Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Sectarianism Twisted: Changing Cleavages in the Elections of Post-War Iraq

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Sectarianism Twisted: Changing Cleavages in the Elections of Post-War Iraq

Article excerpt


Iraq had its third parliamentary election in March 2010. Five elections in seven years since the collapse of the Ba'thist authoritarian regime might indicate that democracy, based on a multi-party system, had been established in post-war Iraq.

Since the first election in January 2005, however, a large number of scholars have indicated a setback in the US-designed democratic process in Iraq and have pointed out the beginning of "sectarian conflict." Indeed, the results of the two elections in 2005 showed sectarian inclinations. In addition, the sectarian conflict after the 2005 elections led to violence in the streets of Iraq, although political struggles at parliamentary level had nothing to do with the sectarian conflict.' Thus, in the analysis of post-war Iraqi politics, the Iraqi political arena is commonly regarded as one of "sectarianism" (Bengio, 2008; Yoshioka, 2007; Bacik, 2008; Wimmer, 2003). However, does sectarianism explain the relationship between political parties and voters in elections? This article casts doubt on the strong presumption of sectarianism as a political entity in the continuing Iraqi conflict.

Historically, sectarian and ethnic differences had not been politically mobilized. Cross-sectarian/cross-ethnic intermarriage existed in Iraq (Cole, 2006: 58). The sectarian identity as a politically mobilizing force had been in decline in Iraq, particularly since the mid-twentieth century (Stansficld, 2007: 162). Even in Saddam's regime, the ruling elite was not the product of the Sunni community as a whole, but the extended family of one man - Saddam Hussein - and his Tikrit-based clan (Dodge, 2005: 45). Contrary to sectarian mobilization, the structure of the Ba'thist regime lay precisely in its ability to atomize the population and link each individual vertically to the patron-state (al-Khafaji, 2003: 79). Indeed, politicizing sectarian and ethnic differences was, with few exceptions, taboo in Iraqi society under the Saddam regime (Sakai, 2003: 38).

Nevertheless, sectarian and ethnic differences were politically grounded in the 2005 election. Given that sectarianism had not been mobilized in Iraq before the war, why was it mobilized in the 2005 election? Conversely, as this article clarifies, sectarian and ethnic differences were not mobilized in the two elections in 2009 and 2010. Since sectarianism was mobilized in 2005, why had it not been established as a sectarian institution? In other words, why did sectarianism emerge in 2005, and why had it declined by 2010?

Hence, this article poses the following research question: If party mobilization and voting behavior in post-war Iraq changed in three elections, how and why did it change between the first election and the latest one?

Before proceeding to the analysis, the controversial term "cleavage" should be clarified. Differences in social class, ethnic and sectarian differences, ideological segmentation, and/or political division cannot be identified as cleavage. Rather, social distinctions become cleavages when they are organized as such. Thus, cleavage has to be considered primarily as a form of closure of social relationships, and thus, at the conceptual level, is clearly at quite a remove from any definition of the social-structural base which provides its reference point (Bartolini and Mair, 2007 [1990]: 200). In other words, in recent arguments, there has been a consensus on the definition of cleavage to mean: social affiliations, identities, and values that are jointly and exclusively possessed and which often mobilize politically (Bartolini and Mair, 2007[1990]: 200-204).

In order to tackle the above-mentioned question, the first section of this article clarifies why sectarian differences were mobilized in the Iraqi election of 2005. The second section deals with the impacts of civil war on party politics and voters' minds, and also contains an analysis of the 2009 provincial election. By analyzing the parliamentary election in 2010, the third section clarifies why sectarianism was not institutionalized after 2005. …

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