Iraq: More Than Sum of Its Parts

Three months after a historic vote, Iraq's elected leaders finally formed a government this week. Well, almost.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari carefully balanced Iraq's main groups - Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds - in selecting ministers, especially reaching out to Sunnis, despite their low voter turnout. But when he appointed a Sunni named Hisham Shibli as human rights minister, Mr. Shibli rejected the post. Why? Because he says he was chosen simply for being a Sunni.

"I am a democratic figure," he told Reuters. "I am completely against sectarianism."

Bravo for him. Perhaps Iraq's new leaders, like the US occupation regime, cater too much to this notion that Iraqis identify themselves primarily by religion and ethnicity and not first as citizens of a nation called Iraq.

Lebanon learned the hard way in a civil war that sectarian-allocated government doesn't work. It can often play to organized groups and extremists, not to individuals dedicated to broad democratic principles.

Still, many of Iraq's new ministers were chosen for their competency as much as their identity. And Monday, they were sworn in with a pledge to work for a "federal, democratic" Iraq.

The insurgents want to ignite a sectarian war. The new government needs to counter that with a strong national unity, Iraqi patriotism, and even-handed actions.

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