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Iraq's Tyranny of the Majority

Prepared by: Lionel Beehner
Updated: May 11, 2007

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Iraqi Sunnis are feeling the pinch of what political scientists call “tyranny of the majority.” Efforts at national reconciliation have stalled (RFE/RL) over a series of constitutional demands made by Sunni leader Tariq al-Hashimi, whose minority party, the Iraq Accord Front, controls forty-four seats in parliament (Sunni Arabs comprise roughly 20 percent of Iraq’s population). He has called for a breakup of Iraq’s Shiite militias; a reversal of laws preventing former Baath Party members from taking government jobs; stronger constitutional language affirming the sanctity of the Iraqi state to avoid further decentralization; and a hydrocarbons law, explained in this new Backgrounder, which redistributes revenues more equitably. After a pair of meetings with Iraq’s president and prime minister, Hashimi appears to have backed away (CNN) from earlier threats to pull his bloc out of parliament if his demands go unmet.

Yet Iraqi leaders are running into political timetables in Washington. The House passed a bill agreeing to fund the war only through midsummer (CQ Today), while a growing number of congressional leaders have set September as the deadline for Iraq to meet certain “benchmarks” on security and national reconciliation, a process outlined in this Backgrounder. CFR's Lee Feinstein tells Bernard Gwertzman that House Republicans have made it clear to President Bush their support for his Iraq policy “cannot continue indefinitely.” There was also a hue and cry over news reports that Iraq’s parliamentarians had planned to take two months off this summer for vacation (they will only take one week off). Even still, Iraqi politicians will be hard-pressed to meet the deadlines set to revise the constitution and reach a power-sharing agreement. “We need to make people understand our perspective,” (NYT) Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq’s national security adviser, told reporters on a recent visit to Washington. “What are the challenges we are facing, what are the difficulties we are facing. We are not lying and doing nothing.”

The latest snag over Sunni rights signals the growing political isolation of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Fadilah party withdrew from his Shiite bloc in March and several members of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc pulled out of parliament in April. Some experts say if the Kurds—whose demands on Kirkuk and an oil law favorable to the regions are creating divisions within Baghdad—were to withdraw their support, that might spell the end of Maliki’s coalition. “If any further deputies were to desert him, it is hard to see how al-Maliki could win a vote of no confidence,” writes Middle East expert Juan Cole on his blog. Both inside and outside Iraq, calls for new leadership are amplifying, with the usual suspects being mentioned: Adil Abdul Mahdi, a prominent Shiite politician, and Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who was interim prime minister in 2004.

Vice President Dick Cheney, on a weeklong visit to the Middle East, met with Maliki on May 9 to urge him to reach a political compromise (The following day he met with U.S. officials to discuss military progress in Iraq). While the political factions try to sort out their differences, security remains the top issue on the minds of most Iraqis, according to a new ABC News poll and analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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