Iraqis live on hope but even if the elections run smoothly, it's a bumpy road ahead
A young Iraqi walks past one of Nour al-Maliki's poster campaigns (File/AFP)
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The apparent hopefulness with which Iraqis view this week’s general election is remarkable given the woeful performance of the Iraqi political establishment in working together. Moreover, amazingly, the apparent frontrunner is the current premier Nouri al-Maliki, whose eight year record in office could accurately be described as less than dismal.
The touching faith of Iraqis that their votes will finally make a difference is not borne out by the realities of the country’s fractured and incoherent political map. From the outset, almost without exception, party leaders have looked to the power and profit accruing to them personally and to those who back them. Thus factionalism has flourished while the wider interests of a multicultural Iraq have been completely ignored.
If media reports of interviews with long-suffering voters up and down the country are accurate, there appears to be a significant number of people who represent a moderate, centrist view of Iraq, which rejects the polarization of politics into ethnic or cultural silos. Yet it has to be certain that the views of these supporters of moderation will not be represented in the final allocation of parliamentary seats where more than 9,000 candidates are contesting in 328 constituencies.
Whether by fair means or foul, when the ballot boxes are opened, the votes are almost certain to represent the growing and dangerous divisions within the country. The inevitable outcome will be that the formation of a new government will involve an unedifying and protracted period of horse trading, as political leaders bargain ferociously over mere grains of extra power and influence.
Four years ago this process took ten months. Technically speaking, the outgoing government was still running the country while the coalition deal-making went on. But in truth most ministers were too busy squeezing the last ounce of advantage out of their departing portfolios to care about the financial and security position on a national scale. And besides, cynics might ask if it is possible these days to tell whether or not Iraq actually has a government.
Violence has now reached a level not seen since the resistance to the US-led invasion. Sectarian gangs once again roam the streets murdering rivals. Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists carry out almost daily bombings with devastating results. Almost all of Anbar province is no longer under government control thanks to a Sunni revolt in a desperate response to Maliki’s inept discrimination. Tragically, this uprising has been stoked by the terrorists in order to give cover for their own evil campaign.
With the exception of a few elite units, who are not deployed on general security duties, the Iraqi police and army have been under-resourced and funded by the Maliki government. They are, therefore, less equipped to confront a strengthening terrorist menace. Indeed, with morale sinking, they are increasingly disinclined to try.
This disastrous state of affairs, which sees Iraq once more teetering on the brink of chaos, is the responsibility of one man and his squabbling, corrupt and lackluster government. Maliki has had eight years to lead Iraq away from occupation and division toward unity and prosperity. Guided by his scheming friends in Tehran, he has actively promoted disunity and provoked dissent and despair. Few elected governments can have been less effective.