BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government headed by Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki, like earlier governments assigned by U.S. occupation authorities in Iraq, appears to have killed Iraqi dreams of a brighter future.
General elections Dec. 15, 2005 brought in a government that was supposed to listen to Iraqis all over the country. It was called a unity government because the cabinet was formed to include ministers from all ethnic and sectarian backgrounds after months of negotiations in the parliament.
“This is a unity government that no one should object to,” al-Maliki told reporters recently in Baghdad. “All of the powers in parliament should take part in improving security and services in order to achieve success.”
Maliki condemned groups such as Jabhat al-Tawafuq and The Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, along with other political groups who have been critical of the government.
Jabhat al-Tawafuq comprises three leading Sunni groups: the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Iraqi People’s Conference and the National Dialogue Council. Their platform is based on national unity and ending the occupation.
The Iraqi Front for National Dialogue also stands for ending the occupation, rebuilding government institutions and improving the economic and security situation.
But opposition leaders blame Maliki for denying them a role within government, undermining his claim that there is indeed a unity government.
“We are not really in the government,” Tariq al-Hashimi, leader of the Islamic Party, and one of Iraq’s two vice-presidents told IPS earlier. “Maliki and his coalition never gave us any real role in the government, and our ministers’ actions are therefore paralysed.”
Hashimi’s group, like other Sunni groups and also some moderate Shia groups, are nearly voiceless in the feeble Iraqi government.
The dominant Shia coalition was formed in accordance with advice from Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the revered Shia cleric who lives in Najaf in the south. This coalition of Shia parties was formed to secure power against a list of secular parties led by former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi who formed ‘The Iraqi List’.
The power of the Shia coalition forced reluctant Sunnis to participate in the elections by banding together with their own list in order to win the votes of Sunnis. The entire political process was divided along religious and sectarian lines, and along ethnic lines because the Kurdish list included all of the Kurdish parties.
Given this background, few Iraqis are surprised that their government is fractured and fragmented, and at odds with itself.
“This government will definitely lead the country into disaster,” Dr. Salih al-Mutlaq, leader of The Iraqi Front for National Dialogue told IPS earlier. “The country will slide into civil war if this sectarian attitude remains, and that is why we decided not to participate in this government.”
Former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, with the support of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, took over April 7, 2005. But Jaafari was rejected by all other groups, and also by some parties within the Shia coalition for his failure to lead the country.
Maliki was then assigned the job of prime minister on condition of fair distribution of in the cabinet amongst winners, and fair treatment to all Iraqis regardless of their religious or ethnic identity.
“Things only got worse, and this government and parliament won the title of the worst in the history of Iraq,” Thafir al-Ani from al-Tawafuq told IPS. “The whole system needs to be changed, or else the country will be divided into small states, and the catastrophe will be too vast to be corrected.”
Al-Ani cited recent polls to say that more than 90 percent of Iraqis are angry with the government. People continue to blame the government for everything going wrong from the high level of violence to lack of employment and of water and electricity.
One of the darkest clouds of illegitimacy over the Iraqi government is the alignment of top officials with the Sadr Movement, which has been accused of backing most of the sectarian death squads that are now the leading cause of death in Iraq.
“This government failed on all the promises it made to Iraqis, and so all Iraqis want it changed,” Muhammad Basher al-Faidhy, spokesman for the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars told IPS. “They are sorry they ever took part in the elections. Our Association warned Iraqis that this government would be the worst ever. They simply cannot get rid of death squads because they are their major ally.”
Most Iraqis see no future for Maliki’s struggling government, which barely controls the so-called Green Zone in Baghdad where its offices are located. The rest of the country is fragmented, and the economy and infrastructure are in ruins.
“They are going down despite the huge support they are getting from the U.S. administration,” Iraqi analyst Maki al-Nazzal told IPS. “They are faced by an international denial after their resounding failure in facing the deteriorating security situation and the comprehensive collapse in services and reconstruction.”
On the other hand, the Sadr movement finds itself in a strong enough situation to turn away from al-Maliki and his Dawa Party. Sadr leaders are now calling for early elections, and they are confident of winning without other support, says their spokesman Hassan al-Zarqani.
“It seems that the United States have chosen the wrong ally once more,” Zarqani told IPS. “So they will have to reconsider yet again.” Sadr had recently pulled his representatives from the government, but they came back.
Meanwhile, another crisis has arisen. Grand Ayatollah Sistani announced last week that he will not support a U.S.-backed plan to build a coalition across sectarian lines. The plan would have sought to marginalise Muqtada al-Sadr by dividing the Shias.
Resistance to the occupation is rising, on the streets and politically, as support for the government falls. Not a promising start to 2007.