Building a unified, post Al-Maliki Iraq

By: Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi

If anyone needs any further convincing, then the fall of major cities in Iraq to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) should be final proof that Nuri Al-Maliki has failed utterly in reconciling the disparate elements of a fractured state.

It has been his singular lust for power and hegemonic rule over the past eight years that has further divided the country, even isolating him from his allies and members of his own sect. It would be an understatement to say that he has lost all legitimacy as a leader.

The effectiveness of ISIL, now wanting to be known as the Islamic State, was a direct result of a central government refusing to operate inclusively in Iraq, thereby marginalizing the local clans and army. How else could one explain tens of thousands of troops withdrawing within hours from their posts?

There is surely a strong desire to rebel against the status quo by those who feel they have been ignored and treated as second-class citizens. The chaos created by this situation can only result in arrogant and stubborn leaders being hounded from office or prosecuted and jailed. Only a very few have the clarity of mind to realize their time is up, and it remains to be seen whether Al-Maliki is one of these rare people.

Al-Maliki had the chance to build an all-encompassing system that would have treated all citizens equally regardless of religion, sect or ethnic group. The country with such an illustrious history, resources and educated people would have been a beacon of light for Arabs across the region. Instead, the regime took a different direction, alienating its people and losing all credibility.

Al-Maliki should not be the only one in the dock here. The United States established the modern Iraqi state on a foundation of sand by dissolving the army and the Ba’ath party in a manner similar to the way the allies handled the Nazis in Germany after the Second World War. The Americans failed to realize that the Iraqis should have been treated differently because a large proportion had no interest in politics or any attachment to the Ba’athist ideology. Many had joined the party because that was the only available option at the time in a police state.

The Americans, in sharp contrast to their rhetoric, undermined the very tenets of democracy by dividing power among the sects. This began a civil war that fractured the country. Ironically, it was US Vice President Joe Biden who proposed in 2006 to divide Iraq into three provinces — for Sunnis, Shias and Kurds — as a way to avoid bloody sectarian conflict.

What will history say about Arab leaders who have failed their people and presided over the fragmentation of their countries? Sudan and Libya have been split up, while Syria and Iraq are disintegrating into ethnic cantons.

Al-Maliki now has his back to the wall. There is talk of forming a new unity government that would represent all Iraqis, without him. Even Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Sistani, has called on political blocs to agree on a new prime minister. Other important Shiite voices want Al-Maliki excluded because they see him as part of the problem.

Unity is critical for Iraq. ISIL only managed to occupy Iraqi cities because it faced a weak opposition. The latest crisis is an opportunity for a new start, but requires a maturity and sincerity that has been sorely lacking.

Iraqis must adopt an agenda focusing on rebuilding the country. If they fail to do so, they will undoubtedly waste their nation’s wealth, and betray their rich history and civilization.

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