Post-War Iraq:
the People, Politics and Possibilities































Christopher J. Pickett

The Law of Nationbuilding

Professor Henry H. Perritt, Jr.

Spring, 2005




On a global scale, people have organized themselves in an array of governmental and political structures for the purpose of achieving those goals perceived they perceive to be as valuable.  The latest addition to this field effort in nation-wide organization is the new democratic government of Iraq.  A general election, a newly elected transitional national assembly National Assembly, and leadership roles held concurrently by Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish Iraqis are just a few of the many signs that Iraq is entering a new era.  Accompanying this new leadership, government, and way of life are a number of questions about the future of the country.  Will Iraq move forward as a unified nation despite deep ethnic and religious divides?  Will the new government command the respect of the people such that effective rule will be possible?  Will democracy work?

            There is every indication that these questions will be answered in the affirmative.  And while this conclusion may seem naïve to some observers, it is, certainly, important to discuss why a unified, democratic Iraqi government will prevail.  Stated simply, the answer is clear: democracy will work in Iraq because it is in the best interest of the population that it does.  In other words, although Iraq’s diverse population maintains a number of separate, conflicting agendas, each group will realize the greatest success by participating in the democratic government that is now taking shape.

            This premise is supported by identifying which provisions of the interim constitution will play a role in the formation of the new government; addressing the major religious and ethnic factions vying for political recognition; pinpointing the primary objectives of each individual group; and, finally, addressing why democracy is the most viable option to efficiently and successfully achieve those goals. 

To introduce the analysis, the first section addresses the specific provisions of the interim Iraqi constitution that will play the largest role in the development of the new government and the permanent constitution.  The materials address why certain provisions are likely to have an impact and the possible motivations the drafters of the interim constitution had when they drafted the document.  The subsequent sections of the paper combine to address the remaining prongs of the analysis.  In doing so, the materials identify the most prominent religious and ethnic groups as well as their respective goals and motivations. [1]

Although these materials are presented to support the primary thesis that democracy is likely to prevail Iraq, a secondary premise surfaces in the analysis.  Specifically, the role of law and politics are inexorably combined such that, while politics and the people will be the driving force behind forming the new government, the politics and the people are going to operate as a function of the law. 

The Interim Constitution

            The document that has controlled the new Iraqi democracy to date is the interim Iraqi constitution.  Iraqi Interim Const.  It is this document that governs the transitional national assembly (the “National Assembly”), the nomination and rule of the prime minister and his cabinet, the judiciary, and the viability of a new and permanent constitution.  Although these materials speak to the strong role of the people and the political process in forming the new government, the people are bound to work within the terms of this constitution.  As a result, certain provisions of the constitution will play a central role as the Iraqi people form a new government.  Among those aspects that will have an impact are the two-thirds requirement imposed on nominating a prime minister and the uniform support required to pass the permanent Iraqi constitution.  The element shared by these two provisions – the element important to this analysis – is the far reaching support required to accomplish the respective goals.

            The two-thirds requirement was put in place to outline the process by which a new prime minister would be installed.  The language of the provision is as follows:

The Presidency Council must agree on a candidate for the post of Prime Minister within two weeks.  In the even that it fails to do so, the responsibility of naming the Prime minister reverts to the National Assembly.  In that event, the national Assembly must confirm the nomination by a two-thirds majority. . .


Iraqi Interim Const. ch. 5 art. 38(A).  In other words, following the election of the National Assembly, the members nominated a number of candidates for the post of prime minister.  Subsequent to the nominations, the National Assembly was required to pass a final nomination by a vote of 184 out of 275 seats or by a “two-thirds” majority.  The effect of this provision was clear: no religious, ethnic or political group possessed a large enough block of assembly seats to nominate and install the prime minister on its own.  Instead, even the largest block of seats obtained by a single party was forced to garner the support of at least one other party.  It is unlikely that the two-thirds figure was reached arbitrarily.  Instead, the compromise and negotiation, which transpired to meet this requirement was likely, anticipated by the drafters of the interim constitution.  This conclusion flows naturally from certain facts. 

Assume that a hypothetical drafter is reviewing the Iraqi population as he prepares to craft the interim constitution.  Even a cursory effort would provide an accurate estimate of the numbers enjoyed by the nation’s various religious and ethnic groups.  Among other things, the hypothetical drafter is aware that the new government is going to be based on principles of freedom and democracy, and that the country will have direct elections.  Also of concern are the long-standing ethnic and religious diversity, oppression, and feelings of contempt among the population.  The hypothetical drafter is faced with creating an environment of compromise, avoiding an oppressive majoritarian rule, and accomplishing this goal in the context of a fledgling democracy. 

