But that's not all! Iraq also contains a mosaic of parties representing the interests of Iraq's smaller ethnic communities, or ideologies that have fallen into disfavor. The Iraqi Communist Party and the country's remaining royalists embody political trends that once held great influence; today, it appears time has passed them by. The parties representing Iraq's Yazidi, Assyrian, or Shabak communities, on the other hand, face a natural ceiling to their influence, due to their communities' small and dwindling numbers. However, when election day rolls around, the leaders of these parties will be watching the returns as carefully as Iraq's political heavyweights.
Party: Iraqi Constitutional Monarchy
Leadership: Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein
Main constituency: Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein
History: In every democracy, there is someone who wants to be king. Iraq overthrew its Hashemite monarchy in 1958 for good reason, but try telling that to Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, who has repeatedly called for its restoration and, naturally, put himself forward as the heir to the throne. His party advocates for a national referendum on the question of making Iraq a constitutional monarchy, believing that a royal head of state would be able to stand above partisan politics and act as a unifying force for the war-torn country. The ICM's website leaves little doubt on its choice for future king -- the section on al-Hussein reads like a résumé for the throne. Perhaps even stranger is the glowing review the ICM gives the 1925 Iraqi Constitution, stating that Iraqis adopted the document "after protracted negotiations in a form which was acceptable to them all" -- neglecting to mention that it was forced upon the country by Britain, the mandate power at the time.
Party: Iraqi Communist Party
Leadership: Hamid Majeed Mousa
Main constituency: Poor Shiites
Power centers: Baghdad, southern Iraq
History: Iraq's communist party has seen better days. Although it is still respected as Iraq's oldest political party, formed in 1934 and one of the major resistance groups during Saddam Hussein's rule, it has not managed to attract an electoral following. The group managed to survive constant crackdowns during Saddam's rule, and its house organ Tareeq al-Shaab was the first independent paper to publish in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam. However, the movement was finally crippled by the rise of religious Shiite parties, which cut into its traditional base among poor and minority voters. Despite the U.S. hostility to communism and the Iraqi Communist Party's opposition to the 2003 invasion, the party was offered, and then accepted, a spot on the interim Iraqi Governing Council. But in both regional and national elections since then, the party has posted dismal returns.
Party: Yazidi Movement for Reform and Progress
Leadership: Amin Farhan
Main constituency: Yazidis
Power centers: Nineveh, Dohuk Province
History: One of the many minorities of northern Iraq, the Yazidis boast they maintain the oldest calendar in the world, dating back some 6,759 years. They are adherents to a religion that is a mixture of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Sufi Islam, and they worship a divine peacock. Following the 2003 invasion, some Yazidis appeared to have a perspective on the capabilities of the U.S. forces that exceeded even that of the Bush administration's most fervent neocons. "We believed that Jesus Christ was coming with a force from overseas to save us," stated one Yazidi tribal leader. Another asked for the U.S. Army to park a tank in front of his house "forever."
Yazidis are concentrated in the Nineveh province, which has been a frequent site of Kurdish-Arab tensions, and they have often been caught in the middle of this dispute: They have been targeted by al Qaeda-aligned Arab militias, and have also been victims of peshmerga attempts to "Kurdify" the region. Yazidis have either thrown their weight behind the Kurdish parties or struck out on their own. The Yezidi Movement for Reform and Progress has been the most successful independent group, winning a seat in the Iraqi parliament in the 2005 elections and garnering over 6,000 votes in the 2009 Nineveh provincial election.
Party: Assyrian Democratic Movement
Leadership: Yonadam Kanna
Main constituency: Ethnic Assyrians
Power center: Nineveh
History: The Assyrian Democratic Movement is competing for the five seats in the Iraqi parliament designated for Iraqi Christians. Representing Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syriacs, it is the only Assyrian party with current membership in parliament (Yonadam Kanna, the party head). Boasting one of the most user-friendly websites of the minor Iraqi parties, the ADM appears to be running a FUBU-like campaign, referring to its electoral list as "by our people and for our people."
The party's platform stresses the importance of Article 125 of the Iraqi Constitution, which guarantees "the administrative, political, cultural, and educational rights of the various nationalities, such as Turkomen, Chaldeans, Assyrians." Kanna has done extensive outreach to the Assyrian diaspora, including a lengthy swing through Assyrian communities in Europe and the United States. He has called for Iraq to be a secular country -- a savvy move for a Christian living in an overwhelmingly Muslim nation. He explained his reason for reaching out to the diaspora in an interview with the Turlock Journal, in Turlock, Calif.: "Today, the world is a small village."
Party: Shabak Democratic Party
Leadership: Dr. Hunain Mahmoud al-Qaddo
Main constituency: Ethnic Shabaks
Power center: Nineveh
History: It's a sad fate to be a tiny ethnic minority in Iraq. Shabaks, a largely Shiite ethnic group in northern Iraq, are reserved one seat in the Iraqi parliament. However, the Kurdish authorities in Iraq's northern provinces have long claimed the Shabak are ethnic Kurds. Needless to say, Shabaks aren't thrilled with that assessment -- al-Qaddo has said the attempted Kurdization of the Shabaks is a "political goal."
Visiting the Shabak Democratic Party's website is an adventure in political sensationalism. The bouncing text, reminiscent of a PowerPoint presentation gone horribly wrong, warns of "an ethnic group dying out," and "greeving tears of blood flow." The rotating photographs alternately show nationalistic rallies and appallingly violent images of people murdered by, if one trusts the captions, "terrorists" and "Kurdish militias."
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