By Professor Muhanad Seloon, University of Exeter, College of Social Sciences and International Studies, to the Sharq Forum.
The socio-political drivers of conflict in Iraq have shifted. For the first time since 2003, Iraqis are seeking to form a representative government led by competent officials rather than choosing representation through customary ethno-sectarian quotas. Yet, Iraqi political parties opted for negotiating the formation of Iraq’s next government based on the post-2003 communal quotas system. Through protests, Iraqis are pressuring the political elites to form a technocratic government capable of delivering essential services, fight endemic corruption, create jobs. For Iraqis, the new government must be capable of good governance.
Protests in several Iraqi cities have forced the winning Iraqi political parties to work together at the cost of their ethno-sectarian sub-identities. On the surface, Iraq appears to be a functional democracy. At a closer inspection however, further complexities are revealed. Iraq is yet to recover from the aftermath of ISIS, more than a decade of poor governance, and ongoing corruption. The recent anticorruption protests in the southern cities of Iraq are a testament to the severity of issues with infrastructure and governance, all of which must be addressed promptly. Equally, Sunni majority cities such as Mosul, Ramadi, and Fallujah, which were destroyed by the war against ISIS, are in urgent need of funding to be used for their reconstruction and stabilisation. The Iraqi government declared that it will not be able to cover all the costs of reconstruction. Consequently, the Iraqi Government is seeking donations and investment loans from both regional and international donors. During the reconstruction of Iraq conference held February 12-14 2018 in Kuwait, a total of 74 nations pledged to donate and loan the total of $30 billion USD towards the reconstruction of Iraq which is expected to cost $88 billion USD. Among the largest donors were Turkey and Saudi Arabia pledging together $8 billion USD.1 Turkey and Saudi Arabia are not only seeking to create strategic spaces of influence inside Iraq through donations and investment loans, but also want Iraqis to form a representative government capable of resisting Iran’s growing influence over Iraqi politics. It remains to be seen whether the pledges made by these donors will be honoured in their entirety.
Another unintended by-product of the war against ISIS was the rise of powerful militant groups. These groups create a threat to the government’s monopoly over the legitimate use of armed force. In addition to the already overwhelming number of issues described here, the government in Baghdad is yet to resolve all of its outstanding issues with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), including the settlement of the disputed territories; the appropriate share of the budget to be allocated to the KRG; and the status of Kirkuk. Faced with a myriad of challenges, the question of the role and meaning of Iraq’s new government comes to the forefront.
Iraqis hope that the newly constituted government will be different from its predecessors. Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iraq has been held hostage by poor governance and divisive ethnosectarian politics. Many Iraqis accuse their ruling political elites of incompetence, corruption, and collusion with foreign powers against Iraq’s national interests. These structural problems have created fertile ground for chronic cycles of violence across different cities of Iraq. To demonstrate, in June 2014 the growing discontent with poor governance and perceived discrimination against the Sunni community contributed to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Equally, the mismanagement of resources and corruption left densely populated cities without most fundamental services such as clean water, electricity, and proper sewage disposal facilities.
Iraqis hope that the newly constituted government will be different from its predecessors. Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iraq has been held hostage by poor governance and divisive ethnosectarian politics. Many Iraqis accuse their ruling political elites of incompetence, corruption, and collusion with foreign powers against Iraq’s national interests.
On 7 and 8 September 2018, demonstrations in the oil-rich city of Basra turned violent when young protesters set local governments’ offices, diplomatic missions’ headquarters, and foreign oil companies’ buildings on fire. Local security forces were overwhelmed by the number of young protestors who led these demonstrations. In the absence of a functional private sector economy, coupled with state-sponsored patronage networks, nepotism, tribalism, and corruption, thousands of young Iraqis have been left without employment and means of sustenance. In this context, Iraqis expect the new government to carry out genuine political and economic reforms.
The New Iraqi Government
During its second and third sessions on 15 and 16 September 2018, the Iraqi Parliament was able to name its Speaker and his deputies. The Speaker, an Arab Sunni, Mr. Mohammed al-Halbousi is the youngest Speaker of the Parliament in Iraq’s history. His appointment, however, has been surrounded by controversy. There was a fierce rivalry among different Sunni political groups to win the Speaker’s position. Furthermore, rival Sunni political groups have voiced concerns that the nomination and subsequently election of the Speaker was the result of a corrupt deal.(2) Halbousi’s nomination and election unveil deep divisions among Sunni political groups – which date back to 2003.3 Although this is the official record of events to date, the complexities in the background are much more detailed.
Seloom, Muhanad, Iraq's Defining Moment (December 28, 2018). Sharq Forum, December 2018. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3307811