The three plagues of Iraq

Friday 15/01/2016
Displaced Iraqi child from the minority Yazidi sect

It’s not as though the war in Iraq was not enough of a burden but the mayhem that came about after the US invasion and subsequent occupation, compounded by the unforgivable gross misman­agement of the country by the civilian US administration hit the Iraqi people hard.

Since then the country has gone from one political disaster to another — with corruption and irresponsibility continuing to hang over Iraq like a dark cloud.

A case in point is the situation with Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi, who took office in August 2014 hailed as “the great reformer Iraq so badly needed”.

However, Iraq descended to new levels of chaos that few could have imagined — largely due to three black holes — call them black plagues — that set 2015 apart: the Islamic State (ISIS), corruption and low oil prices.

This was the year when the West stood back and let Abadi do his magic: overcome the country’s crippling corruption and see if Sunnis and Shias could unite under the critical subject of how to destroy ISIS and retake the Sunni heartland.

Perhaps the virtuous Abadi bit off more than he could chew as even political tensions eclipse the need to liberate towns lost to extremists. Who takes them back? And, if Sunnis are to allow Shia militias — or even Kurdish factions — to take them, what happens afterward to the demographics of the country?

Abadi seemed to find the right formula when he set his sights on liberating Ramadi from jihadists. He deployed the national army, which was supported by the United States and other friendly air powers, and kept the pro-Iran Shia militia out of the battle.

2015 will be remembered for the retaking of Sinjar from ISIS but also for the meltdown of relations between Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), after the latter complained about not getting its monthly oil payments and the former claimed that Kurdish oil was being sold directly to the market.

The year will also be noted for poverty levels hitting an all-time low of 22%, according to some reports.

But 2015 will be etched into the country’s timeline as the year when Abadi’s anti-corruption drive crashed head-on with its adversaries. This sent a clear message to the prime minister that he was going over a line with what was seen as an attack on the old guard — read Nuri al-Maliki — and the establishment that feared Abadi’s reforms translated into a power grab.

The parliament, which identified its own massive corruption in a report that identified a Cessna single-engine plane, valued at about $2 million and which the Iraqi government purchased for $16 million, had had enough of Abadi’s clean-up. Deputies kicked Abadi’s reform plan into the murky depths of the Tigris while international media trumpeted reports of $500 billion being siphoned off by Abadi’s predecessor.

Abadi’s 2015 was a shaky one. He inherited a country that many would argue had fallen over the edge on so many issues that it remains a mystery how “Baghdad” — a popular euphemism for the failed state’s rough-shod institutions — operates as a centralised government. Indeed, hacks are scribing the blueprint of a decentralised country with increased powers given to the regions while some of Abadi’s closest aides whisper fears of a military takeover if he clings onto power.

The big disappointment for Abadi in 2015 was his failure to galvanise Sunni support in the fight against ISIS. It was this fragmented setup with army and security services that led to a chaotic apparatus in most of the Sunni region taken in the last two years. ISIS capitalised on this when it captured Falluja and Ramadi in 2014 and later Mosul.

The year 2016 started with Mosul hanging in the air as talk circulated about how and when it would be taken back, with the United States and Kurds the only real players and, as usual, the Iraqis doing all the complaining but not any of the work.

The situation on the ground seems to have improved slightly with the recapturing of Ramadi, a major victory for the prime minister and perhaps a turning point in the war against ISIS.