In the first elections since the Islamic State or IS’s defeat, Iraqis voted on 12 May. The voter turnout was lower than the last polls, much less than expected. Nonetheless, defeating disillusionment with the exercise in general and navigating dozens of security barriers in specific, Irqis, who ventured out, expressed their will in uncertain terms -- a non-sectarian and an independent Iraq.
They intend on achieving it by backing an alliance between the communists and other allies of a Shia cleric named Muqtada al-Sadr. A maverick and a kingmaker, Sadr is a paradox. He is extremely religious but also professes a desire for a secular Iraq. An erstwhile force behind bloody sectarian riots, he now portrays himself as a possible peacemaker in the region. His men have gained the most number of seats by selling the promise of ending sectarianism, corruption and foreign meddling in the country. The vote in his favour reflects a huge shift in the expectations of the Iraqi peoples from their politicians. Divided along Shia-Sunni lines, Iraq seems to be moving beyond sectarian rivalries. But what has led to this momentous change? A proxy battleground of global and regional powers, is Iraq breaking free of the vicious cycle of bloodshed encumbering it for decades? And, what does the verdict in Iraq mean for the region?
Shia vs Sunni: Iraq’s receding fault line
A few months ago, I met Ameera, a professor at Baghdad University. She was waiting for her takeout at a restaurant in central Baghdad. A small introduction and a short chat later, she opened up about the tragedy she has been living with for years. The words were on her mind and fell quickly on her lips. She said, “Saddam picked-up my brother and turned him into minced meat.” Noticing her account seemed incredulous to the foreigner, she emphasised, “No, really. That is what Saddam did to Shias. His soldiers randomly abducted Shia boys, took them to the butcher, chopped their bodies into pieces and turned them into minced meat.”
Ameera’s story gives an insight into the deep-seated mistrust between the Shias and the Sunnis and how the dominant community of the Shias felt victimised by the Sunni dictator Saddam Hussain. Shias in the West Asia live with a historical sense of discrimination with its genesis in the 7th century killing of Imam Hussain at the hands of the Sunni caliph of Ummayad dynasty in Karbala in present day Iraq. With Saddam’s ouster, they were in a position to correct the alleged wrongs and claim a stake to high offices.
Inadvertently, American President George Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 gifted Shias with the much longed for political power. Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia, became the premier. His rise didn’t eradicate sectarian violence, instead continued it by merely reversing the trend.