Iraq’s loathed leadership
Contempt for Iraq’s post-Saddam leaders is now stronger than ever, writes Salah Nasrawi
Bloodshed and chaos have been sweeping Iraq since the United States withdrew its last troops from the country in December 2011. Iraq is now in complete disarray as a result, with some saying that the country now no longer really exists.
While the 10 bloody years of the US occupation are largely to blame for the country’s stalemate, Iraq’s own political leaders also bear huge responsibility for the instability, political bickering and the massive deterioration in security and public services.
Over the past few weeks, Iraqis have taken to the streets to protest against the corruption, rampant violence and lack of public services in their country, but nothing has ranked higher on their long list of grievances than their disgust and loathing for their self-serving political class. Many Iraqis now believe that their politicians and political parties have missed enormous opportunities to bring peace, stability and prosperity to the war-ravaged nation and that their divisiveness is driving Iraq to collapse.
In terms of human resources, Iraq has great potential and it once boasted one of the most highly educated populations in the Middle East. However, Iraqis known for their education, skills and expertise are not part of the political process or of the leadership of the state.
In terms of natural resources, Iraq sits on the world’s fifth-largest proven oil reserves, and it was the second-largest producer of crude oil in OPEC at the end of 2012. It also has 111.52 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas. Other natural resources include two large rivers and millions of hectares of fertile land.
Yet, Iraq is still home to millions of impoverished people. Since the US Foreign Policy magazine started publishing its Failed States Index in 2005, Iraq has never made it out of the top 10 failed states.
For the last 10 years, Iraq has been in the bottom 10 of the World Corruption Perceptions Index. It also ranks very low in other indexes of freedoms, security and development.
Some Iraqis are quick to blame the legacy of the US-led invasion for this situation, while others accuse terrorism and the interventions of the country’s neighbours as explaining the origins of the country’s problems. Ethno-sectarianism and communal conflicts undoubtedly constitute major causes of Iraq’s dilemmas.
It has been shown beyond any reasonable doubt that all these factors have contributed to Iraq’s current situation as a failed state, but it is also the country’s impotent and misguided leadership that has kept Iraq in tatters.
Iraq’s biggest problem remains mismanagement and the lack of seasoned and visionary politicians who can rescue the country from its looming collapse. As things stand, the country’s current leaders are so removed from the people that they are often looked upon as foreigners and hardly different from the Americans who invaded and occupied the country.
One major failure has been in managing the recovery and nation-building. More than 10 years after the ouster of the dictatorship of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, the much-trumpeted Iraqi democracy is a mirage.
Elections have brought out the worst candidates because of their weakness and blind loyalty. Indecisiveness and inaction have made these leaders choose a back seat, leaving the real leadership to sectarian and ethnic figures.
Most Iraqis now look upon their leaders as being driven by self-interest, such that the people’s interests are forgotten. Iraq’s politicians earn millions of dollars in salaries and other benefits and allowances per year, while millions of Iraqis are either jobless or receive low wages and pensions.
Prior to the US-led invasion, Iraq was known for its modern and developed infrastructure. In education, healthcare, and science and technology its institutions were more advanced than those in most other Middle Eastern nations.
However, the present Iraqi leadership has not been able to retain, let alone increase, the infrastructure it inherited from the Saddam era. Iraq has generated some $700 billion since 2003 from oil, plus $50 billion appropriated by the US Congress for Iraq’s reconstruction, yet no new roads, bridges, water facilities, power stations, hospitals or universities have been built.
One reason for Iraq’s current odds is the exclusion of seasoned experts, academics and scientists from leading the country’s redevelopment. Meanwhile, thousands of government officials, including ministers, members of parliament, and army and police generals, are said to have been using forged education certificates.
A large number of highly skilled scientists and highly educated secular-oriented managers have lost their positions and been forced to emigrate because they have had reservations about moving back to a country where they find themselves outmanoeuvred by corrupt, incompetent and conservative cronies.
Many Iraqi doctors, university professors and intellectuals now refuse to return to the country because they have received threats and their colleagues have been the targets of kidnappings and assassinations, sometimes by militias close to the country’s political parties.
The government says that some 350,000, or up to 17 per cent, of the two million Iraqis who have fled abroad in recent years and are living overseas have university degrees.
