There is growing concern over rising sectarian strife, as Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority continues to reel from last week’s announcement that some 500 Sunni politicians would be banned from running in the March election.
The ban effectively destroyed the only successful non-Shi’ite political bloc, a non-sectarian coalition led by Sunni MP Saleh al-Mutlaq and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Though Allawi, a Shi’ite, was not banned himself, the loss of the Sunnis in his bloc effectively relegates him to political irrelevance.
The move has sparked fury among the Sunnis, who now face a choice between voting for what is left of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi’s Iraqi Accord Front and boycotting the election entirely. Either way, the resentment will likely linger well past the March vote.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, incredibly enough, issued a statement warning the Sunni opposition not to “politicize” the ruling party’s decision to ban them from the political process.
In reality the prime minister will be fortunate if all the ban becomes is a political issue, as the increasingly disenfranchised Sunnis could well resume the sectarian civil war that tore Iraq apart for years after the 2003 US invasion.