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How Iraq's sectarian system came to be

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In December 2002, a group of 350 Iraqi opposition politicians gathered for a conference titled "To Save Iraq and Achieve Democracy" in the Hilton Metropole Hotel on Edgware Road in London. Many of the attendees were Iraqi politicians who had lived in exile for most of their adult lives and who had spent much of that time supporting the plans of the United States for imperialist intervention in the country.

It was during this conference, and under pressure from the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, that Iraq's political future was decided and the muhasasa ta'ifia, the ethno-sectarian apportionment system that was imposed on Iraqis following the invasion, was decided on.

Jalal al-Talabani, then leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) who would later become president of Iraq, defined the mission of the conference as "restoring unity to Iraq as a people, territory and entity". Masoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), who in 2005 would become president of the newly established Kurdistan Region of Iraq, emphasised the need for "a spirit of reconciliation and preservation of the [national] interest". Ahmed al-Chalabi, who would later head the oil ministry, called for "a new way of thinking and the consolidation of democratic principles".

At the closing of the conference, the opposition published a 10-page political statement, which emphasised their desire to root out sectarianism, which was defined in terms of Saddam Hussein's persecution of the Shia community, and to build a new Iraq based on human rights and equality for all its citizens.

Today, more than 17 years later, it is quite clear that many of these pronouncements were no more than empty rhetoric. At the moment, Iraq is neck-deep in sectarian politics, which has led to an unprecedented political crisis and increasing failure of the state to provide for the basic needs of its citizens.

The Iraqi opposition and its Western allies first came up with the idea of the........

© Al Jazeera