No more than a week after Iraq Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s remarks that his country had defeated terrorism and sectarianism, terrorist bombings rocked Baghdad once again, along with several other Iraqi cities in a day that served to remind everyone that things have not changed in Iraq, security-wise, since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime.
Of course, nothing justifies the terrorist acts in Iraq or elsewhere, but the situation merits contemplation, and requires us to delve into the causes and motives. The Iraqi situation tells us that as long as there is sectarian political tension, a systematic process of exclusion, and the prioritization of one party at the expense of others owing to narrow sectarian and ideological motives, then the last thing that a citizen can expect in his country is security. This is what is happening in Iraq today, and this is what will happen in many Arab countries that have recently been ravaged by the winds of change. It is not a matter of overthrowing a regime and then replacing it with an alternative that follows the same concepts as the former, fallen, or excluded regime. What is most important, and most difficult, is to build a state of institutions and laws, and to meet the demands of coexistence, in order to set the economic wheel in motion, steer the helm of education, and for security to prevail. As for exclusion, this will not help to build the state or any institutions within it.
What is most unfortunate in the Arab case, and specifically that of Iraq, is that exclusion was once a common feature of former regimes and then became a feature of their alternatives, as if no one learned the lesson. Exclusion is what has brought many Arab states to their current level of conflict and instability; a level that has begun to threaten the very concept of the state. Iraq’s problem is the refusal to reconcile, and the refusal to conform to the democratic rules of the game that all parties accepted, whilst refraining from sectarian quotas. I say this is “unfortunate” because the current Iraqi regime has tried many means to strengthen its position and its narrow sectarian interests, but it did not try the easiest means of all, namely genuine reconciliation, accepting the rules of the game as they are, and pursuing development over time. Of course, this development requires security and economic prosperity. To put it simply, it requires improving the living conditions of citizens so they can be productive, and so the whole country can be secure.
Hence the lesson of Iraq is a lesson to all the Arab states emerging from the storms of the so-called Arab Spring. The lesson is do not exclude, for political, ideological or sectarian reasons, and likewise do not persist in pursuing revenge, something that unfortunately has been a feature in most Arab Spring states, with malicious notifications of the police and watch lists at airports, as is happening in Egypt now with some individuals. I say this because history tells us that states that have emerged from major crises did not reach where they are today, in terms of security and production, except through tolerance, reconciliation and consent to the outlined rules of the game, whether constitutions, regulations and so on. They also did not persist in trying to defeat their domestic rivals, for there is no victory in that as it only serves to inflame conflict between the people of one nation.
Just as the terrorist bombings in Iraq should be condemned, without a doubt, Iraq’s political performance thus far is also worthy of condemnation, for it is responsible for much of what is happening there and also has the potential to spare Iraq and the Iraqis from all these evils. Are the wise Iraqis aware of this? And will the Arab Spring states learn a lesson from what is happening in Iraq to avoid the same long, arduous path of violence and instability?