The only way to solve Iraq’s political crisis

Zaid al-Ali writes: With the Islamic State still in control of large parts of the country and oil prices depressed, Iraq is on the verge of a meltdown. But instead of working to solve the country’s problems, Iraq’s political class has been consumed by a power struggle. Last weekend, protesters in Baghdad lost their patience and stormed the Parliament building, threatening further action if serious reform is not enacted soon.

This eruption was a long time coming. Last August, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi promised to improve government services and eliminate corruption. Unsurprisingly, he has failed to deliver. In response, protesters have demanded a new government and the abandonment of the sectarian quota system that has underpinned Iraqi governments since 2003. Mr. Abadi has tried to respond by putting forward a “technocratic” cabinet, but he hasn’t been able to get it approved by Parliament.

Ordinary Iraqis are furious. Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric who has long acted as a leader of Iraq’s underclass, has tried to capitalize on this by leading the protest movement. But even he cannot control the anger Iraqis feel toward their leaders.

The cause of Iraq’s political paralysis is neither ideological nor sectarian. In fact, most of the main actors in the continuing dispute are Shiite Islamists. The disagreement is instead based on mutual distrust, which is fueled by the incompetence and corruption that have formed the basis of Iraq’s political system since 2003. That dynamic has made it impossible for state institutions to present any viable solutions to the crisis.

Some Iraqi and American officials, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., have expressed hope that Mr. Abadi, at the head of a new government, can turn the situation around. They are missing the point. Even if a new government is formed, new ministers have to be approved by the Parliament, which insists on nominating the same crop of ineffectual, corrupt former exiles who have been running the country into the ground. More important, a new government would be beholden to the corrupt, sectarian Parliament. Making the argument that a new government can design, pass and carry out comprehensive governance reform is either delusional or an attempt to punt.

The only way out of the current stalemate is to inject new blood into the country’s political class. [Continue reading…]

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