x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Boycott endangers Iraq's recovery

The National Dialogue Front's decision to boycott the upcoming Iraqi parliamentary elections is deeply worrying.

The National Dialogue Front's decision to boycott the upcoming Iraqi parliamentary elections is deeply worrying. Not only does it threaten the legitimacy of the poll, but the last time Sunni parties boycotted the elections in 2005, it exacerbated a cycle of violence that almost drove the country into civil war. It is hard to fault the decision of the party's leader, Saleh al Mutlaq. He and hundreds of other banned politicians are the victims of blatant political manipulation. Regardless, they must be careful; there is more at stake than their own political careers. The threat of civil war has lessened. Iraqis seemed to have learnt that, whatever their grievance, it is better to settle differences in the political arena rather than on the streets. However, the possibility of renewed sectarian tensions cannot be ruled out. It is altogether possible that Iraq would not emerge as a single nation in such a case. The tragedy is that the only benefactors of this boycott would be Shiite religious parties with separatist ambitions. Parties such as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and its allies, including supporters of Muqtada al Sadr, have seen their influence wane. Should the political process be allowed to take its course, that trend would probably only continue. Mr al Mutlaq's intent may be to pressure the central government by calling other parties to join him in a boycott, but it is doubtful that many others will heed his call. If they did, the result could deeply split the Sunni vote. Even so, his party's absence will divide Sunni representation among a myriad of parties. There are other Sunni parties with agendas similar to the National Dialogue Front, but few as prominent. It should be remembered that the last time the Sunni parties boycotted the elections, it led to an artificial imbalance in the political landscape by throwing up political leaders with too little popular mandate. This election was supposed to fix this imbalance and reshape Iraqi politics to reflect the interests of all its people. Nothing is of greater importance to Iraq's future. Political manipulation of the election results and knee-jerk reactions to injustice only hamper this process and delay the resolution of sectarian disputes. The beneficiaries are those that place their personal agendas above what is best for the country as a whole.