            Under these circumstances, a two-thirds rule operates to accomplish this goal in two ways.  First, the rule governs the installation of the new prime minister; this process also happens to be the very first task assigned to the National Assembly.  Thus, from the outset of the National Assembly’s existence, the very first decision to be made is placed in the context of compromise.  Second, the two-thirds rule is designed to take into account that, should the elections result in representation that remotely parallels the ethnic and religious substance of the population, even the majority Shia[2] will lack the necessary two-thirds majority to nominate a prime minister without enlisting the votes of competing parties.  The two-thirds majority required to install a prime minister, in effect, would operate to push the National Assembly into compromise and to do so from its inception.

            While important, the two-thirds rule is not a complete bar to a particular group rising to a position where it may wield oppressive power in a new government.  To further the concepts of freedom, inclusion, and democracy, the interim constitution also provides for uniform support with respect to passing a permanent constitution.  The language of the Iraqi Interim Constitution reads:

The draft permanent constitution shall be presented to the Iraqi people for approval in a general referendum to be held no later than 15 October 2005.  In the period leading up to the referendum, the draft constitution shall be published and widely distributed to encourage a public debate about it among the people.


The general referendum will be successful and the draft constitution ratified if a majority of the voters in Iraq approve and if two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates do not reject it.


Id. at ch. 9 art. 61(B) and (C).  In short, only three of the eighteen provinces of Iraq would be required to vote against the constitution in order to force the document’s revision.[3]  This rule operates as an enormous measure of inclusion spanning across political, religious, ethnic and geographic boundaries.  The requirement will also have an impact long before a permanent constitution is presented to the people.  Aware of the threshold requirements for passing a new constitution into law, the National Assembly will have to be mindful of drafting a constitution rooted in tolerance, inclusion and policy which is welcoming to the whole of the Iraqi people.  The sheer numbers required to ratify the new Iraqi constitution is a crucial legal precept with respect to creating a united, democratic Iraq.      

            The significant component of each of these two provisions is the idea of compromise among large numbers of the population.  It is compromise that is easily identified as a cornerstone of freedom and democracy.  The rule of law that continues to govern the development of the new Iraqi government, therefore, is rooted in principles of the democracy the law is designed to achieve.  While the people and politics are going to be the driving force behind the new Iraq, they will have the opportunity to do so within the framework of law that exists to guide them toward compromise, inclusion and democracy.  The people and their politics are the focus of the following materials.

The Shia

            A prominent component of Iraq’s new political landscape is the majority Shia[4].  While this is something of a generic classification in that it encompasses Iraqi citizens with a diverse range of political views, the term is useful in that it describes a majority of Arab Iraqi’s who share similar social and religious beliefs.  Despite any differences, there is at least one common thread shared by the Shia when it comes to political ideology: achieve political objectives within the framework of a united, democratic Iraq.  While this seems clear and concise, the real difficulty lies in defining precisely what political objectives should be pursued.  The Shia population and its political face – the United Iraqi Alliance – are far from monolithic in its objectives.  It seems appropriate, therefore, to begin by identifying the individual components of the Shia population and their respective goals.  The analysis can then turn to address whether there is sufficient common ground or, perhaps, whether democracy itself, will cause these individual components to maintain their common front. 

            In the broadest terms, the “Shia” label encompasses Arab Iraqis that practice Shia Islam.[5]  The Shia are a long suppressed majority in Iraq, having suffered political, financial, religious and social oppression at the hands of the minority Sunni population.[6]  This was never more apparent than under the reign of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab.[7]  At the heart of the Sunni/Shia tension is the ideological discrepancies between the two competing forms of Islam.  In perfunctory terms, the Shia believe that they practice a more sacred, more pious form of Islam.[8]  Their practices and beliefs stand in contrast to Sunni Islam, which the Shia view to be a departure from the true teachings and guidance of Islamic faith.[9]

The Shia predominantly inhabit the southern regions of Iraq.[10]  This factor contributed in large part to Shia oppression in that the region was less developed and devoid of resources.[11]  These circumstances created a perpetual cycle of insufficient education, inconsequential political influence, and poverty that the Shia were able to do very little about.  The consequences of Shia oppression can be seen throughout the various political and religious factions of the group that now make up the majority of Shia politics. 

            The most prominent figure within Shia politics is not a politician, at least not by the American understanding of the term.  The leading Shia ticket in the January 2005 election was orchestrated by the highest ranking religious figure among all Iraqi Shia: The Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.[12]  This name is probably familiar to even a casual observer, but the importance of this man to Iraqi Shia, to the future of Iraq itself, cannot be overstated.  Widely viewed as a religious and academic scholar, al-Sistani was a major proponent of direct elections as early as the implementation of the transitional government.[13]  It was widely reported that al-Sistani single-handedly pushed the Coalition to hold direct elections despite competing plans to appoint representatives for the purpose of drafting a new constitution.[14]  Al-Sistani simply would not support anything process that did not include direct elections by the Iraqi population.  Having al-Sistani to thank for the cessation of the anti-coalition Shia uprising in the period immediately following the declaration of the end of major military operations, the Coalition forces accommodated al-Sistani’s wishes in the form of the January 2005 election.[15]  In preparation for the election, al-Sistani lent support to the organization of the United Iraqi Alliance (“UIA”), a composite predominantly filled by Shia, but also Sunni, Arabs.[16]

