Iraqis call to end sectarian quotas for some ministries

Iraqi intellectuals and trade unionists have called for the appointment of qualified people to head government ministries rather than relying on sectarian quotas.

al-monitor Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi speaks during a news conference in Baghdad, Aug. 25, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS/Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud.

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iraq, intellectuals, government, culture

Sep 4, 2014

On Aug. 21, intellectuals and trade unionists met in a hotel in central Baghdad for a conference calling on Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi, who's tasked with forming a new government, to exclude some ministries from sectarian quotas. In 2003, the political blocs agreed to a quota system, with each faction having appropriate representation, and have continued to use it to this day.

Moving away from sectarian quotas will be difficult. The negotiations on the government were obstructed when some political blocs, including the Sunni-dominated National Union of Forces, demanded an increase in their share of the ministries. In addition, movements and campaigns launched by youth and civic organizations do not seem to be having any significant effect on changing the process of forming governments.

According to Razak Mhaybes, a parliamentarian for the Shiite National Alliance and member of the Badr Organization's parliamentary bloc, “Moving the ministries away from sectarianism is impossible,” he said. “The political blocs refuse ministries being staffed without their members.”

Some intellectuals and civil activists argue that excluding the Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Higher Education and Ministry of Youth and Sports from the sectarian quotas, and appointing qualified people from outside the political blocs to run them, will contribute significantly in building future Iraqi generations. It would also give intellectuals a greater role in the political process.

The conference statement, which intellectuals deemed exceptional, called for “building the destroyed infrastructure affecting the culture of the country … and establishing cultural centers and headquarters of various literary and artistic unions in Baghdad and other provinces and cities of Iraq.” The statement, which Al-Monitor obtained a copy of, also called for the “construction of public libraries and research centers and the promotion of the role of cinema, theater and art exhibition halls, as well as scientific and applied research centers.”

Mhaybes has not hidden his position on the issue. “Political blocs [should] choose ministers outside quotas and appoint people with experience and competence,” he said. “These people must be outside the quotas given the importance and specialization of these ministries.” Mhaybes told Al-Monitor emphatically, “Quotas killed everything.”

The sectarian quotas are one of the obstacles preventing the building of solid institutions in Iraq because the people chosen to run the ministries have no experience in the fields they are supposed to be managing. The Ministry of Culture was particularly affected, as previous governments appointed two ministers without expertise in cultural work.

Ahmed al-Salmani, a National Union of Forces parliamentarian, said, “Most of our [ministry] candidates are technocrats and not from our parties.” In an interview with Al-Monitor, Salmani stated, “The Union of Forces will have candidates from outside the blocs allied with the union and technocrats. Most of the candidates are outside the framework of partisanship.”

Salmani believes that the ministries that the conference of intellectuals and trade unionists asked to be excluded from quotas are “highly specialized.” He said, “Our candidates will have professional competence in the provision of public service and administration of ministries.”

Ibrahim Khayat, spokesman for the Executive Office of the General Union of Writers and Authors in Iraq, said, “None of the political blocs have called the conferees,” stating that the political blocs are dealing with intellectuals “silently.” He told Al-Monitor, “Not only did the writers union organize the conference, but it also sent a message to [the president, parliament speaker and prime minister-designate] to distance the Ministry of Culture from sectarian quotas, but we have yet to receive a response.” According to Khayat, “The political blocs are turning a blind eye to these demands.”

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