Three bullets hit a FlyDubai jet at Baghdad airport last week, causing the suspension of not only many flights to the Iraqi capital but fresh doubts in Iraq and abroad about the Iraqi government and its ability to control the country. It will take time before the major airlines resume flights and transfer thousands of passengers and cargo to and from the Iraqi capital, which plays a major role in strengthening confidence in the regime and state institutions. Much more needs to be done than increasing the airport’s defenses and securing its surroundings. The problem is now the extent to which confidence in the government has been shaken.
Official Iraqi statements did not address these concerns, as they were obviously trying to deny what happened, calling it an accident and saying that the planer had been diverted due to bad weather, among other excuses. Had the shooting occurred in a city outside a conflict zone, it might have been an accident, but the bullets deliberately targeted the plane. It was not a weapon fired into the air at a wedding ceremony or a march, as one official said.
Is the capital safe? Is Iraq less secure today than it was a year ago? The incident has awakened old fears of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) storming Baghdad along with terrorist forces allied to it, concerns that emerged last year.
What is more serious than the attack on the passenger jet is the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi leadership and politicians. They are still discussing the security decisions that Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has pledged to implement since last September, such as the creation of a National Guard force. Months have passed and two Iraqi cities are still under ISIS control, Mosul and Tikrit, while a about a quarter of Iraqi territory is occupied or threatened by the terrorist organization.
When seven foreign airlines suspend their flights to a capital’s airport, it reflects concerns regarding the whole situation and not just one single incident. It reflects discomfort regarding the inability of the government to accomplish its promises to fight terrorism in accordance with the program that was announced after Abadi took office. The popular mobilization, a quasi-governmental sectarian militia was founded in one day, but the National Guard, which is supposed to fight terrorist groups, is still the subject of Byzantine discussions.
If the Iraqi government does not prove its seriousness and ability to lead the country and unite all forces, provinces and communities, it will definitely lose the battle against terrorism. Iraqis have to learn from the disintegration and collapse of neighboring Syria, which is the result of the weakness of the central government. What is even more serious is the conviction of the Syrian people that the authorities no longer represent them, and this is what helped in the spread of sedition. Therefore, trusting the government’s ability and good intentions are two main prerequisites to restore both internal and external confidence in the country. Will we see Abadi fighting for his government, state, country and mainly for himself?