            So long as al-Sistani wields such enormous power, it is vital to identify al-Sistani’s political goals and ideology.  Fortunately, he has not remained silent on this issue.  With his long-standing Iranian ties, many observers feared that al-Sistani would seek to impose a strict theocracy in Iraq, similar to the ruling Ayatollahs of Iran.[17]  To the surprise of many, al-Sistani has spoken out in favor of a governmental structure that departs significantly from this anticipated course.  Instead, this prominent religious figure has declared that religion should be divorced from governmental institutions.[18]  Aside from the belief that Islam should be recognized as the national religion, and that no Iraqi law contravene Islamic principles, government and religion would operate independently, in al-Sistani’s ideal vision.[19] 

            Al-Sistani’s insistence on direct elections, along with his professed adherence to the belief that the new government operate independently of religion, combine to formulate the religious leader’s most fundamental goal: a united Iraqi nation, governed by the people, for the people.  At first glance, this goal may appear disingenuous.  A legitimate argument could be made that when the party, which commands the majority, supports democratic rule, the party is not necessarily interested in dissenting points of view. Nonetheless, a credible rebuttal to that argument is found in al-Sistani’s education and prior conduct, which offers convincing evidence that al-Sistani is not a man with a hidden agenda.  

            If al-Sistani is the most influential Shia religious figure, then a young religious cleric by the name of Moqtada al-Sadr is the most volatile.  In the hierarchy of the Shia religious structure, al-Sadr falls well shy of al-Sistani’s premier status.[20]  But al-Sadr’s teachings of adherence to strict Islamic principles, his ability to command the loyalty of disenfranchised Shia youth, and his status as the son of a slain religious leader combine to place al-Sadr in a position where several million Iraqi Shia look to the young cleric for guidance.[21]  Although he has been perceived as a rival to al-Sistani’s power and influence, the greater good of the Shia population apparently registered with the young al-Sadr.[22]  Prior to the January 2005 election, al-Sadr struck a deal with al-Sistani whereby he agreed to combine forces under the UIA ticket.  While this may have been a tactical decision to gain power in the National Assembly, there has been no indication that an “al-Sadr faction” of the UIA will operate in contrast to the remainder of the party.  At heart, al-Sadr is a militant and a revolutionary who publicly and repeatedly denounces the Coalition presence in Iraq.[23]  He views the “occupation” as a direct insult to Islamic principles.[24]  This goal seems to represent the entirety of al-Sadr’s political objective: ending the Coalition presence in Iraq.

            The two religious factions of al-Sistani and al-Sadr combine to account for a large part of the UIA vote during the elections.  But there are additional political elements, which ran under the UIA ticket as well.  Most notable among these groups is the Da’wa party and its head spokesman, Ibrahim al-Jaafari.  The Da’wa party is unique among those who claim allegiance to the religious elite, in that it was a functional, political opposition group during the Ba’ath party regime.[25]  Although clearly unsuccessful, the Da’wa party operated to overthrow the Hussein regime from its inception.  With a scarcity of safe refuge inside Iraq’s borders, Da'wa operated externally and largely from Iran.[26]  The Iranian connection is important in an analysis of the Da’wa party objectives in the sense that the pervasive role of religion in Iran may very well be the fundamental goal for the Da’wa party in Iraq.  Aside from historical remarks from the party leaders – including al-Jaafari – there is actually little evidence to support this claim.  This is particularly the case within the new, more inclusive structure of the UIA.  In a true testament to political savvy, the Da’wa party leader was nominated and confirmed as Iraq’s new prime minister – the strongest individual office in the new Iraqi government.[27]   Because Ayatollah al-Sistani blessed this nomination, little argument remains that Al-Jaafari holds a hidden agenda of duplicating the role religion plays in Iran within the new Iraq.  Whether al-Jaafari’s new found moderate position on religion in government will hold true as he begins to exercise his new power remains to be seen.  However, if the position does hold up, then the primary objective of the UIA is accurately described as the desire to play a role in shaping a united, democratic Iraq.

