Thursday, January 15, 2009

Who Speaks For The Sunnis?

Yesterday, January 14, the major Sunni bloc the Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF) boycotted parliament. They claimed that it was illegal to hold sessions without a speaker. The real reason was because they have been unable to fill the position as their coalition has collapsed and opposition parties have challenged their right to the spot.

The Accordance Front began disintegrating last month. As reported earlier, on December 24 the Iraqi National Dialogue Council and the Independents Bloc left the Accordance Front, charging that the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) was attempting to monopolize power within the coalition. On January 12, four parliamentarians from the Independent Democratic Gathering also departed for the same reason. The Front that once had 44 seats in parliament, and the majority of Sunni lawmakers, was reduced to just 25. The Islamic Party held 22 of those seats, with the remaining 3 coming from Adnan Dulaimi’s General Council for the People of Iraq Party. There are a total of 69 Sunnis in the 275-member parliament.

With their weakened position, the IAF has not been able to build consensus over a replacement for the speaker of parliament. The former speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani was forced to resign on December 23 after his comments about shoe throwing journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi. Since then the Iraqi National Dialogue Council as well as the secular Iraqi National List (INL) of former Interim Prime Minister Ilyad Alawi have presented candidates, to compete with the Islamic Party’s two. The National List actually put up three parliamentarians, a woman, a Shiite, and a Sunni. Both they and the Dialogue Council, which are now both part of the loosely connected opposition, are challenging the sectarian and big party quotas that have dominated the body since its creation after the U.S. invasion. Under this system, the prime minister was to be a Shiite from the United Iraqi Alliance, the president was a Kurd from the Kurdish Alliance, and the speaker was a Sunni from the Accordance Front. The Dialogue Council claims that since Mashhadani came from their party, they are entitled to the position, while the National List is saying it doesn’t even have to be a Sunni. The INL also took up the position of the defecting Sunni parties by criticizing the Islamic Party for holding the speakership, one vice president, one deputy premier, and a number of ministers. The Iraqi paper Azzaman also reported that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki might have also objected to the IIP’s domination of most of the Sunni offices in government. Shocked by this turn of events, the United Iraqi Alliance and Kurds have tried to stand by the Accordance Front by saying they deserve the speaker position.

From the beginning the Islamic Party was always the strongest of the Sunni parties. It was formed in 1960 modeled after the Muslim Brotherhood. It was quickly outlawed by the government and became largely an underground opposition group. After the U.S. invasion the party’s secretary general Mohsen Abdel Hamid was named to the Iraqi Governing Council. In 2005 they were the only major party to defy the Sunni boycott and were elected to several provincial councils. It later helped form the Iraqi Accordance Front and went on to win the largest single number of seats in parliament of any Sunni party. Heading into the January 2009 provincial elections they were initially predicted to lose control of Anbar province, but have since been able to break apart the tribal Awakening probably meaning they will have joint rule there. They have also built up ties with Sons of Iraq groups in Baghdad, are part of the main Sunni coalition in Diyala, and are running in Ninewa.

The battle over the speaker of parliament and the break-up of the Accordance Front is largely about who will speak for the Sunnis. Right now, no one can say. The Islamic Party is still the best organized, and appears to be well positioned in the provincial elections. They may come out the winners with the Accordance Front existing only in name. This also happened with the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, as the Fadhila Party and Sadrists left in 2007, and the Dawa Party and Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council are running against each other. These two coalitions were created at a time of extreme sectarianism and fighting. That is now changing. That may still leave the Islamic Party as a winner after elections as Iraqis tend to vote by sect, but they also benefit from their size, breadth, and money, as the old coalitions past by the wayside.

For more on the break up of the Iraqi Accordance Front see:

Accordance Front Breaks Apart


Abdullah, Muahmmed, “Diyala Sees Early Campaigning,” Niqash, 12/8/08

Alsumaria, “Accordance Front boycotts Parliament session,” 1/14/09
- “Iraq Parliament speaker post under debate,” 1/8/08

Aswat al-Iraq, “2 IIP candidates for parliament speaker post – MP,” 1/2/09
- “Democratic Grouping quits IAF,” 1/10/09
- “IAF represents only IIP – MP,” 1/8/09
- “INDC puts forward candidates for parliament’s speakership,” 12/24/08
- “INL nominates 3 MPs for parliament’s speakership,” 1/13/09
- “NDF puts forward candidate for speaker,” 1/13/09
- “Lawmaker announces nomination for parliamentary speakership,” 1/6/09
- “Parliament’s speaker position for IAF – VP,” 12/31/08
- “Parliament’s speaker should be IAF nominee – Kurdish MP,” 1/6/09
- “UIA, KA agree to IAF’s candidate for speaker,” 1/11/09

BBC, “Iraqi Governing Council members,” 7/14/03

Dagher, Sam, “Dispute Weakens Iraqi Sunni Coalition,” New York Times, 1/11/09

Dalli, Hussein, “Iraq Awakening Councils form party,” Al Jazeera, 4/14/08, “Iraq Papers Tue: 124,000 Bodyguards in Iraq!” 12/29/08

Niqash, “irqai Islamic party (iip),” 11/7/05

Parker, Ned, “Iraq looks ahead to provincial, national elections,” Los Angeles Times, 11/5/08

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraq To Replace Parliament Speaker Deemed Offensive,” 1/9/09

Reuters, “Iraq’s main Sunni Arab bloc splinters,” 12/24/08

UPI, “Sunnis marginalized in Iraqi politics,” 1/8/09

Yoshino, Kim and Hameed, Ali, “More Iraq parliament members pull out of Sunni bloc,” Los Angeles Times, 1/12/09

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