Federalism is not about dividing Iraq

Rampant corruption has turned the government into a prey for every crook and snake oil peddler and transformed the parliament into a stinking quagmire of evil partisan interests.
Monday 30/11/2020
Members of the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga stand holding flags of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region on the outskirts of Arbil.( AFP)
Members of the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga stand holding flags of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region on the outskirts of Arbil.( AFP)

It has been 17 years since Iraq was reduced to rubble. The Iranians and Americans have succeeded, each in their own way, in turning this country into a quagmire of crime and corruption.

Everyone paid the price. The Iranians themselves did not gain much. The illicit money they reaped from the corruption of their agents and proxies in Iraq did not in the end go into infrastructure and development projects in Iran. The Iranian people continue to suffer from poverty and hunger, and the country’s treasury is on the brink of bankruptcy. Much of this is, of course, due to the sanctions against Iran, but still, the illicit money they gained from Iraq went into financing Iran’s clandestine activities and the regime’s own corruption.

As for the American losses, they stood at about a trillion dollars, 5,000 dead and about 50,000 wounded. With a score like that, the Americans can’t really claim that they have gained much from their invasion of Iraq. And even when they wanted to flee the scene of their crime, the glue of petty interests and lost aspirations kept them mired in the quagmire they created. And now, the might of the world’s superpower is humilitated daily in Iraq, as their very existence there is threatened.

The heaviest price, of course, was paid by the Iraqis. It was in the form of the total collapse of their state and its transformation into a republic of armed gangs. Never have the Iraqis seen such misery in their entire history.

There is nothing that has not been sabotaged or destroyed by the evil of these gangs of thugs, neither education nor security nor every bit of public services, not even the state institutions themselves. Rampant corruption has turned the government into a prey for every crook and snake oil peddler and transformed the parliament into a stinking quagmire of evil partisan interests.

Even the Kurds, who could be said to have relatively succeeded in protecting themselves from the devastation that befell the rest of Iraq, they, in the end, lost their separatist aspirations. Moreover, existing in the environment of rife corruption that pervades Iraq gave some of their leaders the same opportunity to take their share of the loot. In the end, while the Kurdish people could be said to be living in better conditions than the rest of the Iraqis, we cannot say that their lot is better than the rest as they continue to be surrounded by threats from all directions and by their own political tribalism.

It cannot be said that the fire of destruction in Iraq has spared the Shia component of the Iraqi society. They burned like everybody else, for the thugs of the Republic of Gangsters did not in the end find a way to do justice to them as a formerly oppressed “component”, or to address their historic “grievances” …

True, the Iraqi Shia recovered the right to run to Karbala in mass rallies, but they were running hungry and homeless. They obtained the right to mourn al-Hussein and to practice self-flagellation, but they soon discovered that they should be mourning their lot of poverty, destitution and misery instead. And when it became too much misery for them to bear, they exploded and launched one of the greatest uprisings in the history of Iraq, against Iran’s gangs and against the sectarian project itself.

The heaviest share of the price was paid by the Sunnis. The Iranian gangs had a field day marginalising, harassing, killing, and displacing them by the millions as their cities were destroyed day after day and year after year, without interruption.

What the past 17 years revealed is that the so-called “national project” in Iraq is still far from being a force of change.

In practical terms, the republic still possesses the ability to survive and control the fate of the country.

Unless the upcoming elections result in a new system imposed by the suffering voters, the hope for change will dissipate, and the gangsters will be back to their old dirty tricks. This sounds as the more likely outcome.

What is the alternative, when the national project fails to bring about change?

The prevailing assumption among the Iraqi patriotic forces is that the federal project adopted by former US Vice President and now President-elect Joe Biden was a project to divide Iraq.

This is not true. Federalism does not necessarily divide the country. There are many federal states, including the United States itself, that do not suffer from feelings of division. There is no need for the Iraqis to belittle themselves by saying: “We are not Germany, nor Switzerland, in order to be federalised to that extent.”

Iraq is already a federation of some sort, for the Kurdistan region of Iraqis an established fact anyway. True patriotism must allow that experience to be affirmed and entrenched, so that the Kurds of this country can feel that they are actually governing themselves by themselves. Belonging to Iraq will be real and more genuine, because it will be an affiliation based on free will and common interests, and not a forced or coercive geographical affiliation.

Federalism is not a system of power-sharing between four or five gangs. It is a system of independent local administration which is subjected to local popular oversight, and a system that allows a closer monitoring of the central authority. This authority provides resources and receives funds in a more effective framework for accountability and auditing.

In a system like this, corruption will unravel by itself and will be subject to closer monitoring. In the Iraqi case, it would be better to have a federation of 18 states, corresponding to the current governorates, than a federation of “three regions” as is being suggested, especially since this “division” is based on the ugliness of sectarian division. But even this ugly division is better for the Iraqis than the current hegemony of the pro-Iranian gangs.

A Sunni independent federal region, like the Kurdistan region, could certainly reduce that hegemony and protect a segment of the Iraqi people from the never-ending crimes of the ruling gangsters. It could even turn into a centre for Iraqi patriotism, an anti-sectarian force and a tool for change.

Better yet, a federal system based on 18 states is the way to go. This system can use as a model any existing federal system, from Switzerland to the United States.

The central authority will no longer be prey to the greed of the militias which will be torn apart by the federal map. And even if tyranny did arise, it would be less harmful, as long as it did not control everything.

Popular wisdom says “If you can’t possess the whole, don’t give up the most.”  In the case of the Iraqi national project, this is much better than ending up with nothing.