Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Debate: A third Maliki premiership would be disastrous for Iraq | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A man rides his motor bike past a large election campaign banner showing Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki (R) along a street in the central Shiite Muslim shrine city of Karbala, on April 6, 2014. (AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED SAWAF)

Iraq is a devastated country whose people are exhausted. The country was destroyed by its leader, Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, who is ignorant and backwards. He tightened his grip on the country and made a mockery of everything in order to maintain his stranglehold. The people are worn down by the horrors that brought him to power. They were born and raised, for the most part, under a corrupt one-party system in a culture that venerated brute force with an absence of civil society institutions, which led to the mass emigration of elites and intellectuals. Iraqi society is in crisis, divided and rife with social and political ills, sectarianism, extremism, corruption and political violence.

This picture is grim but honest. However, it is not complete. The Iraqi people still mostly enjoy a rich social and cultural heritage that has been cultivated by suffering. They are dedicated, creative, and able to adapt and endure. They are often heroic and frequently make sacrifices. Iraq also has an abundant supply of oil that, if properly managed, could cover the cost of development in the country. But if this wealth is mismanaged, it could easily disappear. Bearing all that in mind, Iraq is in dire need of leadership that invests in its strengths, limits the impact of its weaknesses, and is keen to make the best use of its resources for the benefit of the public. Unfortunately, what has happened and continues to happen is the complete opposite of this.

With the arrival of the Americans and the end of Saddam’s dictatorship, there was hope the country would recover and rebuild. Many Iraqi specialists and professionals who had emigrated abroad returned to their homeland to participate in public service and reconstruction. An atmosphere of optimism prevailed, as confirmed by some of the studies and polls carried out at the time, and the possibility of a renaissance emerged.

But the Americans did not do any better in managing the country, for reasons that cannot be addressed here, and committed serious errors that allowed Islamists to call the shots in a democracy they do not even believe in. Political Islam is sectarian by nature; it relies on fuelling sectarianism and denuding the country’s fragile new democratic institutions—the very institutions that were established for the political Islamists themselves. With their new leader, Nuri Al-Maliki, at the helm charge, they were in no mood to loosen their grip on power.

In any case, when Maliki became prime minister for the first time, there was a majority in the country willing to back him. But it soon became apparent that he was hungry for power. Although he was forced to involve others as ministers or heads of institutions, he stacked the ministries’ senior management positions in favor of his supporters in order to control the ministries from the inside, so that ministers who were against him effectively became powerless. This is what made winning a second term so difficult for him—and why it was only achieved after 10 months, after he made guarantees and promises to actually share power with others. However, once he took office his breaches of the constitution skyrocketed as he raced against time to centralize most state powers into his own hands. He denied his opponents any authority and accused them of being terrorists, instead of attempting reconciliation and reunification in order to confront terrorism, which is everyone’s common enemy.

During these eight years, and through the tragedies we have seen, Maliki exploited the judiciary for his own ends. He placed the judiciary and state institutions under the control of the executive branch. He also brought the defense, interior and national security ministries under his control. We have also seen how he condones the actions of those involved in the embezzlement of astronomical amounts of state funds. In his second term, he exacerbated the resounding failures and scandals in his government in the fields of security, service and management, to the point that Iraq has become a failed state. Even worse than that, he has created crises and fuelled sectarian hatred as a way to maintain his own grip on power.

If we count the failures of Maliki’s government, even his supporters would demand that he step down.

This does not mean that the government has not done anything at all, or that it is entirely corrupt or incompetent. It also does not mean that all of Maliki’s projects and positions are wrong, or that his enemies and opponents are without blame. But if we look at the big picture here—the massive failures, the limited successes and the consequences of back-to-back Maliki premierships—we will see the full extent to which this government has failed.

In stable democracies, reluctance to innovate or reform is failure enough. But Maliki seeks to sabotage the very foundation upon which the democratic system is built in order to maintain a rule rooted firmly in authoritarianism, corruption and sectarianism—the results of which we see in the division and fragmentation in Iraq today. Corruption and sectarianism thrive on terrorism, using it as a justification to maintain power. Thus, to Maliki “reconstruction” means dedication to this devastating duo of corruption and sectarianism. The inevitable result has been and will continue to be the further deterioration and fragmentation of the country in an increasingly severe and bloody conflict.

As for the excuses offered in defense of a third term for Maliki, they are weak and do not match the grave risks of electing him again. We are tired of being repeatedly told that his failure was not for lack of action but because the man’s opponents obstructed his “achievements,” that corruption is not his fault but a social disease beyond his control. All of these justifications are easily refuted. Don’t be fooled.

The counterpoint to this article can be read here.