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Opinion: Iraq is Recovering | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Election posters are hung along a street in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, on April 1, 2014 ahead of Iraq’s April 30 general elections. (AFP/Marwan Ibrahim)

Iraq under presidents Abdul Salam and Abdul Rahman Arif—the brothers who ruled the country from 1963 to 1968—was not an oppressive police state. This was especially true of Abdul Rahman, who was moderate and honest, or as some politicians prefer to describe him, “weak.” Nevertheless, the situation in Iraq was under control. The brothers’ terms in office did not witness any acts of terrorism, assassinations, malicious or arbitrary arrests, or preemptive security strikes. Secret informants—who were few in number at the time—received simple wages. Iraqis did not have concerns about the government’s intentions towards their lives or those of their families. However, while the intelligence forces close to the president were extremely weak, the military intelligence service was mired in conspiracy.

As for today, with the exception of some positive aspects like pockets of growing affluence and freedom of speech, the country is ailing due to constitutional problems, plots being hatched, corruption, sectarianism and racism. This is not to mention the tough years that followed the 2003 invasion and the philosophy of governance that grew up after it, one which combined both backwards-looking and progressive elements.

However, this is no reason for unnecessary despair and frustration. Signs of change have started to emerge in the streets of Baghdad in particular and Iraq in general, without foreign mediation or intervention. Many foreign countries wish to see Iraq mired in chaos and blood.

Signs of change and transformation became clear in the differences that emerged within once homogenous political blocs. These differences have become serious disputes that are difficult to overcome, even in the face of the pressures of past obsessions. A new generation of politicians has emerged: one that is not a prisoner of tradition and seeks to form a special identity, even if it contradicts that of the ethnic and sectarian majorities. The issue of sectarianism is running out of steam and lacks the power to incite the tensions it once did, tensions which proved to be not only illusory but also responsible for exacerbating regional and factional conflicts.

Iraq today is in a healthy condition, regardless of the negative appearances. Nothing can be more in the interest of Iraqi society than individuals moving beyond their sectarian and ethnic identities and towards a national one. Such factionalism has shed the blood of the Iraqi people and hindered the progress of their country.

Today, Shi’ite politicians bitterly criticize each other in a manner indicative of a rapid movement away from the tense sectarianism in the country. The same is true for Sunnis, despite their true suffering and the exclusion of many of their representatives. With every day that passes, the political stalemate among Kurds proves more serious. The strategic agreement between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party does not hold water anymore.

Observers of the Iraqi scene realize that this kind of dispute now is now carried on in public, regardless of the ethnic and sectarian conflicts that once threatened the unity and fate of the country—had it not been for the people’s love for Iraq and the remaining loyal politicians. The sectarian and ethnic criticism traded by the members of the political factions should have stopped long ago in order to limit the instability within the political blocs in accordance with patriotic and civilized principles. However, the early years of change saw an extremely distracting process, and some individuals did not realize it was mere political propaganda based on greed and temptation, which is not only divorced from national interests but from those of these very sects and ethnicities.

Political competition in Kurdistan has become based on power-sharing in a manner that undermines the hegemony of a single party or individual. This is a major development. In terms of the Shi’ite majority in parliament, those who think that achieving harmony and coordination among the three Shi’a blocs is an easy matter—as was the case in the past thanks to the role of Iran—are totally mistaken. Each of the three Shi’a blocs is trying to extend its alliance beyond the politically fragmented Shi’a household, in a sign of the significance of the trend towards more “normal” politics. As for the Sunni blocs, it appears that the Mutahidoun bloc is way ahead of the rest in terms of selection of candidates and relations with other blocs. Without doubt, it will gain more votes than any other bloc.

Despite violence and corruption, Iraqi society is beginning to recover. Even if it takes a long time to spread culture and reform, all that is needed is the growth and promotion of patriotic awareness, and the confrontation of the dark forces of extremism and sectarianism, and preventing them from tempting the youth. No other means can be more effective in this than a media detached from the sectarianism, racism and reactionary incitement that have brought Iraqis nothing but backwardness and strife.