Per­sis­tent po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing is risk­ing Iraq’s hard-won gains

The National - News - - OPINION - MINA AL-ORAIBI Ed­i­tor-in-Chief

Nine months after hold­ing elec­tions and three months after the gov­ern­ment’s for­ma­tion, Iraq re­mains with­out min­is­ters of de­fence, in­te­rior, ed­u­ca­tion and jus­tice. Va­can­cies in the min­istries re­spon­si­ble for se­cu­rity and jus­tice raise con­cerns about the sta­bil­ity of a coun­try that has emerged from a bit­ter bat­tle against ISIS and in­ter­nal armed con­flict. The ab­sence of a strong min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion is an in­di­ca­tor of how much the ed­u­ca­tional sec­tor in Iraq has re­gressed. The vac­uum at these four min­istries casts a shadow over Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Adel Ab­dul Mahdi’s ef­forts to lead. Even more im­por­tantly, keep­ing the min­istries of de­fence and in­te­rior with­out clear lead­er­ship weak­ens any ef­forts to limit the role and in­flu­ence of mili­tias and armed groups.

The lack of ap­point­ments is due to po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing and deal-mak­ing at the cost of hav­ing the best can­di­date for the job. At the heart of the dis­agree­ment is the in­sis­tence of the Al Bi­naa bloc, led by for­mer prime min­is­ter Nouri Al Ma­liki, on the ap­point­ment of Falih Al Fayyadh to the po­si­tion of Min­is­ter of In­te­rior. This is the same Falih Al Fayyadh who was the of­fi­cial head of the Pop­u­lar Mo­bil­i­sa­tion Forces, or Hashd Al Shaabi, in the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment. Mr Al Fayyadh’s ap­point­ment would mean a fur­ther step in so­lid­i­fy­ing the pres­ence and in­flu­ence of mili­tias, mainly backed by Iran, in Iraq’s se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus.

While Al Bi­naa is in­sist­ing on Mr Al Fayyadh, the names floated for min­is­ter of de­fence have largely been ill-equipped to lead the min­istry. Un­der the dis­as­trous sec­tar­ian carv­ing up of po­si­tions within Iraq, the min­istry is meant to be led by a Sunni, yet the politi­cians be­ing sug­gested have no po­lit­i­cal back­ing, let alone mil­i­tary stand­ing. This is not for the lack of com­pe­tent can­di­dates. Fig­ures such as Khalid Al Obeidi, who got more than 80,000 votes in the last elec­tions, mak­ing him the sec­ond most pop­u­lar fig­ure, and the leader of the Golden Bri­gade, Ab­del Wa­hab Al Saadi, who was in­stru­men­tal in de­feat­ing ISIS and is hugely pop­u­lar, are not even in the run­ning. Com­pe­tence and pop­u­lar­ity in the se­cu­rity sec­tor of­ten work against can­di­dates in Iraqi pol­i­tics, as they can un­der­cut armed groups in the shadow se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus.

The lack of agree­ment on the most suitable can­di­dates for the min­istries men­tioned stems from the dys­func­tional po­lit­i­cal sys­tem: in­fight­ing in elec­tions is brought into loose coali­tion gov­ern­ments. This re­mains the Achilles heel of Iraqi pol­i­tics – cab­i­nets are formed by com­pet­ing par­ties who do not have a sure po­lit­i­cal plat­form or strate­gic vi­sion for the coun­try. Mem­bers of the same gov­ern­ment have a vested in­ter­est in un­der­min­ing it. With­out se­ri­ous re­form of the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and a strict sys­tem of checks and bal­ances, this vi­cious cir­cle will con­tinue.

One fur­ther desta­bil­is­ing is­sue that has yet to be re­solved is that of the fu­ture of the Kur­dis­tan re­gion and its armed forces, the Pesh­merga. On Sun­day, British De­fence Se­nior Ad­viser Lt Gen Sir John Lorimer was in the Kur­dis­tan re­gion at­tend­ing a mil­i­tary pa­rade for the Kur­dish armed forces, with a re­newed pledge from the UK to keep sup­port­ing them. How­ever, co-or­di­na­tion be­tween the Pesh­merga and Iraqi forces has lagged be­hind and could be a source of con­fronta­tion with­out con­tin­ued po­lit­i­cal ef­forts.

Yet, not all is bad. Se­cu­rity has im­proved in Bagh­dad and many of Iraq’s cities. Ac­cord­ing to the UN, 32 Iraqi civil­ians died as a re­sult of con­flict or ter­ror­ism in De­cem­ber 2018. That used to be a daily fig­ure not too long ago. Ma­jor sui­cide bomb­ings that would kill up to 200 peo­ple a day at the height of Iraq’s sec­tar­ian war are thank­fully a much rarer oc­cur­rence. How­ever, it is a thin ve­neer of sta­bil­ity. Or­gan­ised crime, tar­geted killings and death threats con­tinue to plague the coun­try. Just last week, a well-re­garded jour­nal­ist for Al Hurra Iraq, Samer Ali Hus­sein, was killed after re­peated death threats. This fol­lowed the killing of Emad Jabar, owner of the pop­u­lar Lay­mounah restau­rant, which has also been blamed on mili­tias with a par­lia­men­tary pres­ence.

Iraq is wrestling with in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions against a back­drop of height­ened US-Iran ten­sions. After Don­ald Trump’s visit to Iraq, where he did not meet a sin­gle Iraqi leader, Iran has been play­ing up di­vi­sions be­tween Bagh­dad and Wash­ing­ton. Mr Trump’s visit to Al Asad Air Base with­out any Iraqi con­sul­ta­tions has com­pli­cated mat­ters for the gov­ern­ment. Mr Al Ma­liki’s bloc has now de­manded that Mr Ab­del Mahdi ad­dress ques­tions from par­lia­ment on the num­ber of US troops in the coun­try and how long they will re­main there.

In an at­tempt to im­prove re­la­tions, US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo made a sur­prise visit to Bagh­dad, where he met with Iraq’s pres­i­dent, prime min­is­ter and speaker of par­lia­ment. Yet as­sur­ances of con­tin­ued en­gage­ment are not enough, as Amer­i­can in­ter­est in main­tain­ing Iraqi sta­bil­ity is ques­tioned. Days after Mr Pom­peo’s visit to Bagh­dad, Iran’s for­eign min­is­ter Javad Zarif was in the Iraqi cap­i­tal, with a po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic del­e­ga­tion. Tehran is keen to main­tain eco­nomic lever­age in Iraq as Amer­i­can and in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions bite. Last Novem­ber, Iraq was among a hand­ful of coun­tries given a 45-day waiver from the sanc­tions. Speak­ing in Abu Dhabi, US Spe­cial Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Iran and Se­nior Pol­icy Ad­vi­sor to the Sec­re­tary of State Brian Hook said the US will not be is­su­ing fur­ther waivers, which can fur­ther com­pli­cate mat­ters for Bagh­dad, es­pe­cially as Tehran ex­pects its neigh­bour to take its side. With­out an in­de­pen­dent min­is­ter of in­te­rior, and in­ter­nal dis­agree­ments es­ca­lat­ing, Iraq will find it even more dif­fi­cult to stand up to an an­tag­o­nised Iran.

Iraq is wrestling with in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions against a back­drop of height­ened US-Iran ten­sions

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.