            As a whole, the Shia population seems to embody a diverse, even conflicting, set of goals.  As noted, the risk remains that the common ground reached by this group for the purpose of the election may well crumble as the new government moves forward toward drafting a permanent constitution.  The argument against this result lies in the democratic system itself.  Specifically, while sheer numbers were important on election day, there will remain a continued need for consensus among those representatives who have been installed in the transitional government.  For example, on issues such as installing the prime minister or drafting the new Iraqi constitution, no individual is required to act along “party lines.”  Each member of the transitional government is free to vote in accordance with the agenda of the people he represents.  However, as a natural function of the democratic system and the consensus driven provisions of the interim constitution, the individual’s voice will strengthen with each additional member of the government where he reaches agreement.  The individual will, therefore, compromise over conflicting goals within the framework of the government and, in exchange, lend his support to the goal of the larger group.  The give and take of a democracy will enable similar interests to find support in one another, while also allowing dissimilar or conflicting interests to be aired and achieved, at least, to some degree.  Along with the support of the Shia religious elite the Shia will find Iraq’s new democratic government well suited to accomplish their goals.           

The Kurds

The prospect of a united, democratic Iraq is largely dependent on the nation’s Kurdish population; conversely, the nation’s Kurdish population will be largely dependent on a united, democratic Iraq.  The factors giving rise to this interdependent relationship are two-fold: first, the political agenda of the Kurdish people; and second, the construction, mechanisms and objectives of the Iraqi national government.  Stated differently, when the Kurds seek to achieve their goals by utilizing the new Iraqi democracy, it will provide credibility and a sustaining force to back the new system of government.

The first half of the equation clearly turns on defining those goals that the Kurds are likely to pursue.  While a sophisticated understanding of Kurdish goals requires a closer look at the Kurdish people themselves, objectives common among the great majority of Kurds include: maintaining an autonomous government within the framework of the Iraqi national government; acquiring (or retaking) the northern region of Kirkuk as a Kurdish-controlled domain; and avoiding implementation of strict, Islamic principles as governing Iraqi law.  Turning to the second half of the equation, there are three facets of the national government which will play a role in this discussion: protecting Iraqi national security; the super-majority requirement for selecting a prime minister; and the perceived desire of Iraqi politicians to create a unified Iraq.

Understanding the essential role of the Kurds in a unified Iraq requires a closer understanding of the people themselves.  The Iraqi Kurds are located in the northern provinces of Iraq, but the Kurdish ethnicity is not defined by national boundaries.  Populations identifying themselves as Kurds occupy land in northwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey, and flow over into the northeastern corner of Syria.[28]  Focusing on the Iraqi Kurds, however, it is interesting to note that the large majority hold themselves out as members of the Islamic faith, be it Shia or Sunni.  On its face, this would seem to indicate there is a common thread between Iraq’s Arab and Kurdish populations.  However, the Kurdish conversion to Islam was largely involuntary.[29]  It is the unwelcome conversion which remains as a cornerstone of the Kurdish / Arab tension, as well as the “Kurd first, Iraqi second” mentality shared by the majority of the Kurdish population.

To suggest, however, that the Kurdish goals are strictly uniform would be to ignore the true politics of the people.  The fact remains that the Iraqi Kurds have been sharply divided for a number of years between competing political factions.[30]  The former opponents turned allies have only recently ceased military action against one another.  It is even more recently that the two parties set aside internal differences to establish a unified voice for the Iraqi elections.[31]  The two parties – the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (“PUK”) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (“KDP”) – reached the conclusion that, for the purposes of the national election, the goals of the greater Kurdish population were more important than internal disagreements.  In true democratic form, the historical rivals struck a deal: come together on a united Kurdish ticket, then split the ensuing power between the local and national governments.  Under the arrangement, the PUK leader and spokesman, Jalal Talabani, would take the highest position offered to a Kurd in the national government.[32]  As it turns out, that agreement landed Talabani the presidency of the national government.  In exchange, the KDP leader and spokesmen, Massoud Barzani, is expected to head the local governorate of Kurdistan province.[33]

The best explanation for the new unified Kurdish voice turns back to the historical tension with Arab Iraqis.  The Kurds and the Iraqi Arab population exist along a strict divide, which although occasionally blurred geographically, results in an absolutely separate social and political structure.  For the most part, Kurds do not trust Arab Iraqis, be they Shia or Sunni.  This tension is due in large part to military and social repression perpetrated against the Kurds by Iraqi Arabs for the better part of the last century.[34]  If anything, the Kurds’ decision to enter the recent elections as a unified voice is evidence that Kurdish / Arab tension is paramount to internal Kurdish disputes, and the unified Kurdish voice was created to demonstrate strength in the face of the majority Arab population.  Having considered the internal and external dynamics of Kurdish political culture, it is appropriate to shift the focus to defining common Kurdish goals.

The Kurdish / Arab tension and strong Kurdish self-identity translates into the most central issue in Kurdish politics: autonomy.[35]  This objective is not clearly defined, though there is a strong sentiment among the Kurdish people to establish autonomous rule within the larger national identity of Iraq.[36]  The likelihood that this scenario will prevail as the structure of Kurdish autonomy is illustrated by the Kurdish parliament that was elected in January.  The arrangement is similar to the autonomous rule the Kurds enjoyed under the American and British imposed no-fly zones of post Gulf War Iraq[37], but under the new arrangement, the Kurdish parliament will enjoy recognition from Iraq’s national government.  A competing version of autonomy would take the form of an independent Kurdish region completely independent of any Iraqi control.  This latter scenario is clearly fatal to the notion of a unified Iraqi state. 

