Oh, Those “Disappointing” Iraqis

It may be
months before we know the final tally of Iraq’s March 7
parliamentary elections. But one thing is already clear. As The New
York Times editorial page put it today
, “Beyond
the closeness of the race, the new results—disappointingly—show Iraqis
again voted mainly along sectarian and ethnic lines.”

Oh, those disappointing Iraqis. You would never
guess from
the Times piece that sectarianism in Iraq, whether expressed in
voting or in violence,
is a direct outcome of US

Remarkably, in a country with almost no history of
communal violence, US
actions, from the invasion of 2003 to the present, helped transform a
difference between the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam into a
dangerous political
divide. The US dismantled Iraq's largely secular state bureaucracy in
favor of
a system that allocated seats in parliament, jobs and other resources
to ethnic and religious divisions.

That system produced the so–called "Shiite list" that
swept the
first national elections held under US occupation in January 2005. It
also produced a civil war.

In the name of defeating the anti-US insurgency, the
Pentagon armed and
deployed openly sectarian Shiite and Kurdish militias to fight Sunnis
police Sunni neighborhoods. The State Department acknowledged in 2005
that this
policy had "greatly exacerbated tensions along purely ethnic lines."
After setting the stage for civil war, the US continued to fuel violence
giving one side—the Sunni–based insurgency—its raison d'être,
while giving
the other side—the Shiite-controlled state security forces—money,
weapons, and
training. By 2007, the US
was arming both sides.

In the legal arena, the same provisions of the US–brokered
constitution that
sanction gender discrimination (Articles 39 and 41)
also lay the groundwork for sectarianism. Long before sectarianism
turned to
violence, MADRE warned that, "the new constitution could allow unelected
clerics and Islamist politicians to determine a person's legal recourse
on sex and religious affiliation [emphasis added]. Due to
interpretations of religious law, tensions between Islamic groups with
differing rules about personal status issues would be exacerbated. The
resulting civil strife will further endanger Iraqis, undermine prospects
democracy, and foment a dangerous sectarianism in an already
The decision to apply separate laws on the basis of sex and religion has
both discrimination against women and sectarian conflict; arguably the
greatest impediments to real democracy and reconciliation in Iraq.

This weekend marks seven years since the US
invasion of Iraq. The elections that preceded
this grim anniversary are very much a product of US policy. In effect,
the US forced
Iraqis to compete for scarce resources on the basis of sectarian
identity and
reoriented Iraqi citizenship on the basis of religion instead of
nationality. So if you feel “disappointed” by the Iraqi
elections, you know who to thank.

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