BAGHDAD (AFP) – As Iraqis queue forlornly for food and water, or swelter in homes and hospitals wihout electricity, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s coalition government is collapsing around him.
The latest boycott — by four ministers from a non-sectarian party — brought to 17 the number of members of the Shiite-led coalition to have walked out, tendered their resignations or withdrawn from cabinet meetings.
Hopes that the so-called national unity coalition can be saved now depend on the senior leadership of the rival parties cutting a new power-sharing deal that can convince the bitter Sunni minority to return to the fold.
“The government cannot survive all these defections,” said Joost Hiltermann, the chief Iraq expert at the International Crisis Group think tank, after the secular Iraqi National List said its four ministers are boycotting cabinet.
“The Shiites and the Kurds don’t want to cede power to people they don’t trust. But if they don’t, there won’t be reconciliation. Then all we can look forward to is civil war,” he told AFP by telephone from Amman.
“Frankly, even with everyone in, there was total paralysis of government. Everyone is waiting for the top leadership to meet and cut a different kind of deal,” he noted, with pessimism.
Since the US-led invasion of March 2003, Iraq has plunged into an abyss of overlapping civil conflicts that have divided its rival religious and ethnic communities, and left tens of thousands of civilians dead.
Last year’s formation of an elected government of national unity held out the promise of reconciliation, but Maliki’s rule has been undermined by bitter sectarian rivalries both within and outside his fragile coalition.
Sheikh Khalaf al-Ilayan, a senior lawmaker in the National Concord Front that resigned on August 1, said the government has failed on every level.
“The government has failed because it has failed to stick to its political obligations to its members. As so many have withdrawn, the government has no right to make decisions now,” he said.
“If I were prime minister I would have resigned. But America thinks otherwise. This is against everything that is right,” he said.
Washington has voiced growing impatience with the political stalemate, which could jeopardise efforts to reconcile the warring factions and undermine the work of 155,000 American troops to end the conflict.
Shiite parties are suspicious of Sunni leaders whose minority sect dominated political power under executed former dictator Saddam Hussein and accuse them of supporting violent insurgent groups.
Sunni leaders accuse the Shiite parties of ties with Iraq’s powerful neighbour Iran and condemn their alleged complicity with Shiite militias that have been accused of attacking Sunni civilians.
But in the unbearable heat of Iraq, where temperatures frequently reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in summer, many ordinary people are more frustrated with the lack of basic services than political squabbling.
Last week, a report by Stuart Bowen, the US chief inspector of Iraqi reconstruction, painted a damning picture of government failure, and described the effects of corruption as being akin to a “second insurgency”.
Baghdad residents say they are sleeping on hard floors or roofs, suffering interminably without fans or air-conditioning, being forced to buy bottled water or drink contaminated water from purification plants without power.
One of the lucky ones with a job in a country where unemployment stands at well over 50 percent, Yasser Ghazi said he still can’t afford to operate a generator to fill the gaps between the paltry few hours of electricity a day.
“My sister is pregnant. I sent her with my mother, an old woman, to Syria to give birth because there’s no electricity or clean water. There’s not even a good hospital,” said Ghazi, who works for a private contracting company.
“Children can’t stand this heat and continuous power cuts. My mother is an old woman. She can’t bear this heat and if I wanted to provide electricity for even half a day, it would cost me 70 dollars in gasoline.
“I’m engaged but I’ve been delaying my wedding for months because of the heat. I don’t want to start the first day of my new life with my wife in the heat and the dark, sweating,” he said.