segment of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs have simply lost interest in voting or in the ability of the system—as it now exists—to get them anywhere.
At the same time, Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s party won only about 92 seats, far less than the 165 seats that he needs to have 51% of the 328-seat Parliament in order to form a government. This leads to speculation about a repeat of the long delay seen after the last election before a government could be formed.
The few Arab Sunnis who won in the last elections are now trying to form a unified block. Ahmed Al Massary, who is a leading figure in Al Motahedoon Coalition, led by Al Nujaifi, said recently that Sunnis will form a group unified around the rejection of a new term for Al Maliki and around a demand to form a non-sectarian government.
The tactic of those who are pursuing the coalition idea is to attempt to break the sectarian boundaries and join with other non-Sunni groups that are with the moderate, Shi’a Iyad Alawi, the former interim Prime Minister. Talks with other groups, including Shi’a parties that are opposed to Al Maliki, are already active. But Al Maliki still has the best chance among potential competitors to keep his post.
The views of most Sunnis were expressed by former Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Al Hashemi, a fugitive who is now in Turkey. Al Hashemi said to some of his supporters just before the elections that voting would not bring about any change in Iraq’s political theatre. “The bitter experience of the past convinced us that elections are not the road to change things. Those who were targeted by Al Maliki, particularly the Sunni Arabs, have the right to look for different choices and different means to achieve the required change”.
A new term for Al Maliki is not yet a “fait accompli.” Al Maliki’s party vowed not to include the second and third winners—the Al Ahrar affiliated with Muqtada al-Sadr and Al Muwatin, associated with leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Ammar Al-Hakim, in the new government. Both parties are Shi’a, like Al Maliki, but now Al Ahrar has said that it may challenge the election results in court. Other very prominent Shi’a leaders also have serious reservations about a new term for the Prime Minister.
The formation of a new government in Iraq may take a bit of time. That is not necessarily a bad thing. It is still hoped that other regional powers who have some influence in Iraq may conclude that Iraq deserves an undisputed government that ends the current sectarian rift and can form a unified force to fight the spread of terrorists, particularly in the Anbar province. Regional powers can help Iraq to achieve that non-sectarian unity that is so desperately needed.