Iraqis last week voted to elect their representatives for the third time since the US-led occupation in 2003 that ended Saddam Hussein's tyranny.
The elections were for 328 members of the national parliament, who will later choose a president and a prime minister. The counting of the votes has not yet been completed but there are some educated guesses.
The real competition is between incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his rivals, namely Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites who believe he will not serve for a third time. There are secondary rivalries between pious Shiites and secularists and between moderate Sunnis and radicals/insurgents.
The Shiites are split three ways between al-Maliki's State of Law Coalition, Muqtada al-Sadr's Sadrist movement and the Citizen Coalition of Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.
The Sunnis in turn are split between parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi's Muttahidoon list and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq's al-Arabiya list. Given this political split, no single bloc is expected to win a majority in the new parliament.
As it was during the previous elections in 2010, Iraq's polarized politics prevented the formation of a coalition government for 10 straight months. More and tougher bargaining is expected this time.
The post-Saddam conditions born out of ethnic and sectarian divisions did not allow for a stable country. This chaos was further exacerbated by opposition to the Maliki government due to accusations of corruption and incompetence.
He has been accused of failing to unite the nation and bring security and stability to the country. Foremost among those who do not trust Maliki are Sunni Arabs and Kurds. The former accuse him of exclusion and marginalization under his rule and the latter of excessive centralization of power and an unfair distribution of economic resources.
Although he is a Shiite, a number of Shiite religious and political leaders have accused Maliki of ineffectiveness, corruption, partisanship and autocratic rule that has neither delivered public services nor provided proper security.
Maliki's record is quite wanting: Since his tenure began in 2006, scores of people expressed as tens of thousands have been killed; pockets of the country have fallen under rebel control; and millions have been internally displaced or gone into exile. This bleak picture is despite the fact that Maliki is the commander of a security force composed of 1 million soldiers and policemen supported by a $20 billion budget.
Iraq's economy has never recovered or shown signs of health. It mainly relies on imports of all kinds, including basic goods. Investments in productive sectors are scarce though Maliki's government has received more than $700 billion in oil revenue during its eight-year tenure. The budget still runs a high deficit estimated to be 35 percent.
His rivals accuse Maliki of running the country without a budget or plan for the future. While he banks on reaping revenues from the rich carbohydrate products of his country, he has clashed with Kurds, who want to capitalize on the oil and gas reserves of their autonomous region. The dispute over whether Kurds can exploit and sell the natural resources of their region or whether this is the sole privilege of the central government is a bitter matter which will not be solved easily.
Maliki has two advantages over his rivals: revenues from the sale of petroleum to finance his government; and the huge security apparatus with which he can intimidate and subdue his political rivals. That is why he will never be willing to share oil and gas revenues with the Kurds and let go of his armed forces which is his only coercive machinery. This means he would do everything to bring 165 parliamentarians together to form a government.
But will his third term bring stability and cohesion to the country? Analysts warn that continuing to marginalize Sunni Arabs will radicalize the Sunnis and swell the ranks of Sunni insurgents. This will in turn adversely affect conflicts in neighboring countries like Syria.
Failing to reach a compromise with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over the export of oil and disputed territories may alienate Kurds, who could increasingly distance themselves from Baghdad.
It has once again become clear that, similar to the two previous elections, most Iraqis voted according to ethnic and sectarian allegiances rather than taking into consideration the common interests of the country.
However, Iraq's stability and integrity rests on a national agenda based on a division of labor and power that rests on equality and justice. We will see whether the upcoming election results will provide any hopes to this effect.
DOĞU ERGİL (Cihan/Today's Zaman)
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