No matter which structure of autonomous rule ultimately prevails, the one certainty is that “autonomy” – as the Kurds understand the phrase – is more complex than simply governing themselves.  Instead, the most heated facet of the autonomy objective is defining the geographic boundaries of the autonomous region.  This discussion begins and ends with the northern region of Kirkuk.[38]  The Kurds believe that Kirkuk is rightfully Kurdish land.[39]  This belief originates from the fact that the land was historically inhabited by the Kurds, in addition to the fact that the Kurds were originally given control of the region under a plan for an independent Kurdish state in the early 20th century.  The process of creating the independent Kurdish state fell apart when it was discovered that the region of Kirkuk was rich in oil.  This most recently caused a conflict in the region during the reign of Saddam Hussein.  Fearing that the Kurds may eventually form an independent state, Hussein undertook an “Arabization” of the Kirkuk region to establish that this was an Arab, not Kurdish, inhabited land.  As a result, there is a strong Kurdish / Arab tension present in the region to this day.  A combination of historical, ethnic, and economic motivations makes control of Kirkuk one of the primary objectives in Kurdish politics.

Finally, a discussion of the Kurds’ political goals would be incomplete without mention of the role of the Islamic religion.  As previously stated, the majority of Kurds practice either Shia or Sunni Islam.  This does nothing to diminish the Kurdish goal of avoiding the implementation of strict Islamic principles as governing Iraqi law.  In the case of Kurdish Sunnis, it is easy to understand why imposition of the strict Islamic law practiced by the Shia would be unfavorable.  While the conflict may be more difficult to understand with respect to Kurdish Shia, it is best explained by the inescapable reality that all Kurds identify themselves as Kurds ahead of any religion.  The creation of a theocratic state practicing strict Shia law would be viewed as largely Arabic in origin; this would constitute an untenable state of affairs, even to the Kurdish Shia.   Having looked in greater detail at this, as well as other, Kurdish political objectives, the analysis is free to examine the second half of the equation in greater detail.

Whether the Kurds will achieve common goals is going to depend on how successfully they employ the democratic mechanisms of the new Iraqi government.  The January 2005 election was the first step in establishing this premise as fact.  As in any democracy, numbers speak.    The Kurds were not ignorant to this concept when they submitted a unified Kurdish ticket and encouraged the full Kurdish population to vote in its favor.  The unified Kurdish ticket gained 75 out of the 275 seats in the National Assembly, the second largest block of seats behind the majority Shia Arabs.[40]  In fact, as only 17% of the Iraqi population, the Kurds are over represented in the National Assembly by nearly 60%.  The significant representation will afford the Kurds tremendous bargaining power as the new structure of the national government is formed.  This greater bargaining power should lead directly to heightened opportunity for the Kurds to achieve their political goals. 

Remember that the principle objective of the Kurdish population is to maintain autonomy through strong local government and a tolerant national policy.[41]  There is no reason to suspect that the Kurds will not reach this goal.  To begin, the Kurdish population installed a local parliament as a part of the January elections. This local body will rule the Kurdish provinces of the north and is structured to provide stronger self-government than the structure of the other Iraqi provinces.[42]  In addition to its role as a strong local government the parliament will also operate within the framework of the Iraqi national government, a characteristic of Kurdish government that had not previously existed.[43]

There is strong motivation for Iraq’s competing political factions to encourage the Kurds to maintain a strong local and autonomous government within the Iraqi national government.  This motivation comes in the form of international policy.  As previously mentioned, at least three of Iraq’s bordering neighbors have significant Kurdish populations.  If Iraq’s majority Arab parties were to reject an autonomous Kurdish region within the larger Iraqi framework, the Iraqi Kurds would be left to fight for an independent Kurdish state, likely prompting the Kurdish population of the neighboring countries to undertake similar efforts.[44]  This result would be disastrous to Iraq’s national security.  To date, both Turkey and Syria are on record with their intention to intervene in the event any kind of Kurdish independence movement were to take place in Iraq.[45]  As between a scenario where military conflict is probable and the scenario of an autonomous Kurdish rule within the Iraqi national framework, there seems to be great incentive for all Iraqi factions and to protect their burgeoning nation by electing the scenario that is less likely to lead to armed conflict.

