Legitimising sectarian discrimination in Iraq

Sectarian government, such as one in Iraq, cannot be expected to achieve anything that does not fit sectarian mould in place since 2005.


2016/12/04 Issue: 84 Page: 4


The Arab Weekly
Amine Ben Messaoud



By all logical accounts, a sectarian government, such as the one in Iraq, cannot be expected to achieve anything that does not fit the sectarian mould in place since 2005. It is also futile to expect citizenship, pluralistic democracy and a republican army and police to take root in terrain polluted by the insanity of ethnic and regional discrimination.

The Council of Representatives of Iraq recently gave its stamp of approval to the armed militia groups under the banner of the Popular Mobilisation Forces and turned them into an integral part of the military institutions of the country, even assigning a budget for them. By doing so, it took Iraq beyond the evil of institutionalising sectarian rule and into the realm of legitimising sectarian militias.

Legitimising sectarian militias means that the state subscribes to the divisive ideologies professed by the sectarian gangs, the ethnic gangs and the regional gangs and is willing to work with the hierarchies controlling them.

Instead of gradually disarming and dismantling them and pushing them to cleanse their discourse of hate and reform their despicable behaviour, the state becomes an extension of the militias’ ideology and cover for them. Even worse, the state gives its stamp of approval to the past, present and future horrors perpetrated by these militias.

There is a difference between the soft and partial sectarian rule in Lebanon, for example, and the total sectarian hegemony in place in Iraq. In Lebanon, sectarianism is practised in some aspects of the governmental administration and some social domains. The army and security forces, on the other hand, remain free of a sectarian mentality and are a symbol of Lebanon’s wholeness. This is why people clearly distinguish between the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah forces.

It is thanks to their unbiased charters that the Lebanese armed forces saved Lebanon from falling into the quagmire of narrow sectarian interests and schemes on several occasions, the most recent of which was the dismantling of a terrorist network. Every time politicians in Lebanon call on the army to elect the president of the republic, the military institution gives its blessing to its commander-in-chief, not out of concern of guaranteeing a Christian presence at the head of the executive but out of respect for the institution’s morality and line of conduct.

Sectarianism as practised in Lebanon lies in stark contrast to the totalitarian sectarianism practised in Iraq. The latter has gotten so bad that sectarian militias have become the reference for authority and are above accountability.

Total sectarianism in Iraq has weakened the administration, depressed the economy, wiped out civilised life and reduced the country to an incoherent jumble of ethnicities and sects. On the opposing side, it has produced generations of extremists living in complete asynchrony with their time and place.

This by no means should be understood as offering lame excuses for extremism by reducing terrorism to a reaction to total sectarianism. It does, however, follow that the loss of the notion of an inclusive state and citizenship lets in more than one supposition and justifies thinking outside the frame of state authority and the context of a country. In other words, it opens the doors for global terrorism.

Total sectarianism in Iraq has turned the state into the executive branch of certain sectarian groups, placed state institutions in the service of armed militias and mobilised resources and services for the benefit of a particular segment of the society. By so doing, it has placed Iraq and Yemen on the brink of destruction.

An independent judiciary, a participatory democracy and a republican military are all guarantees for the perpetuity of statehood. A failing state begins with the failure of one or, at worst, all of these pillars.

We are unfortunately witnessing the rise of total sectarianism in Iraq and Yemen, of total tribalism in Libya and of total regionalism in Syria.


Amine Ben Messaoud is a Tunisian writer.


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