The government’s leaders have still fared worse in the security arena. Nearly two years after the US withdrawal, Iraq is still mired in sectarian violence, and waves of devastating attacks still hit cities across the country, targeting innocent citizens and creating a highly volatile environment.
In a report issued last week, the United Nations said that at least 3,226 civilians had been killed and more than 10,000 injured in acts of terrorism in 2012. The report said that some 1,057 Iraqis had been killed and 2,326 wounded in attacks in July alone.
A bloody reminder of the failure of the Iraqi authorities to curb the violence that is threatening to spiral out of control was the wave of car-bombings that targeted Iraqis celebrating the end of Ramadan on Saturday, killing nearly 80 people and wounding dozens.
To add insult to injury, Baghdad Command, which is responsible for security in the capital and is supervised by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, said that only two people had been killed and accused the news agencies of fabricating the figures.
Most of the blame seems to be directed against Al-Maliki, who is seen as being both incompetent and dictatorial in his leadership. Even the prime minister’s Shia allies have turned against him for his failure to include a wide range of views in the government and find effective working partners.
Many Iraqis believe that part of the disaster that has befallen their country lies in Al-Maliki’s failure to do anything to achieve national reconciliation. Instead of trying to build up independent institutions, such as the courts, the media, a neutral civil service, the army and the police, that check the power of government in democracies, Al-Maliki has done his best to undermine them.
There has been abundant evidence of corruption among his party and government leadership, and despite outcries by civil society and the media he has done little to alleviate the situation.
Last month, an estimated 500 Al-Qaeda terrorists escaped from a prison in Baghdad in a daring operation that many believe was assisted by insiders and corrupt security officials.
Although Al-Maliki swept to victory in the 2010 election that propelled him to a second term in office, there are signs that his popularity is declining, with increasing numbers of sit-ins across Shia cities in southern Iraq by protesters demanding his resignation.
The very size of the protests, along with their persistence and the fact that they are mostly Shia, shows that Al-Maliki’s opponents are not a small group of people discontented with the government’s wrongdoings, but instead are Shias who see the Shia rule of Iraq turning into the mother of all failures.
Indeed, the protests have shown that priorities are changing among Shias who voted for Al-Maliki and other Shia leaders on a sectarian ticket. A new generation of Shia voters is carefully scrutinising the politicians, hoping to see new leaders who will work for a less polarised Iraqi state.
Some of the criticism of the Iraqi Shia leaders has been coming from sources who wield clout by virtue of their religious authority and who could probably strike fear into the politicians.
A senior aid to Shia spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani complained this week that the politicians were not listening to the “advice and guidance” of the clergy in carrying out their duties in line with the constitution and the country’s needs.
In a Friday sermon, Shia cleric Abdel-Mahdi Al-Karbalaai specifically mentioned corruption, the misuse of power, security lapses, the lack of services, unemployment and poverty as signs of deterioration.
Many Kurds and Sunnis have also complained of their leaders’ failures and of their being enmeshed in corruption and building their own ethno-sectarian fiefdoms while watching Iraq unravelling.
The sect-based system that was forged by Iraqi leaders following the US-led invasion has not only polarised the country but has also invited foreign intervention.
Both internal and external factors have merged together to create a third factor that makes Iraqis conclude that their leaders are incapable of finding solutions to the problems affecting their beleaguered country.
According to Adnan Pachachi, an Iraqi politician who played a prominent role in post-Saddam Iraq, the new political system that was built on sectarian lines has made Iraq ungovernable.
“My fear that their incompetence and corruption, and particularly their subservience to Iran, would result in Iraq’s becoming a failed state has unfortunately been borne out,” he wrote in an article in the New York Times in April.
Word has it that Iraq is hard to govern because its society is so diversified and polarised. The history books also say that many of its ancient kings complained that Iraq was unruly, using this to justify their tyranny and corruption.
However, this could be just another common stereotype that has long associated Iraq with violence, lawlessness and an inability to institute democracy.
What is crystal clear is that Iraq’s poor governance today is due to its leaders’ failure to be either “transformative” or to lead “a transformational process”.
This process requires an understanding of the legacy of both Saddam’s dictatorship and the US occupation and an even deeper understanding of the foundations of the new society that could take Iraqis beyond sectarianism, injustice, inequality and corruption.