What isn’t contemplated within these scenarios is the geographic boundaries that will define the autonomous Kurdish region – specifically, will the Kurds be given control of Kirkuk?  This question is open to debate and even the best analysis must include some speculation.  However, consider the following scenario that seems to be at the very heart of current negotiations between Shia Arabs and the Kurds: under the provisions of the National Assembly, the 275-member council must elect a prime minister by a two-thirds (or 184 vote) margin.[46]  The majority party in Iraq, which is largely comprised of Shia Arabs, ran under the banner, “The United Iraqi Alliance” (“UIA”).  However, the UIA was only able to achieve a small majority, winning 140 seats.[47]  This places the UIA, and the Shia majority which it represents, in the position of having significant authority, but not enough to elect a prime minister outright.    

Embarking on a numbers game, there were only two blocks within the National Assembly which could provide the UIA with the needed votes: interim prime minister Ayad Allawi’s block whose ticket gained 40 seats, or the Kurds and their block of 75 seats.[48]  Interim Prime Minster Allawi, however, was the only candidate who openly ran against the UIA nominee for Prime Minister, Ibrahim al Jaafari.  This, in addition to the fact that Allawi suffered from credibility issues as a result of being installed by the Coalition, made an alliance among these two groups unlikely so long as their primary objective remained in conflict – specifically, installing a party member as prime minister.  On the other hand, this left a convenient two-way street running between the Kurdish and UIA blocks of the National Assembly.  In that instance, premiere objectives of each party could be simultaneously achieved in a quid pro quo arrangement: the Kurds could back the UIA selection for prime minister in exchange for a guarantee that Kirkuk would fall under Kurdish control within the new government.

As it turned out, the UIA were slightly more aggressive in their agenda than may have been anticipated.  Over a period of weeks, top UIA and Kurdish leaders met to discuss the possibility of reaching an agreement.  As anticipated, the negotiations were largely focused on the region of Kirkuk and selecting a prime minister.  The unforeseen complication arose with respect to Kurdish leadership in the national government.  Instead of a direct agreement whereby the UIA would support the Kurdish demand of retaining control over Kirkuk in exchange for the Kurds backing al Jaafari; the UIA sought Kurdish support for their nomination of prime minister in exchange for UIA support for the Kurds choice of president.  While negotiations were tenuous, an agreement was finally reached where each party agreed to back the other in their nomination for top national posts: the Kurds supported al Jaafari for prime minister and the UIA backed Talabani for president.  Although the specific details of the arrangement are not a matter of public record, Kirkuk was too central of an issue to the Kurds to think that they would have abandoned the goal altogether.  Time will tell what lies ahead for the region but, for now, there is no indication that a specific outcome has been predetermined. 

This presents an interesting scenario with respect to the final of the Kurds’ identified goals.  To guarantee control in the region of Kirkuk, the Kurds will likely have to continue their relationship with the UIA majority.  This also means working within the vision of the new prime minister.  But remember that al Jaafari was also the lead spokesman for the Da’wa party, a political faction that strongly supported the strict Shia interpretation of Islamic religion as the foundation for national law.  Under this model, for the Kurds to achieve control over Kirkuk, they will work with a prime minister who has advocated the imposition of strict Islamic law, directly contravening the alternate Kurdish goal of avoiding that very outcome.  This dilemma is probably mitigated to some degree by al Jaafari’s recent change in tone.  If al Jaafari is to be taken at his word, his view of the role of Islamic law in national government has been modified.  However- there is no guarantee, particularly because this issue still represents a bargaining chip with the Kurds, that al Jaafari will not push for a more pervasive role for Islam within Iraqi law.  This places the Kurds in the precarious position of potentially undercutting certain goals by achieving others.

Having looked in more detail at Kurdish objectives, and the system of democracy within which they are operating, it is clear that a truly interdependent relationship does exist:  Kurdish goals can be achieved through participation in the Iraqi national democracy; and a united Iraqi democracy can exist by including the Kurdish participation.

The Sunnis

The final category of the three major divisions of the Iraqi population also encompasses Arab Iraqis.  The Sunnis, speaking generically, are the most complicated of the major divisions in the country.  Sunnis, like Shia, are a sect of the Islamic faith who believe in the prophet Muhammad, but maintain a distinct ideology and manor of worship.[49]  In Iraq, in particular, the classification as a Shia or Sunni has a significant connotation.  A brief look at the traditional role of Sunnis in Iraq will shed light on the focal points of the Sunni agenda.  It is important to understand that the Sunnis are a unique category within the Iraqi population for the simple reason that they are most opposed to the new form of government.  This opposition has manifested itself in the form of an insurgency that now plagues local and Coalition security forces, as well as the development of a united, democratic Iraq.[50]  To some degree, this broad generalization is not completely accurate: not every Sunni Iraqi is taking up arms to support the insurgency, and not every member of the insurgency is a member of the Sunni faith.  However, it is the insurgent agenda, which currently typifies the Sunni political position in Iraq.  For that reason, the insurgent agenda will most aptly fit into the framework of this analysis.

