Iraq cancels sect-based entry to military colleges and state institutions

The government is attempting to restore a sense of national pride torn apart by years of sectarian unrest

Iraqis wave their country's national fla g as they celebrate in the streets of the holy city of Najaf on July 11, 2017 a day after the government's announcement of the "liberation" of the embattled city of Mosul. - Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared Mosul finally retaken on July 10, as his forces fought to recapture a last sliver of territory still held by the jihadists in the Old City on the west bank of the Tigris River. (Photo by Haidar HAMDANI / AFP)

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi has abolished sectarian considerations in deciding admissions to military colleges and hiring at state institutions.

The move is seen as an attempt by Mr Al Kadhimi to curb sectarian divides and unite the war-torn country.

“The Prime Minister has requested the cancellation of classification of students based on their sectarian affiliation, this will also apply to all state institutions,” the prime minister's office said on Wednesday.

“Citizenship and identity cards will be sufficient enough for enrolment,” it said.

Military college admission forms have previously requested information about the applicant's sect.

“This will no longer be considered when processing military applicants,” it said.

Instead, Mr Al Kadhimi ordered that the awarding of admissions and government jobs be distributed evenly among the country’s cities and provinces.

The majority of Iraq's population is divided between Shiite and Sunni Muslims and includes Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen ethnic groups. A relatively small Christian population remains and is divided among Assyrians and Chaldeans.

Since the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, government positions have been divided between the country’s different sects, ethnic groups and the ruling political class.

The quota-based system, known as Muhassasa, was used by former governments to distribute cabinet positions in the name of national unity or balance.

But some Iraqi groups have complained that the system is unfair and has deepened sectarian policies in government.

Anti-government protests last October demanded the removal of the quota-based political system and condemned the government for widespread corruption, poor public services and lack of employment opportunities in Iraq.

The protests led to the resignation of the then prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. The political crisis deepened further when two replacement candidates nominated by President Barham Salih failed to achieve the consensus required to form a government.

Mr Al Kadhimi took office in May after receiving parliament's backing and faces an array of challenges.

He has said his government’s main mission is to prepare for an early election, with June 2021 suggested as a possible date. But he is also attempting to restore national pride torn apart by years of sectarian unrest, to rein in armed militias and to bring all weapons under the state’s control.

Last week, the cabinet chose October 3 – the day Iraq attained independence from Britain – as the country's new National Day in an effort to restore a sense of pride.

Political parties, who have been divided about the date, will now have to vote in parliament to formally approve the selected day.