When elections were held in Iraq in the last week of March, to the pleasant surprise of a lot of people including myself, the secular Iraqiya coalition headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi won the most seats. Incumbent Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition of Shia parties came second with two seats less than the Iraqiya coalition, which though secular, is largely supported by Sunnis.
Like Nouri Al-Maliki, Ayad Allawi is also a Shia, but is a former Baathist and is secular. Trained as a doctor, partly at London University, Allawi has spent over thirty years in exile outside Iraq, of which a large part has been in the UK.
Even though the elections got over some time ago, a government is yet to be formed. The various parties have been bickering over the count and the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission had ordered a recount. Now it appears that the State of Law coalition of Shia parties is allying with the Iraqi National Alliance which includes radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, with the backing of, or rather prodding by, Iran.
When the US led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein, the Shiites of Iraq were the biggest beneficiaries. Suppressed by Saddam, they are now able to use their superior numbers to have their major say in a country they increasingly dominate. Iran is also a beneficiary, since both Shiite coalitions (State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance) have ties to Iran and depend on Iran for moral, if not material support.
When the elections got over in March, it appeared that Iraqis had rejected sectarianism and had voted for a secular government. I had commented in one of my posts that may be the US could after all salvage something out of its Iraqi debacle if a secular government came to power, rather than one headed by a Shia coalition that was close to Iran. May be I was too optimistic too soon. Of course, the Shia coalition, even if cemented, will have its own share of problems. Moqtada Sadr can’t stand Al-Maliki since it was Al-Maliki who had ordered a crackdown on Sadr’s Mahdi army two years ago and chased them off the streets of Sadr City in Bagdad and in Basra. The Mahdi army is now being revived.
What Iraq needs is a politician with a stature similar to Josef Broz Tito, the titan who in the aftermath of the Second World War kept Yugoslavia unified, though it was composed of diverse nationalities (Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Slovenes and Montenegrins) and religions (Serbian Orthodox, Catholics and Muslims). Someone who can force Iraqis to look beyond their sect (Shia or Sunni) or race (Arab or Kurd) and think of a unified Iraq, which guarantees equal rights for everybody. Tito had kept Yugoslavia non-aligned and powerful, able to punch above its weight in global politics. A secular and democratic Iraq that is not under Iranian control, if one merges, would easily be the most powerful Arab state in the world.
Ayad Allawi is a great guy (check out his resume on Wikipedia), but can he do for Iraq what Tito did for Yugoslavia? I doubt it. It must be remembered that Allawi is a former Baathist and I have always taken the stand that the secular Baath party is in general, a force for good in the Arab world. If Iraq is to find its Tito, it must necessarily look to the rank of former Baathists for its saviour. The Baath party continues to be banned in Iraq, so many years after Saddam Hussein’s execution.