Iraqi Provoncial Elections - Juan Cole talk

Juan Cole is a professor of Middle Eastern and South-Asian History at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He maintains a blog that I frequent and has been featured on many news shows as an expert on Middle Eastern and religion/politic relations.  He visited campus a couple of weeks ago and I had the opportunity to go to one of his talks, about Iraqi provincial elections and I thought it was a great way to learn about the historic context of the current political realities in Iraq. Below are some of what I thought were the take-home points from his talk.

A.    Sunni and Arab Nationalism: Sunni's have traditionally been in the minority in Iraq but have maintained a hegemonic political majority. Arab nationalism privileges Sunnis and marginalizes Kurds and Shiites. Sunni Arabs benefitted disproportionately under the Baath Party (Hussein's political party)

B.     Da'wa Party (Islamic mission): this party was formed to emphasize and focus on Shiite cultural identity. They worked toward establishing an Islamic state, as rivals to the communist and Baath parties in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

C.     Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq): this is a political party with roots in Iran. Wanted a pluralistic, parliamentary government with some sort of consultative council (Shura'). Did not abide by the Ayatollah Khomeini's ideals of religious clerics themselves ruling politically.

D.    Failed Shi'ite Leadership in the 1990s: led to a chasm, some followed Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, others followed Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr (Sadr was assassinated by Saddam Hussein). Sadr was father of current Shi'ite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Sistani established the United Iraqi Alliance (an amalgamation of Shi'ite political parties interested in gaining political representation in Iraq)

E.     January 30th, 2005 elections: Sunni's did not vote (they were angry about US attacks in Fallujah) and ended up losing a majority of the provinces to Shi'ite and some Kurdish parties. Fundamentalist/hard-lined Shi'ites took over Southern provinces. Iranian Supreme Council for Islamic Revolutions won Diyallah province and Baghdad.

F.      Nuri Al-Maliki: elected Prime Minister of Iraq. Many ties to Hizbollah and other extremist political factions. Stood up to Mahdi army and has gained popularity for defeating them in Spring 2008, especially in Basra province.

Juan Cole's talk was very informative and his command of the region's politics came through during his discussion. It further proved my convictions that religion and politics have become (or have always been) inextricable from one another.

In terms of what the provincial elections mean for US/Iraq relations, I found that his main point was that hard-lined Shi'ite parties, especially those tied to Iran was something that the mainstream news media in the US does not often discuss.

I look forward to exploring this topic further and keeping up with Juan Cole's commentary on the region.