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Iraq's New Politics

Why Sectarianism Is Out

A member of Kurdish the security forces shows his ink-stained fingers after casting an early ballot in Sulaimaniya, April 28, 2014. Yahya Ahmad / Courtesy Reuters

As Iraq readies for general elections at the end of this month, sectarian tensions hang over the country, just as in elections past. But this time, there is a twist: despite the population’s deep divides, Iraqi politics have refused to play by the old sectarian rules. In fact, most long-standing ethno-sectarian parties have fractured and, in some cases, key political issues are starting to cut across religious identities. As a result, the election will likely have no clear winner, and only the subsequent struggle to form a new cabinet will reveal which way Iraq is really headed in the coming years.

A lot has changed since Iraq’s first post-invasion parliamentary poll in December 2005. Back then, sectarian issues were extremely pronounced: nearly all the major Shiite parties had joined the United Iraqi Alliance, an umbrella group. Kurdish parties, meanwhile, had come together under the Kurdistan Alliance. Sunnis also had

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