Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

New plans for Iraq

The crisis in Iraq is not a governmental crisis. It is the result of a rotten state, writes Salah Nasrawi

Al-Ahram Weekly

Thirteen years after its invasion by the United States, Iraq is a country that has yet to emerge from the ravages of the wars and chaos created by the American occupation and the new political class it installed in power.

As the world marks the anniversary of the war this week, Iraq remains mired in multiple and mutually reinforcing conflicts, a war against terrorism, ethno-sectarian disputes, a political stalemate and a stagnant economy.

Rather than let optimism triumph, there is an increasing conviction among thoughtful strategists that change in post-occupation Iraq is becoming increasingly impossible and the country’s own existence is becoming more precarious.

Most of Iraq’s problems are caused by misrule and corruption that produce violence, insurgents, terrorists, communal disputes, power struggles and government inefficiency.

The political elites that took power after the US-led invasion have utterly failed to establish a system of law and leadership that can rebuild both the state and the nation that were devastated by both former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s three decades of authoritarian rule and wars as well as the invasion itself. 

Anti-corruption and pro-reform demonstrations in 2011 and 2015 have underlined public frustration and anger against the ruling cliques that have demonstrated ineptness, greed and a total lack of interest in nation-building.

The startling rise of the Islamic State (IS) terror group and its seizure of Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul and advance into large swathes of territory in summer 2014 exposed the new regime’s disastrous failures.    

Worst of all, these oligarchies have used the country’s ethnic and religious divisions to consolidate their power and tighten their grip on both the state’s institutions and national resources.

The waves of protests that have swept Baghdad and other Iraqi cities against corruption and the lack of services since summer 2015 have unveiled deep structural problems in the post-Saddam Hussein governance system.

While the protests have underscored the ruling class’s inability and unwillingness to make the necessary reforms, they have triggered two sets of challenges that could undermine the system and even the country’s existence as a unitary state.

On the one hand, the impasse has prompted a power struggle between the ruling Shia political groups that could threaten Shia empowerment and Shia dominance over the country.

Shia groups came to power following the ouster of the Sunni-dominated Saddam regime in the US-led invasion in what was largely considered as a Shia revival that upset the sectarian balance in the country.

Most of the protesters are Shia, and they have received support from Iraq’s most revered Shia cleric, grand ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani.

In February, Al-Sistani stopped delivering regular weekly sermons about political affairs in protest against Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s reluctance to address problems of corruption and failure to take steps to reform the government.

Last month, prominent Shia leader Muqtada Al-Sadr mobilised tens of thousands of his followers across Iraq to protest against the lack of initiative by Al-Abadi to fix his dysfunctional government and combat corruption.

Other Shia factions, especially former prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s Dawa Party and the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq (SICI) headed by cleric Ammar Al-Hakim, have rejected Al-Abadi’s attempts to replace politically affiliated ministers in his cabinet with technocrats as part of a reform package to meet the protesters’ demands.

The Iraqi Kurds, on the other hand, pose another challenge. They have defied Al-Abadi’s plans to reshuffle the government and bring non-political ministers into the cabinet.

A Kurdish geologist withdrew his candidacy hours after Al-Abadi put him on the list of his new cabinet as a candidate for the oil ministry portfolio.

He apparently did this under pressure from the main Kurdish parties, which have said they will not support a government formed without prior consultation with their leadership.

Kurdistan Region president Masoud Barzani, who has vowed to hold a referendum on the independence of the autonomous region, has threatened to consider the reshuffle as irrelevant.

It is widely expected that Barzani will exploit the government crisis to push his statehood plans by using the lingering political crisis as a pretext for breaking away from Iraq.

For now, political blocs in the parliament have started blocking the endorsement of the new government. The process is complicated as it requires the resignation of the current ministers and the approval of their replacements by the legislature.

In order for Al-Abadi to form a new government, his current ministers need to offer their resignations, and failure to do so requires the parliament to vote on their impeachment by an absolute majority of members.

Under Iraq’s post-Saddam constitution, at least 165 members, or 51 per cent of the legislature’s 328 members, have to endorse such measures.

Some key ministers, such as Minister of Foreign Affairs Ibrahim Al-Jaafari and Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari, have showed a reluctance to resign. Al-Jaafari is leader of the Shia National Alliance, and Zebari is a senior member of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, and both will take offense at being forced to resign.

Serious objections to the new nominees could also be a major obstacle. Even before a special parliamentary committee began vetting the candidates, objections were raised about their credentials, including a lack of professional experience.

Some of the nominees have been seen as not being politically independent, or as having dubious affiliations or loyalties to political parties.

This government crisis, however, is not the first or the last in Iraq. All post-US invasion governments have had awful starts and have only continued to serve their terms in office through wheeling and dealing.

These tactical responses, however, have often not worked and have instead ended up in larger crises. It is for this reason that the current high-profile crisis could provide an opportunity to fix Iraq’s politics. The simple message to Iraqis should be: seize the opportunity before it is too late.

But Iraq will still be in need of bold ideas to solve its current mess.

A road map for a new transition should concentrate on overhauling the flawed power-sharing system introduced by the US occupation authority, which was based on an ethno-sectarian quota formula.

A comprehensive approach should include rewriting the existing constitution, dissolving the parliament and dismantling the government, leading up to establishing a new political order that can guarantee stability as much as create a solid democratic system.

In order to achieve this goal, a national salvation government should be formed that excludes the current discredited ruling cliques from the transition and prepares for new elections and the drafting of a new constitution to determine a new political structure for the country.

In almost any discussions by Iraqis one can hear that the country’s main problem is its wretched ruling elites who will keep blocking reform in order to keep the status quo that serves their vested interests and agendas.

Iraq is a broken country, and unless it gets rid of these corrupt, power-greedy and incompetent politicians in order to pave the way for a new generation of state-building people, the country will not be able to be fixed.

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