The political leaders of Iraq have spent the past ten months attempting to form a government, but they have been unsuccessful. As a result, their country is sinking deeper and deeper into political paralysis in the face of worsening drought conditions, crippling corruption, and deteriorating infrastructure.
Then, in the month of June, those conversations came to an abrupt end. And now, there is a rush for power as the major political groups of Iraq compete with one another to see who will come out on top.
Muqtada al-Sadr, a strong Shiite Muslim cleric who heads the biggest group in Parliament, withdrew his delegation from the discussions out of sheer exasperation. In response to his demand, the protesters set up a tent encampment that has prevented entrance to Parliament for more than two weeks, so thwarting any attempt to elect a new administration.
This is not the first time that Mr. al-Sadr has resorted to using threats of violence in order to achieve the political goals he has set for himself. Between the years 2003 and 2009, he was the leader of an armed Shiite insurgency in Iraq against the occupation by the United States. Officials in the United States have expressed concern that Iraq may once again descend into bloodshed and instability.
Equally concerning is the fact that, despite years of American efforts to transform Iraq into an alternative Shiite power centre that would be more Western-oriented than Iran, Mr. Sadr and his Shiite political rivals favour a political system that would confer more power on religious clerics, much like a theocracy would in Iran, and that system is modelled after the Iranian model.
Robert Ford, a former American diplomat stationed in Iraq who is currently a fellow at Yale University and the Middle East Institute, said that “we are looking at the beginning of the collapse of the American-backed political system in Iraq.”
After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein from power, the nation descended into civil war, which was followed by the control of major portions of the country by the Islamic State.
The effect of this is that Iraq, although having massive oil reserves, has been embroiled in political uncertainty and has a stagnating economy. As a result, its jobless young are susceptible to recruiters for extremist organisations, and investors are wary of investing in the country. At the same time, Gulf states, headed by the United Arab Emirates, repaired their ties with Israel and made strides politically and economically to become the new centre of gravity in the Middle East. This occurred at the same time.
Additionally, the American plan for Iraq’s future seems to be moving farther and further away from reality.
When Vice President George W. Bush’s administration invaded Iraq in 2003, it made an effort to persuade the country’s political leaders to establish a representative government that would more fairly distribute power across the country’s three major ethnic and religious communities: the Shiite majority, the Sunni Muslim minority, and the Kurdish minority.
According to the World Bank, the revenues from oil sales pay for around 85 percent of the Iraqi government’s budget. And according to the existing political system, every major political group in Parliament is given authority over at least one government ministry. Along with this power comes the ability to provide favouritism employment, as well as the chance to steal money and get kickbacks.
This is due to the fact that politicians have focused more on their own power than they have on the interests of the nation.
In the midst of the crisis that is now engulfing Iraq, a brutal power struggle is taking place between Mr. Sadr and his primarily Shiite followers and a coalition of Shiite parties with militias that are allied to Iran. The caretaker government has been hesitant to disrupt Mr. Sadr’s blockade out of fear of violence. This has given Mr. Sadr the ability to hold the country hostage to a comprehensive list of demands, including the dissolution of Parliament, new elections, and changes in election law and possibly the Constitution.
The blockage has not resulted in any violence up to this day.
The tent encampment is occupied by many thousand Sadrists, who labour in shifts throughout the day. They go from place to place while eating shawarma, grapes, and melons that have been supplied by allies and listening to clerics preach against the corruption of the administration. They take refuge from the heat of the day in tents as they wait for Mr. Sadr to provide the next set of orders to them by Twitter, which is his preferred method of communication.