As we enter the 10th anniversary of 2003 Iraq invasion, we continue to learn that the Iraqi democracy experiment has not succeeded in creating a coherent government based on consensus, pluralism and social justice. Instead, Iraqi people are faced with a government its leaders are too busy fighting each other for another term in office than providing security and public service to their communities.
Since the transfer of sovereignty and power by the Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S.-formed Interim Government of Iraq in 2005, it was believed that Iraq had begun an unparalleled era of democracy. This transition gave the impression that Iraq was moving in the right direction, and would become a model country in the Middle East, prompting economic growth as global companies competed to win contracts.
But soon enough the hopes of the Iraqi people were dashed in their struggle to find a lawful government capable of administering the state, rather than ruling it. It was hoped that the elected Iraqi government would at least be able to provide basic services. But after a decade of regime change in Iraq, what has really changed? With the approach of the general election, this is the question that baffles an ordinary Iraqi citizen who does not hold a seat in the government.
Islamist parties and marketing for elections
In the initial formation of the Iraqi government, candidates bargained for support through “Islam.” Islamic parties were racing for parliamentary seats, as most of the candidates thought that the best way to win votes was by stirring emotions and religious fervor. Among the Islamic parties that have become popular are the Islamic Dawa Party, led by Nuri al-Maliki (the current Iraqi Prime Minister) and the Iraqi Islamic Party, led by Tareq al-Hashemi (the former Vice-President who is currently in exile.) But since these parties have proven to be a sectarian-driven and thus have failed Iraqis, beginning with the 2009 elections, Islamist have been repackaging themselves as “secular”, so as to gain the confidence of the voters.
Upcoming Iraqi elections: Have the rules of the game changed?
After spending six years in the government lab, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is realizing that the present situation requires pragmatism in order to remain in power. So he has decided to ally with Sunni figures in the government (old rivals) who are willing to compromise for personal and tribal gain. Another controversial political move the Prime Minister has made just ahead of the elections was deciding to allow former members of the Baath Party (the former ruling party in Iraq during President Saddam Hussien regime), to return to their government posts from which they were discharged since 2003.
Furthermore, to enforce his power, al-Maliki plans to weaken the historical role which Hawza (the Shiite religious school based in Najaf, Iraq) has been playing in shaping the Shiites politics, believing that undermining the Hawza, can put him in a stronger position where he’s no longer in need for Hawza Clergies or Iranians to legitimize his government. There is a soft-yet-determined media war led by al-Maliki recently against the Shiite Islamic movements could change the 10 centuries of history of Hawza. It is likely that the death of the current Hawza high leader al-Sistani will be a factor for this change. Controversy over who will lead the school will hasten the collapse of Hawza and reverse the dynamic of power between Najaf and Baghdad, giving Baghdad the upper hand.
Maliki’s government dealing with Kurdistan
The long-tense relationship between Baghdad and Kurdistan is now facing a period where the two will either have to break up or come together in a tighter partnership. Kurdistan has appealed to Washington for intervention, especially since passage of the new state budget and budget law, both of which were boycotted by Kurdistan.
The points of disagreement between Kurdistan and Baghdad include the oil and gas law; Article 140 of the disputed areas; the spread of Iraqi forces on the Kurdistan borders and salaries of members of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
The biggest disagreement though is tied to payments to oil companies operating in Kurdistan. Kurds are demanding Baghdad pay more than 4 trillion Iraqi dinars to cover the costs of foreign oil companies. However, the Iraqi government allocated just 750 billion dinars, accusing Kurdistan of illegally exporting oil and not contributing to the national budget.
Paradoxes of al- Maliki’s statements
Several days ago, Prime Minister al-Maliki decided to allow former members of the Baath Party to hold jobs from which they were discharged since 2003, and addressed the issuance of their pensions. While the decision has irritated many Shiites, it was regarded as a campaign advertisement and political move — a way to calm the Sunnis protesters ahead of the elections. What’s interesting is that al-Maliki has been one of the strongest supporters for the De-baathification law, while some of his cabinet members are actually former popular Baathists. The Prime Minister’s recent statements have also sparked harsh media criticism, including his repeated statement that he possesses damning documents against some members in Parliament evidently involved in terrorist operations, theft, crimes and corruption. The prime minister was also chastised for saying, “if I go to the Parliament chamber I will crack the whip on them.” All of these statements have put the Prime Minster under criticism, questioning his credibility and personality as a head of government.