Protesters chant in support of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as they carry a large national flag during a demonstration in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015.

Protesters chant in support of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as they carry a large national flag during a demonstration in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Khalid Mohammed/AP

This Could Be the Change Iraq Has Been Waiting For

Public anger over rampant corruption and poor government service has sparked the most sweeping reform plan since Saddam fell.

It takes a lot to get Iraqis angry enough to take the risk of demonstrating in the streets. They’ve learned the hard way the cost of public protests. But this week, mounting public anger over lack of government services and rampant corruption sparked the most sweeping reform plan in Iraq’s post-war history.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, widely thought of as a man with good intentions but questionable clout, has managed to sell both his cabinet and Iraq’s famously fractious parliament on drastic political reforms aimed at reversing the most visible elements of a sectarian quota system in place since the United States ran Iraq.

The plan eliminates the positions of three vice presidents and three deputy prime ministers—posts used as bargaining chips between Shia, Sunni and Kurdish factions in almost every government since 2003. Abadi has also pledged to both pursue and reopen corruption cases against hundreds of Iraqi officials, including those in his own Shiite alliance.

Twelve years after Saddam Hussein was toppled, rampant corruption has collided with a serious financial crisis and the ongoing war against ISIS, prompting even Iraq’s most reclusive senior Shia cleric to warn that drastic measures were needed.

In the streets of Baghdad, it’s easy to see why. Iraq, OPEC’s second biggest oil producer, can’t provide enough electricity or even fuel to keep generators running in temperatures that top 120 degrees. When it gets too hot to provide air conditioning, the Iraqi government simply declares a holiday.

(See also: Odierno Wades Into GOPBattle Over Iraq War)

Under the political bargaining over the past decade, ministries are allotted to specific political parties and stuffed with party loyalists or people who have paid to get their jobs and, in turn, demand bribes for doing them.

All of this was business as usual until entire divisions of the Iraqi army collapsed in the face of the self-declared Islamic State’s onslaught last year. Commanders appointed for loyalty to former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki oversaw a hollow army with corrupt officers, siphoning off money from food and ammunition and tens of thousands of nonexistent soldiers.

Politicians are still grappling with the fallout of the Islamic State’s massacre of more than 800 unarmed young military recruits last year near Tikrit, most from impoverished Shia communities in the southern Iraq. A year of protests by families demanding information about the fate of their relatives killed at Speicher base has paved the way for the wider demonstrations in Baghdad, Basra, and other cities.

At security checkpoints around the city, posters of soldiers, police and other security forces killed in battle in Tikrit, Baji and other battles plaster the walls.

“They sit in their air-conditioned offices and they send us out to die,” one soldier said of his commanders recently when I asked him about one of the fallen.

Former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki crushed demonstrations during his rule when plain-clothes police officers beat and stabbed protesters. He sent the army in to dismantle Sunni protest camps in the Anbar protest.

In these demonstrations, police who share the same complaints as other Iraqis, were handing out bottles of water and taking selfies with the protesters.

Maliki is one of the vice presidents who will lose his job assuming the reforms withstand an expected constitutional challenge. He has backed the reform plan but isn’t expected to disappear.

Others won’t go as quietly. Ayyad Allawi, a secular Shia who leads a largely Sunni party, won more votes than Maliki in 2010 elections but was outmaneuvered for the job of prime minister. He has called eliminating his role as vice president unconstitutional. The Kurds are also expected to oppose reforms that will weaken even further their share of power in Baghdad.

The plan would give Abadi the authority to fire corrupt or ineffective provincial governors and dissolve provincial and local councils, making him the most powerful prime minister in Iraqi history.  Some worry that even the benign-seeming UK-educated engineer could be a dictator in the making.

(Read more: Don’t Be Led Astray by the Legend of the Surge)

The Arab Spring passed over Iraq after it started in Tunisia five years ago. Iraq’s dictator had already been toppled. These protests—broad-based and non-sectarian—reaffirmed their support for Prime Minister Abadi at the same time they demanded better government. With Iraq in danger of failing, it has given him a historic opportunity to help hold the country together.

Jane Arraf is a former Edward R Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.  She is the only Western journalist based in Baghdad during the 1990s who still regularly covers Iraq.

This post appears courtesy of CFR.org.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.