EVEN AFTER A DECADE & HALF SINCE OVERTHROW OF SADDAM, THE CONDITION OF IRAQIS STILL DEPLORABLE & DESPONDENT
In the wake of the downfall of Al Ba’ath Party regime led by late President Saddam Hussein in April 2003 at the hands of the forces of the US and its Allies, many Iraqis pinned their faith on a new democratic and prosperous age, different from the injustice they had experienced being under a dictatorial regime for over two decades. It was, in reality, a totalitarian tyranny that showed little mercy on whoever could dare to oppose or counter the same, not to mention the starvation and deprivation that hit the West Asian country due to the international sanctions and the economic blockade imposed on Iraq since 1991, subsequent to the invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqi Army.
The Iraqis welcomed the Americans – who liberated them from the grip of Saddam and his regime – with open arms. On this celebratory occasion, they were seen jumping with joy and even some of them mounting the American armoured vehicles stationed at Al Fardous Square in downtown Baghdad. It was the moment when the Americans were removing the symbolic statue of Saddam Hussein and dragging it with a grey thick rope through the streets amidst the clamour of the masses in revelry – spitting on the statue and even seen kicking its head with their shoes in front of the cameras. The news and the images were telecast globally by the foreign satellite TV and radio channels.
Such a scene that is quite unlikely for the Iraqis, who would not dare to criticise Saddam or abuse him in any way even inside their bedrooms, represents a turning point witnessed by the country. It was actually a momentous event for the country and a new stage for the Iraqis, who were overwhelmed with confusing emotions, oscillating between joy at the downfall of an oppressive regime and fear for an unforeseen future, particularly after a state of anarchy that had spread all over the country.
It was, in actuality, a chaotic atmosphere that seemed to have brought the entire nation to a complete standstill: public and private establishments were plundered by looters, a complete stoppage of power and fuel stations, as well as water-treatment plants, with virtually all educational institutions closing their doors for almost a year.
Under such a turbulent atmosphere, Iraqi hopes were pinned on the return of the Army and police elements to keep the affairs of the state under control again, particularly after the American occupants had done nothing whatsoever to overcome such a chaotic situation.
And normalcy was hardly expected to be regained after the American Commander, Paul Primer, issued his order to expel all the senior officers and state officials, along with the influential elite scientists and technicians (as they were charged with being loyal to the ex-regime led by Saddam). Despite the fact that such procedures have never been taken in any country exposed to a coup d’etat whether it was planned by internal powers or with the support of foreign forces. No state can do it without its military or paralyse its industrial establishments and consequently destabilise the pillars on which the State is based.
Iraqis, however, did not seem to have paid much attention to the hazards encompassing such decisions, simply because they were eagerly looking forward to the new democratic era repeatedly promised by politicians and patriarchs.
The first step to turn such a dream into reality was the formation of an Interim Governing Council to run the country’s domestic affairs. Among others, the council included prominent figures, like ex-President Jalal Talabani, present Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al Jaafri, former leader of Iraq’s Islamic Supreme Council late Abdul Aziz Al- Hakeem and well-known patriarch and leader of the National Congress Party late Ahmad Al-Galbbi.
The duties of the above mentioned council were carried out under the direct supervision of American Commander Paul Primer. In the course of the first press conference, the new political elites addressed the nation, pledging to shoulder the responsibility of re-establishing the state according to a just democratic institutional system that can establish equality among all the components of the society and secure their freedom, away from prejudice or persecution. A system that can upgrade the level of education, culture, public services, medical care with the objective of ridding the society of its scourges of poverty, ignorance and above all effect a developmental qualitative prosperity, capable of competing with other neighbouring countries, as well as with the developed ones.
Now, 14 long years have passed since such promises were made. This period witnessed the formation of as many as five successive elected governments, four of which were led by the ‘Islamic Dawa Party, one of the political Shiite trends close to Iran, which is still holding premiership of the Cabinet through its leader Haider Al-Abaddi.
Since then, nothing has actually been achieved in reality, except a rather fragile Constitution phrased in haste and included among its provisions, articles and paragraphs capable of ripping the country apart into three states (Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish). One of the tools manipulated to get their target achieved on the grounds was the outbreak of the bloodbath – the sectarian war that had flared up soon after the organised explosion that took place on February 22, 2006, when some extremist Sunni groups targeted a Shiite shrine in the city of Samaria. This sectarian war had left carnage behind, cropping the lives of thousands of civilians.
Religion in Iraq (2017)
Meanwhile, the then ruling parties were busy sharing the portions of Saddam’s properties and palaces in the country and abroad, as well as other prestigious state-owned real estates. They were irresponsibly engaged in stealing the US financial aids specifically allocated for the reconstruction of Iraq while enjoying themselves in profligate parties overseas.
