Iraq’s ‘spring’ should not go the way of the ‘Arab spring’

Friday 21/08/2015
Protests are daily and quite intense

A widespread wave of protest is whipping through Iraq. Most of the protesters are Shias, with Sunni groups and other religious and political minorities also participating. The protests are daily and quite intense.
It started with demonstrations against severe electricity shortages and snowballed into political and social protests demanding public investigations into official corrup­tion and for the dissolution of po­litical parties and parliament if the demands were not swiftly met.
Some even went so far as to call for the replacement of Prime Min­ister Haider al-Abadi’s Shia-domi­nated government with a cabinet of technocrats.
The most remarkable aspect of this situation is that the High Shia Council, headed by the widely re­vered Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, threw its considerable weight behind demonstrators inveighing against the ruling coalition.
Abadi had no choice but to rush through a series of reforms that could transform the political sys­tem in Iraq from a parliamentary to a presidential one, something protesters had called for.
It is little wonder that Iraqis’ tempers should explode after the horrors and hardships, including rampant corruption among many in the political elite, they have endured since the US inva­sion of March 2003 and the subsequent eight-year occupation to another inva­sion by the Islamic State (ISIS), which controls about one-third of the country.
These are without doubt sufficient reasons for Iraqis to demand accountabil­ity from those who have harmed Iraq and so badly mishandled its potential and riches.
But will this “Iraqi spring” unfold the way the “Arab spring” did — begin with high hopes when tyrants were deposed only to end in bitter disappointment?
I believe the Iraqi people are well aware of the unfortunate conse­quences of that moment of destiny only four years ago: the exacerba­tion of corruption, the spread of terrorism and economic disintegra­tion.
This would explain why Iraqis of all religious and sectarian orienta­tions took to the streets in protest. They see clearly that it was an event intended to give the Muslim Brotherhood a shot at governing the Arab world while, in truth, behind it all was a comprehensive plan for di­viding the Arab world and control­ling its riches through the creation of permanently fragile statelets plagued by terrorism.
But the Iraqis, who have been suf­fering the evils of corruption since the US-led invasion, are determined they will not fall victim again to false promises by politicians.
They took to the streets with specific demands and, unlike what happened in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen in 2011, they did not burn police stations or state buildings. They stood fast until the government agreed to do away with the system of party quotas in ap­pointing state officials, removed the posts of vice-presidents and deputy prime ministers and produced a list of officials accused of corruption with the aim of bringing them to justice. Parliament unanimously approved the measures.
So, is Iraq on its way to suc­ceeding in the pursuit of this new “spring”? I hope so. But let us not forget that the country faces griev­ous ethnic and sectarian rivalries, a terrible war against ISIS terrorism and calls for partition, such as the one made recently in Washington by General Ray Odierno, the outgo­ing US Army chief of staff.
Three major challenges face Iraq. The most important is local: improving the daily lives of Iraq’s weary citizens.
The second is regional and di­rectly linked to the war in Syria. It is also connected to Iran’s approach to the new situation in Iraq and whether it will support the reforms or not. This remains to be seen.
The third challenge is interna­tional and has to do with partition being mooted as the only solution to the turmoil in Iraq. The Iraqi government has reacted harshly to these declarations. History has shown that partition has never succeeded. Germany is a perfect example of that.
So why shouldn’t Iraq immunise itself against partition by laying the foundations for a modern republic ruled by reason and constructive criticism?
It will be a state in which creative talent flourishes and women par­ticipate effectively in governing, a state where Sunnis, Shias and Kurds live in harmony.
I believe that a new Iraq will emerge and grow stronger in the region through balanced relations with the Gulf countries and prag­matic relations with the rest of the world.