As previously noted, the historical role of the Sunni Muslim in Iraq has everything to do with the group’s current role as an insurgency.  The Sunnis have enjoyed political and social control over the rest of the Iraqi population for the better part of the last 500 years.  This state of affairs was a function more of good fortune than any particular aptitude of the Sunnis.  The spread of Shiite Islam and its strict religious tenants was viewed as a threat to many of the non-Arab nations of the Middle East, most notably, the Ottoman Empire.  To perpetuate the existence of Iraq as a buffer country between Turkey and Shiite dominated countries such as Iran, the Turks supported the Sunnis of Iraq for centuries.[51]  Although a minority by numbers, the Sunnis in Iraq enjoyed better education, social status, and governmental authority.  In a sense, the Sunnis existed as a ruling upper class that showed little interest in assisting the less educated, less powerful Shiite majority.

When the ruling Ba’ath party was removed from power by the Coalition forces in April of 2002, the existing social order was turned upside down as well.  The Ba’athist regime, almost all of whom were Sunni Muslims, were now prohibited from taking on any role in a governmental or military capacity.  Likewise, although Sunni involvement in the new government was overtly present, it was more for the appearance of good faith than it had to do with any real or meaningful power.  This continues to be the case in the elected government where Sunnis have been appointed to largely ceremonial posts. When it became clear that the Coalition forces had no intention of leaving the country in short order, the Sunnis were forced to address that achieving goals in the new Iraq meant working within the new government.  The alternative, and the direction chosen by a large number of Sunnis, was to rebel and fight against the democratic government that is now in place. 

Following the Coalition’s declaration of the cessation of major military operations, the Iraqi people were made aware that the stability of the country would not be quickly achieved.  On nearly a daily basis, roadside bombs, attacks on religious symbols, assassinations, and simple intimidation have been perpetrated on the Iraqi people and Coalition forces.  The message is clear: the insurgency wants the Coalition forces out and nothing to do with any form of democratic government. 

The paths of the insurgency and the new government crossed most directly during the January 2005 elections.  Hindered by threats of reprisal, the Sunni population turned out for the general election in very small numbers.  It is estimated that 10% of eligible Sunni voters actually cast ballots, only 2% of the overall turnout on election day.[52]  This seemed a sure sign that the Sunni insurgency was there to stay, their message clear, and the prospect of a united, democratic Iraq, unlikely.

Given the number of critical issues at the heart of the insurgency such as religion, power, social structure and form of government, what evidence is there that those participating in the insurgency will ever support a united, democratic Iraq?  The answer lies clearly within the context of the problem itself.  On one side are an insurgency and its primary goal: the withdrawal of Coalition forces.  Ancillary to this goal is re-establishing a ruling elite made up of former regime elements and the Sunni population; or, at least, resisting a Shiite dominated democracy.  On the other side of the field is the Coalition forces, the Iraqi national security forces, the new government of Iraq, the Shiite majority, and the Kurds of the north.  It is the culmination of these elements that will result in the defeat of the insurgency and the success of the new government.

From a fundamental perspective, the Iraqi insurgency lacks key components associated with a successful campaign.  To begin, the insurgents are lacking popular support, if not in their ideology, then certainly in their methods.  While it may be that the whole of Iraq has an interest in the withdrawal of Coalition forces, it is not the case that the majority of the population supports brutal violence – aimed largely at innocent Iraqi civilians – to achieve this end.  This proposition is further supported by the more frequently occurring stories of the general Iraqi population fighting back and speaking out against the insurgency.[53]

Second, the insurgency lacks funding, training and organization.  It is widely believed that the majority of insurgent attacks are coordinated by former regime elements operating outside of the Iraqi borders.  In addition to the increasing difficulty in communication and physical association, the detached leadership is under increasing pressure from their respective hosts to discontinue funding and leadership of the movement.  This has had the effect of reducing the insurgency to a wildly decentralized pattern of attacks and individual terrorism. 

Finally, Coalition and Iraqi security forces tremendously outmatch the military capacity of the insurgency.  As the Iraqi people continue to advance in the training and operations of securing their own country, the need for Coalition troops to remain in Iraq will diminish and eventually disappear all together.  At this point, the insurgency will lose any credibility it may currently retain as nationalist fighters against an occupying force.  The insurgency will be left to battle their fellow Iraqi citizens and the insurgent’s true goal will become apparent i.e. resisting the majority rule of the Shiite.  With superior military and governmental authority, however, the majority Shia will not be in a position, which would require giving in to the insurgent demands.  The insurgents will face a choice: accept the ruling government and its popular support or be defeated.[54] 

There is every indication that this process has already begun.  Within weeks of the general election, prominent Sunni leadership spoke out in favor of joining forces and participating in the new government.  It was widely accepted that the election was viewed as legitimate and that tools of democracy were the new means of accomplishing one’s goals.  This pattern has continued with the appointment of Sunni officials to the presidency counsel and to other prominent governmental posts.  Additionally, Sunni leadership has recently undertaken to speak out against the insurgency itself, proclaiming that attacking and killing fellow Iraqis is an unacceptable means of achieving political goals.  While a desperate few still remain, while it is more than likely the case that the insurgency will plague Iraq for years to come, there are indications that the tide is turning as those who condemned the new Iraqi government now realize it is there best hope to be heard.    


