Room for optimism in Iraq under new leadership

In the end, the real judge of the new government is going to be the Iraqi street.
Sunday 07/10/2018
Newly elected Iraqi President Kurdish Barham Salih (L) delivers a speech at the parliament in Baghdad, on October 2. (AFP)
Renewed optimism. Newly elected Iraqi President Kurdish Barham Salih (L) delivers a speech at the parliament in Baghdad, on October 2. (AFP)

Despite relatively justified pessimistic opinions about the political process in Iraq, the choices for president, prime minister and parliament speaker allow many reasons for renewed optimism.

The appointees were chosen through a long and painful birthing process in a manner that shattered many tough-to-break loyalties along partisan or sectarian or ethnic lines.

For the first time since 2003, parliament members voted individually — not as blocs — and that is a very positive development. The Shia, Sunni and Kurdish camps in Iraq have experienced their first major fractures. There was also a tendency towards abandoning the quota system.

There was a difficult and danger-fraught birth of this new process in Iraq with the drama in southern Iraq. When the likelihood of the formation of a new government outside the influence of Iran became strong, shadowy hands poisoned the water in Basra and instigated violence there.

It became obvious that what was needed was a transition phase that would make it possible to effectively deal with the corruption and destruction inside the government apparatus.

If the Sairoon bloc and its allies persisted in trying to break the back of political corruption and giving Iraqis what they wanted, the country could have easily fallen into an endless spiral of violence. What the Iraqis wanted was a transitional civil government that would end sectarianism and kick out militias and political forces loyal to Iran. They also wanted a war on corruption.

What happened was an acceptance of a halfway solution towards that objective, a transitional and temporary phase. The anger on the streets of southern and central Iraq had a lot to do with that. The political lines of this transitional phase will become clearer and better defined as the fog surrounding Iran’s crisis dissipates.

The whole region is on verge of the downfall of political Islam. That this extraordinary development might happen faster than anyone has anticipated as the result of a domino effect when the main tile in that setup — the mullahs’ regime in Iran — tumbles. That is likely to happen soon.

The choice of Adel Abdul-Mahdi as prime minister is an acceptable alternative during this transitional period, much better than driving the country into full chaos.

Abdul-Mahdi is known for his economic expertise. He is said to have accepted the nomination as prime minister on condition that the political parties do not interfere in his cabinet choices. He has said competence and qualifications were going to be his main criteria in choosing his cabinet ministers.

Abdul-Mahdi would have to be the only person in Iraq to have refused the advantages and privileges that come with the positions of Iraqi vice-president and oil minister. He had done just that twice by resigning from those positions when protesters demanded it.

In the end, the real judge of the new government is going to be the Iraqi street.

Barham Salih, elected president of Iraq, has matured tremendously since Kurdistan’s fierce confrontation with the Iraqi federal government. His recent statements and positions indicate that he is for a civil and modern state in Iraq.

His former nationalistic positions in favour of an independent Kurdistan must be understood within the context of his instinctive leanings but it seems he has changed his views and is following a coherent civil state logic. Salih’s past should not be used against him.

Salih is a qualified person and expertly knowledgeable in public affairs, unlike some two-bit opportunists who had major positions in the previous government.

However, the election of Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi has the appearance of a dubious deal. Most members of parliament and the heads of the parliamentarian blocs may have chosen Halbousi in the hope that he would oppose any attempt to make them stand trial for their actions.

It was obvious that Halbousi was the favoured candidate of the militias and the Iranian camp. They preferred him to Khaled al-Obaidi, who would have been tougher on corruption.

The Kurdish parties, too, prefer Halbousi at the head of the parliament when the time comes to discuss the disputed areas between Kurdistan and the federal government. Those parties opposed Obaidi’s election apparently because he comes from Mosul and knows the historical and social aspects of the disputed areas.

Halbousi will not last long as speaker. With the passing of the current storm and after the formation of a new administration, new blocs will crystallise in parliament and will probably remove him, given the heavy suspicions of corruption surrounding the man.

In fact, there is movement towards that end and Obaidi might turn out to be the best choice for Iraqi parliament speaker.

To avoid taking Iraq to the slippery slopes of internal conflict and chaos, Iraqis can realistically accept to live with these choices for the three leadership positions in Iraq as part of a necessary transitional phase.