One of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s main appeals today in Iraq is his secular stance, something he is running on for the 2010 elections. Despite his Dawa Party’s Islamist roots, Maliki has largely discarded that past history to run on things like security, services, and Iraqi nationalism. However in the last few months, Dawa controlled provincial councils in southern Iraq have begun enforcing Islamic rules.
After the January 2009 provincial elections, Maliki’s State of Law List took control of Basra and Najaf. In August 2009, the Basra council outlawed the sale of alcohol. The deputy governor said that this was legal since the constitution bans violations of Islam. There has also been a push to enforce Islamic dress codes, and gender segregation in public spaces in Basra, some of which the State of Law governor has supported. At the beginning of November, Najaf also outlawed alcohol sales and consumption. The council there said that since the city of Najaf contains a holy shrine, it should not have drinking. These moves highlight the differences between the national and local branches of the State of Law List and Dawa Party. Maliki himself may have dropped religious issues from his rhetoric and policies, but that doesn’t mean his party and followers have. The fact that these laws have been enacted in both Najaf, which is known for its religious history, and Basra, home to Iraq’s second largest city, show that Islamic rules could be imposed anywhere under Maliki’s coalition, and that secularism only goes so deep in current Iraqi politics.
Agence France Presse, “Iraq holy Shiite city of Najaf bans alcohol,” 10/10/09
Haugh, Maj. Timothy, “The Sadr II Movement: An Organizational Fight for Legitimacy within the Iraqi Shi’a Community,” Strategic Insights, May 2005
Lawrence, Quil, “Secular, Religious Blocs Jockey For Position In Iraq,” NPR, 10/8/09
Visser, Reidar, “Ahmad al-Sulayti, or, Maliki’s Basra Problem,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 9/7/09