 Admittedly, there is some degree of speculation involved so long as each Iraqi citizen and the broader political, religious and ethnic factions remain free to change their objectives, alter their preferences, and conduct their respective authority within the National Assembly as they see fit; this will remain the case, as it should, in any democracy.  Any uncertainty is a function of the freedom that exists in a democratic Iraq.  It is, perhaps, this idea of freedom that lends the most support to the theory that a united, democratic Iraq is, not only possible, but also likely.  When free men and women enjoy the ability to congregate, to discuss ideas and competing view points, to make strides forward by reaching common ground, it is then that the environment is ready for a democratic system of government to flourish.  While there are those who now and probably always will oppose this freedom and open exchange of ideas, it is clear that the Iraqi population recognizes that their best individual, and best national hope rest in a unified, democratic Iraq.   

[1] The thesis presented and supported by these materials attempts to reflect the sentiment of the majority of the Iraqi population at the time this work was drafted.  History has shown that political ideology and religion, in particular, are subject to frequent and rapid departures from a previously anticipated course.  As that remains the case, this thesis would be incomplete if it failed to recognize that the sentiment of the Iraqi population might change; certain goals currently valued may be abandoned in favor of others that wildly conflict with democratic principles. Only time will be the final judge in the outcome of the world’s newest experiment in democracy.  

[2] See discussion of Shia majority, infra.

[3] A “vote against” the constitution requires a two-thirds vote against the constitution within the governorate.

[4] The term has two recognized English translations: “Shia” and “Shiite.” (available at <>).  For accuracy, all web materials cited were last visited on May 19, 2005.

[5] Beyond the scope of these materials, the term “Shia” refers to a sect of the Muslim faith with a global following, not limited to Iraq.

[6] See generally, Sandra MacKey, The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein, (1st ed., W.W. Norton & Co., Ltd, 2002), Nir Rosen, In the Balance, New York Times Magazine 30, 33 (February 20, 2005).

[7] MacKey, supra, at ch. 6.

[8] The Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress has published materials on this topic as part of the country studies series.  (available at <>).

[9] <>.

[10] <>.

[11] <>.

[12] Rod Nordland & Babak Dehghanpisheh, What Sistani Wants, Newsweek 24 (February 14, 2005).

[13] Id. at 26

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Kathleen Ridolfo, Inside Iraq, 7 Iraq Report 45 (December 10, 2004).

[17] Nordland, supra, at 26.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] For a discussion of the Shia religious hierarchy, see <>

[21] For a discussion of Muqtada al-Sadr’s lineage, political philosophy and history, see <>.

[22] Id.

[23] Al-Sadr has re-emerged of late to denounce Coalition forces in Iraq.  Associated Press, Sadr Blasts U.S., Saddam In Speech, (May 16, 2005).

[24] See fn. 21, supra.

[25] <>.

[26] Id.

[27] For a list of the cabinet posts in the new government, see <>.

[28] <>.

[29] <>

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Mohamad Bazzi, Allawi seen as Iraq front runner, (February 1, 2005).

[33] Id.

[34] Rosen, supra, at 33.

[35] Id.

[36] Id.

[37] Id.

[38] Id. at 33-36.

[39] Id.

[40] Mohamad Bazzi, Kurds hope for their say, (February 21, 2005).

[41] Id.

[42] Iraqi Interim Const. ch. 8 art. 53.

[43] Rosen, supra, at 33.

[44] Associated Press, Syria, Turkey warn Iraqi Kurds against autonomy, (January 8, 2004).

[45] Id.

[46] See Interim Constitution, supra.

[47] Iraq’s Shia go from exclusion to dominance, The Economist (February 17, 2005).

[48] Id.

[49] See generally <>.

[50] Robert F. Worth, Sunni Leader Vows Support For Insurgents, The New York Times (March 29, 2005).

[51] <>.

[52] See Iraq’s Shia go from exclusion to dominance, supra.

[53] Robert F. Worth, Always under the gun, some Iraqis fire back, International Herald Tribune (March 23, 2005) (available at  <>).

[54] This point is subject to argument in that insurgencies have, historically, proved effective or even successful under particular conditions.  What the Iraqi insurgency has working against it, which also strongly supports the conclusion it will face the choice of defeat or surrender, is the overwhelming disregard for the citizens of Iraq.  The purported leader of the Iraqi insurgency has gone so far as to pardon the killing of innocent Iraqi children and women to further the cause.  Fox News, Zarqawi Tape Justifies Killing of Muslims, (May 19, 2005) (available at <,2933,157012,00.html>.)