Give Us Some Real Political Leaders

BAGHDAD — Many Iraqis are now looking to local political leadership to fill wide gaps in a fractured government that is failing to provide security and basic needs.

“Iraqis feel lost amongst too many political currents that blew their country away with their narrow sectarian and personal interests,” Mohammad Jaafar, a Baghdad-based politician formerly involved in the interim government told IPS.

“I am ashamed to say that I am or even was an Iraqi politician after all the damage to our country that we caused. It is entirely our fault and there is no question about that.”

Many politicians feel similarly.

“The only solution for the Iraqi dilemma is to change the whole crew of politicians including myself,” Thafir al-Ani, Iraqi MP for the Sunni al-Tawafuq List told IPS earlier. “We must admit that we have failed our people, and so we should make way for newcomers who may improve the situation.”

Iraqis have been confused by the turbulent political machinations since Saddam Hussein was overthrown in March 2003 following a U.S.-led invasion. Saddam had been placed in political power by a CIA-backed coup in 1968.

The Coalition Provisional Authority led by L. Paul Bremer took over the administration of Iraq after the invasion, followed by a U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. This body was then followed by an interim government led by Iyad Allawi, a former CIA asset.

Iraqis then voted Jan. 30, 2005 to bring in a government they expected would call for a U.S. withdrawal and bring stability and security to the war-torn country.

Instead, the country burns in violence, with very little reconstruction. Much of the population lives in survival mode. This has made people angry with the current government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

“Iraqis dream of a new face who will lead them to security and prosperity — even if he were a new dictator,” Aziz Nazzal, an Iraqi analyst based in Baghdad told IPS.

“Iraqis have tried kings, communists, Arab nationalists, dictators and now Islamists, but have never found a system that could tap the huge potential of Iraq in a way that fulfills people’s hopes for a developed and safe country.”

Many are also frustrated with their religious leaders, most of who find a place in the current government.

“We followed our religious leaders and trusted them for four years thinking they would lead us ashore after our long sufferings,” Foad Hussein, a teacher now working as a taxi driver in Baghdad told IPS. “But all we got is death and terror. They seem interested only in protecting their personal interests and their close family members.”

What may emerge now as a grassroots movement is beginning to call for a shift towards local politics.

“Let’s go home and do something” — that is a call often heard now at refugee centres. Some believe the answer may lie in tribal arrangements; others want political leaders “who did not get their hands dirtied” in the current mess.

“Tribes in Iraq are not sectarian and our chiefs of tribes are the best interim solution,” Mukhlis al-Bahadly from the Sadr City area of Baghdad told IPS. “They are the ones who can lead us until this country finds its way out of this mess.”

There is little hope that this can happen while Iraq is occupied by the United States.

“We know who the good people are and we will choose them if we ever have the chance, but they refuse to participate in any solution under occupation,” said Sheikh Jassim al- Badri, a cleric from Baghdad. “Clean hands could not eat out of the same plate with the occupation, but they will definitely take their positions as soon as the occupation leaves or some acceptable arrangement is agreed.”

Rumours run of “shadow governments” being formed abroad, but Iraqis have little faith in people who fled and left them to face the situation.

General Nizar al-Khazraji, former chief of staff in the previous army, former minister for foreign affairs Naji al-Hadithi and some others are said to have formed such ‘governments’ abroad to replace the current government when the time comes.

No one is sure yet what, and who, will work.

“We need a leader who really cares for us,” a 55-year-old teacher from Baghdad who asked to be referred to as Fatima told IPS. “They all say they love us, but where is that love? All they did was drag us into poverty and a war between our brothers.”

And some have just left it to God.

“Only God can save us by giving us a man who really cares for us,” said 35-year-old Jamal Hakki from the Ghazaliya district of Baghdad. “All humans in other countries are either against us or with themselves while we face our destiny on our own.”

*(Ali al-Fadhily files in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our specialist writer on Iraq and the Middle East who is based in the U.S.)