Iraqi leaders and the selfish gene
By Sami Moubayed
DAMASCUS - The Shi'ite politicians who formed the Iraqi National Alliance (INA)
to fight parliamentary elections had one objective in mind: keeping secular
ex-prime minister Iyad Allawi's hands off the premiership.
That is becoming increasingly clear from their words and actions, which belie
any thought that they had even the slightest intention of working together as a
community or political bloc, with each politician seeing himself more worthy of
the premiership than any other.
This means incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's chances of remaining prime
minister have been slashed, not actually by Allawi - who beat him by two seats
in the elections in March - but by the INA itself, former allies like Muqtada
al-Sadr and prime
minister hopefuls such as Adel Abdul Mehdi.
The INA is responsible for the lack of progress in Iraq, and so is Maliki, who
refuses to step down and accept the democratic process that says Allawi and his
al-Iraqiya bloc came in as number one and that he is entitled under the
constitution to become the next prime minister.
Two months ago, hopes were raised that the formation of a cabinet was in sight,
given that Maliki's State of Law Coalition had hammered out an alliance with
the INA, similar to the coalition that brought them to power in 2005.
That alliance hit a brick wall as personal rivalries between Shi'ite
heavyweights surfaced, keeping Iraq with no government five months after
parliamentary elections. Allawi's al-Iraqiya won 91 seats in the March vote,
while Maliki's alliance got 89 and the INA was third, with 70 seats. Neither
party has enough power in the new parliament to create a cabinet with a
163-seat majority. Parliament did hold its inaugural session on June 14, but it
was largely symbolic since no government had been formed, and it lasted for
less than half an hour.
International media, however, are still debating the wrong scenario, depicting
only one side of the battle, between Allawi and Maliki. Most observers fail to
recognize the other dimensions to the struggle for power in Iraq.
One dimension is certainly regional, between Saudi Arabia, which backs Allawi,
and Iran, which backs Maliki. Another is internal, between Maliki and his
allies, Muqtada, Mehdi and Ammar Hakim of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council.
Two weeks ago, the media went into high alert when Maliki and Allawi met to
sort out their differences - their second meeting since March. It amounted to
nothing. Hassan Sneid, a member of parliament (MP) from Maliki's team, said
that no deal had been reached and that the importance of the meeting "had been
exaggerated" by observers.
An MP for Allawi's list, Maysoun al-Damaluji, added, "The meeting did not
discuss details about presidency or ministerial posts." Many began asking: "If
division of power and a solution were not on the two men's agenda on June 29,
then what exactly did Allawi and Maliki talk about in Baghdad?"
One possible scenario is that Maliki used the meeting with Allawi to scare his
Shi'ite allies into accepting him as prime minister. Otherwise, he seemed to be
saying, "I will turn my back on you and form a cabinet with him." The two men
combined, after all, would share a bloc of 180 deputies, giving them the needed
majority to form a cabinet. One solution would be to make Maliki prime minister
and appoint Allawi as his deputy, or vice-versa.
The real meeting, therefore, should have been between Maliki and leaders of the
INA, to see whether what united them as a Shi'ite bloc was stronger than what
divided them as individual politicians.
As all parties bicker among themselves, the US is preparing to cut its troops
in Iraq to 50,000 by the end of this summer - a major reduction from the
165,000 in 2007.
Last week, 29 Iraqis were handed to Iraq by the US, including Tarek Aziz, the
ex-deputy prime minister under Saddam Hussein. This means that only eight
senior former Saddam officials are still in custody, along with approximately
200 remaining in prisoners in different parts of Iraq.
Camp Cropper, the last US-run detention center, was also transferred to Iraqi
control, along with its 1,700 detainees. The handover of Camp Cropper, which
will be renamed al-Karkh prison, reminds Iraqis of the infamous abuses at Abu
Ghraib, given that similar yet less high profile abuses took place at Cropper
in 2003, according to the International Committee for the Red Cross.
Speaking to reporters while reflecting on Abu Ghraib in light of Camp Cropper,
General Ray Odierno, the commander of US forces, said his country had made
mistakes and learned from them since 2003. Odierno said, "Abu Ghraib was a
lesson that we weren't prepared to handle large masses of detainees when we
came into this operation back in 2003. We made some real errors in thinking
that it would be like Desert Storm and we would just hold prisoners of war for
a period of time and we'd release them." Odierno was referring to the August 2,
1990-February 28, 1991, war against Iraq by a United Nations-authorized
coalition force from 34 nations led by the United States.
Meanwhile, as of July 13, according to numbers from the US Department of
Defense, 4,412 members of the US Army have died in Iraq since 2003, while
31,883 have been wounded. The entire momentum of US engagement in Iraq
indicates that American officialdom and President Barack Obama have learned
from the mistakes of 2003-2009. Sadly, however, with very few exceptions,
Iraqis have miraculously learned no lessons from the hell unleashed in their
country when George W Bush's army came marching in in March 2003.
Occupation usually unites people in the face of foreigners. Reading through the
colonial history of the entire Arab world, foreign occupation inspired
suppressed people to set aside political and ethnic differences and unite
against the occupying force.
What happened in Iraq - clearly from the perspective of the government vacuum -
is the opposite. Ethnic, religious and personal rivalries surfaced after 2003,
snowballing into the present crisis.
Communities have scrambled for their own well-being, rather than those of
society at large, and selfish politicians have taken power, often showing
authoritarian tendencies that mirrored Saddam's, although they had built their
entire careers criticizing these very same political malpractices.
Maliki's insistence that it is either him at the premiership or chaos is a
perfect example of where Iraqis went wrong. The fact that after all his
shortcomings, Iraqis still voted for the man and his allies in March is even
greater proof of how the lessons of history - both the old and the recent -
have been lost on Iraq.
Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.