Hayder al-Khoei writes for The Guardian:
The current political crisis in Iraq is often portrayed as a sectarian conflict between the Shia prime minister on the one hand and the deputy prime minister and vice-president – both Sunnis – on the other.
No one can claim that sectarianism in Iraq does not exist, but a closer look at the intra-sectarian conflict, sometimes just as bloody, can help paint a more nuanced picture.
It was the intra-sectarian war between former Sunni insurgents and foreign Sunni jihadists, as well as the surge of US troops in 2007, that helped Iraq achieve relative stability. At the same time, the Shia-dominated Iraqi army battled it out with Shia militias in Basra.
Today, unfortunately, the discourse has reverted to a black and white narrative that is misleading. The not so subtle intra-sectarian differences as well as intra-party politics are being missed.
It is true that there has been some polarisation along sectarian lines following moves by the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to sack his deputy and accusations against the vice-president of involvement in terrorism.
However, the violent sectarianism in Iraq, manifested recently in the form of deadly blasts targeting Shia pilgrims, is only related to the current political imbroglio in its timing. Al-Qaida and its affiliates are banking on the destabilised political process and hoping to drag ordinary Iraqis into open conflict.
The Sunnis and Shia of Iraq are not killing each other today. Instead, violent jihadists are killing both Sunnis and Shia. Security officials reported that two Sunni soldiers wrestled the suicide bomber away from the Shia pilgrims near Nasiriya.
The political crisis is not all sectarianism, either. Maliki has on two occasions since the arrest warrant against the Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashimi, used internal Shia power politics to flex his muscles.
He first indirectly threatened his allies, the Sadrists, with the long-standing arrest warrant on Moqtada al-Sadr. Maliki then brought the militant ex-Sadrist Asaib Ahl-al Haq movement into the political fold as a useful counterweight to Sadr. The issue of the warrant on Sadr was quickly buried, but the government is still adamant about bringing an enemy of Sadr back to the table.
The largely Sunni-backed Iraqiya party was already split, with the White faction that remains in parliament as opposition to the government seeing fissures in recent months over autonomy for the Kurds. On issues such as federalism, there has never been a sectarian divide since both Shia and Sunni parties are divided among themselves.
Furthermore, the Sunni speaker of parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi, not only refused to quit his job when his bloc leader, Ayad Allawi, called a boycott of parliament, but he has publicly distanced himself from the New York Times article that was ostensibly co-signed by Nujaifi along with Allawi and the finance minister, Rafi al-Issawi. Last Thursday, seven Iraqiya MPs defied their bloc leader and returned to parliament with a strong message: "Dialogue is the only solution."
Internal rifts in the Sunni-backed parties are another demonstrable fact that the Shia-Sunni narrative is flawed. Nujaifi is in close contact with Maliki to prepare for the national conference that aims to settle the political deadlock later this month.
It may be obvious to some, but many people seem to forget that both Allawi and Maliki, the two main politicians at loggerheads since the previous elections, are both Shia. One just happens to be secular and the other Islamist. There is a clash of personal egos at play that has absolutely nothing to do with sectarianism.
Interestingly, and perhaps even more telling, Ayatollah Sistani blamed politicians for the recent crisis without taking sides. In 2005 Sistani stood by the Shia political parties and helped them get into power. Today Sistani refuses to meet politicians, regardless of sect, because he believes they have failed to provide services. Again, there is a Najaf-Baghdad complex at play that has received little attention.
Political competition, rather than sectarianism, dominates Iraqi politics.