The most serious repercussions of such security vacuum might have triggered the birth of a number of extremist Islamic groups – Shiite and Sunni – some of which were financed by Iran and other Gulf nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Such nascent brutal groups constituted the nucleus of the sectarian conflict at that time that aimed at carrying out the projects and agendas planned by their international supporters (only to serve investment and trading interests) and others with geopolitical dimensions that could harm the country and weaken its establishments.
The Americans were seemingly enjoying the scenario that was insidiously moving towards tearing the state’s arteries apart. No serious move was made to rescue the country and to restore peace. On the contrary, the northern and western regions, and other thickly-populated Sunni districts surrounding the capital of Baghdad have all been turned into a breeding ground for al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Such a tragic state of affairs has actually turned these cities into major bases and strongholds for militants to launch terror attacks, targeting the regions inhabited by the majority of Shiites and other minorities throughout Iraq.
In the midst of such challenging atmosphere that had been faced and are still confronted by the Iraqis solely (children, elders, women and youths), politicians and officials tightened security for themselves and their households in the green international region.
To find a way out of this tragic situation, masses were determined to cast their votes regardless of threats by the extremists and terrorists. They strongly believe that such a step could rescue them and could give birth of a long-aspired modern stable democratic Iraqi state. However, the political powers of the Council of Representatives (the legislative authority and superintendence) and the Cabinet (the executive authority) – which were elected – frustrated the people and failed to ensure the Rule of Law. They actually betrayed the people by getting involved in the most atrocious corrupt financial and administrative crimes. They also siphoned a lot of US Dollars – a major portion of the finances from the state budget.
Incumbent politicians were not sufficed with committing embezzlement crimes or misappropriating the exchequer, but they established companies and trading centres with fraudulent transactions, purchased real estates, monopolised the market for their own benefit and imported poor commodities for the common people. Corruption and favouritism rocked the nation.
Meanwhile, the new laws, rules and regulations escalate the existing social problems. The government amended the Personal Status Law in such a way so that it could diminish the authority of the civil establishment and serve the interests of the patriarchs. The government also formulated the Tribes Law and other reactionary laws that failed to meet expectations of the Iraqi people.
Needless to elaborate the robberies perpetrated by Iraqi officials, the government took a long time to implement those laws and looted millions of dollars from the 2014 state budget. Nobody knows where such large funds have gone or how they have been squandered.
There is also the corrupt flour transaction in which Falah Al Sudani, the former Trade Minister, was involved. Corrupt officials were also involved in the Ukrainian arms deal and different public service projects.
Now with all the different forms of mismanagement and corruption practised by Iraqi officials after the toppling of Saddam, the country has not regained its health, neither has the prospective democratic system been achieved. But crises have been escalated, hundreds of Saddam’s sons sprang up and the problems of housing and unemployment have been aggravated as a result of the ongoing wars that had left millions of orphans, widows, refugees and homeless.
ISIS tunnels are everywhere….
A regretful situation created an atmosphere of frustration and pessimism among the youth, particularly after the 2018 state budget excluded any new appointment in the government offices, besides the failure of the former governments in attracting investments that could create job opportunities for the youths. It actually prompted a number of desperate youths to give up education and think of immigration.
Any comparison held between the present public services and that of the past shows a sharp difference between them. Dilapidated roads, bridges and buildings in Baghdad are all the product of Saddam’s era and have not so far been renovated or reconstructed, whereas budgets of millions of dollars have been allocated every year for new developmental projects.
As for the spirit of fraternity and co-existence among the different components of the society, it has to be admitted that it was really much better during Saddam’s epoch, during which the Iraqis lived in harmony without any hatred or grudge, contrary to what is happening now, where carnages are perpetrated against the minorities (Yazidis, Christians, Shabaks, Sabians and others), who have been abused on a regular basis. Their regions had been exposed to a wide scale demographic change. However, the return of some families to the regions of Ninnoy Valley heralds a new hope for a better future.
Evening in Khanke…
No doubt, Iraq could surpass the gravest turning point in its history that was largely influenced by the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014. That, in a way, revitalised the hope of establishing a new effective, strong and stable Iraq once again. Nevertheless, the political elites, who have failed to perform in the last 14 years, are still in power and will be contesting in the forthcoming legislative elections on May 12, 2018.
As usual, this pre-election season witnesses multiple promises by the same politicians either via television channels or the social media. Those include pledges to create a state of establishments and fight corruption. However, the great frustration, experienced by the Iraqis, signals the reluctance of many to cast votes in the coming election. They believe that the election will give them nothing, but bitterness and recycling of the same old faces that have been betraying them since 2003.
Boundless Ocean of Politics has received this article from Ahmed Hassan, journalist and translator, Sarah al daily, Baghdad.
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