Iraq’s broken state a legacy of George Bush - GulfToday

Iraq’s broken state a legacy of George Bush

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Smoke billows from burning tyres as Iraqis demonstrate against state corruption in Baghdad. AFP

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi is honest enough to state the obvious. In response to mass protests in Baghdad and the south, he said there is “no magic solution” to the country’s problems. While he has promised to grant poor families a basic income, this will not satisfy the 25 per cent of young Iraqis who are unemployed and have taken to the streets. They demand instant satisfaction and are determined to remain in the streets until the government begins to deliver change.

Protesters in Baghdad return to the capital’s hub of Tahrir Square, symbol of the 2011 Egyptian uprising that caught the attention of the global public. Unfortunately, Abdel Mahdi — a political chameleon who began his career as a Baathist, shifted to the Communist party, and then to the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq — is not the man who can perform magic. He admits change will take time. But, after less than a year in office, he is and has always been a lame duck prime minister. It took eight months for him to fill cabinet posts due to factional infighting.

He was a compromise candidate nominated by the two leading parliamentary factions, Sairun headed by nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has withdrawn his support, and Fateh alliance headed by Hadi Al Amiri, founder of the Iran-linked Badr Organisation. While both have militia connections, Abdel Mahdi does not enjoy the backing of either an influential political party or a militia. During his short time in office, Abdel Mahdi has faced repeated popular protests for failing to counter rampant corruption and deliver electricity, potable water, medicine, services, security, and jobs.

After saying that he heard protesters’ complaints, Abdel Mahdi announced a cabinet reshuffle. Playing musical chairs with ministers cannot solve Iraq’s problems: this is too little, too late. Baghdad protester Rasha Al Aqeedi tweeted, “Our demands are ‘all.’ To fix all the wrongs of 15 years.” Exactly, to fix “all” means “all” the problems Iraq has faced since the US invaded and occupied the country in 2003.

The US occupation administration demobilised the army, dismissed veteran civil servants, outlawed the ruling Baath party, imposed a political model based on sectarian and ethnic affiliations, and installed a Shia fundamentalist regime closely connected with Iran. No one could have predicted such stupidity. Excluding Baathists from political life and persecution of Sunnis has precipitated violence; mismanagement and corruption has brought about the collapse of post-war Iraq. It has become a failed state. “Just give us a country,” is the slogan adopted by demonstrators these days.

Many protesters demand “regime change” rather than a reshuffle, the ouster of Abdel Madhi’s government, or fresh parliamentary elections. He has been unable to meet protesters’ demands because the state apparatus has fallen captive to corrupt politicians, sectarian interests and external sponsors, notably Iran and the US. Iraqis who long for the days of Saddam Hussein’s rule call for a return to a secular presidential system.

This is unlikely because Iran and the US prefer to keep Iraq divided and weak. As many if not most of the Shia fundamentalists who were empowered by the US war had been granted refuge by Tehran when they went into exile, they remain loyal to and influenced by Iran. Furthermore, Iran helped train the Iraqi regular army and deployed militias it formed in the campaign against Daesh, becoming unacknowledged partners with the US. Following the defeat and dissolution of the Daesh “caliphate,” leaders of the pro-Iranian militias formed political parties and assumed a major role in the country’s parliamentary politics. Consequently, Iran has emerged as the winner of its regional rivalry with the US. Years ago Iran formulated a long-term strategy for drawing Iraq into its sphere of influence while the US has never formed a coherent policy on how to deal with Iraq. Both are now being condemned by mainly Shia protesters who have attacked the Iranian consulate in Basra and attempted to storm the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad where the massive US embassy and government offices are located.

The latest round of protests erupted after Abdel Mahdi unwisely removed from the anti-Daesh campaign highly popular counter-terrorism commander Lt. Gen. Abdel Wahhab Al Saadi. He has refused reassignment to a desk job in the Defence Ministry and has said he would prefer to go to jail for rejecting the premier’s order. Protesters launched a Twitter campaign using the hashtag, “We are all Saadi.”

Terrorism expert Husham Al Hashimi responded by saying, “Iraq is still at war with [Daesh] extremists and terrorists, and such a decision will definitely affect the fight of Iraq against [Daesh] remnants, and will empower the will of the terrorist groups.” Three other veterans of the anti-Daesh offensive have been removed by Abdel Mahdi over the past year without sparking demonstrations.

Saadi is a special case. He assumed a major role in the war against Daesh by attacking its fighters in the western Anbar province, where they first took root, Salaheddin province, and finally in the liberation of Mosul. He began his service in the military under ousted President Saddam Hussein and trained in anti-terrorism techniques with the US army. He is not connected with pro-Iran Shia politicians and militias blamed for Iraq’s collapse.

Transparency International puts Iraq 12th on his list of most corrupt countries. From 2003-2014 more than $220 billion was spent on reconstruction of Iraq’s infrastructure which crumbled due to crooked contractors and lack of maintenance. It is said $450 billion in public funds has simply disappeared.

The UN envoy to Iraq has called for an end to violence and for those responsible to be held accountable. The culprits are not the men who have ordered troops to shoot or deployed on rooftops snipers to kill protesters, they are tools of a broken state. The real culprits are George W. Bush and his loyal lieutenants who waged war on Iraq in 2003 and then dismantled its institutions. There is no international call for them to be held accountable.

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