15 years after Saddam’s fall, Iraqi hopes fade

After the US-led invasion of 2003, Iraq, freed from nearly a quarter century of dictatorship, descended into violence. Getty Images
Updated 07 April 2018

15 years after Saddam’s fall, Iraqi hopes fade

BAGHDAD: Fifteen years ago, Abu Ali was thrilled to see American soldiers enter Baghdad. “The tyrant is finished,” he remembers saying, imagining a bright future for Iraq without Saddam Hussein.
But the years that followed have brought only misery, he said, looking at photos of three of his sons killed in attacks in the ensuing chaos.
After the US-led invasion of 2003, Iraq, freed from nearly a quarter century of dictatorship, descended into violence.
Sectarian clashes and jihadist attacks divided families and killed tens of thousands of people, leaving behind wounds that have yet to heal and a lagging economy.
In July 2007, Abu Ali’s eldest son, 18 at the time, was killed when a car bomb hit a busy street in Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood.
He had been selling watermelons to passers-by trying to escape the summer heat.
Six years later almost to the day, the taxi driver’s two younger sons, Alaa, 23, and Abbas, 17, were also killed in an attack.
The losses are written in deep lines along his face, aged well beyond his 61 years.
Abu Ali used to dream of lives for his children that would be better than his own, but now he only visits them at the cemetery.
“I go to their graves every week, I feel like they’re sitting near me,” he said, wearing a white scarf and a traditional beige robe.
Abu Ali’s hopes for a brighter future have faded. “The situation does not bode well... no one thinks of the people,” he said. “The parties only seek to win seats.”
Things were different before, said Qais Al-Sharea, a hairdresser in the capital.
“Saddam Hussein was the strong man, the one who controlled everything and scared the entire world with his chemical weapons,” he said.
Each morning, when he opened his salon in Al-Ferdous Square in the heart of Baghdad, the dictator’s colossal statue stood guard outside.
On April 9, 2003, Sharea, who had stayed at home that day, watched on television as US soldiers with an armored vehicle helped a crowd armed with a sledgehammer pull down the bronze statue in front of his shop.
“Baghdad fell when the statue fell,” he told AFP at the foot of the giant platform, now covered with rubble poorly hidden by crumpled sheet metal — the site of a construction project that has so far failed to take shape.
Sharea, 27 at the time, thought “like all young people” that Baghdad would soon be filled with nightclubs and restaurants.
“We (thought) we would travel the world,” he said.
But instead of progress and opening to the world, life in Iraq has turned into a case of “one step forward and five back,” said Sharea.
Mahmoud Othman, a 65-year-old Kurdish politician who served as a member of Iraq’s transitional leadership after Saddam’s fall, dreamed of a better tomorrow.
But if “the Americans had a plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein, they had no agenda for post-Saddam,” said Othman, who had been a Kurdish peshmerga fighter since the age of 18.
State institutions and Saddam’s all-powerful Baath Party were dismantled as opposition figures returned from exile.
But corruption and sectarian tensions — fueled by militias born in the security vacuum created by the dismantling of the security forces — flourished.
“We thought we’d have a federal and democratic system, but we’ve had sectarianism and chauvinism,” said Rauf Maaruf, leader of the Kurdish opposition party Goran.
Members of Iraq’s religious and ethnic minorities say they have paid the highest price for the past decade-and-a-half of chaos.
“Our country has been going through catastrophe after catastrophe,” said the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, Louis Raphael Sako, who has watched his community shrink.
Every institution has been affected, according to Abdel Salam Al-Samer, a 58-year-old university teacher for the past three decades.
“The situation in Iraq has deteriorated and so have our universities,” said Samer, who has seen political factions interfere in education and colleagues killed by militias.

Iraq’s Shiite rivals agree on prime minister

Updated 18 September 2018

Iraq’s Shiite rivals agree on prime minister

  • Veteran Shiite politician Adel Abdul Mahdi informally nominated to replace Haider Al-Abadi
  • Decision reached after extensive negotiations between pro and anti-Iran factions

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s rival Shiite blocs in parliament have agreed on who they want as the next prime minister after making progress in negotiations towards forming a government, negotiators told Arab News.

The two factions, one pro Iran and the other anti, have agreed to work together as a coalition, negotiators told Arab News on Tuesday.

The veteran Shiite politician and former vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi was informally nominated to replace Haider Al-Abadi, negotiators said. 

He will be assigned on Sept. 25 to form a government if his nomination is approved by the Kurdish blocs. 

Before the appointment of prime minister, the president has to be selected. There is no indication that the Kurds, who get the post according to the Iraq’s power sharing agreement, have decided on who to nominate. 

Iraq’s parliament has been split between the Reform alliance and Al-Binna’a alliance after elections in May.


READ MORE: Iraq parliament elects Sunni lawmaker Al-Halbousi as speaker, breaking deadlock

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Reform is controlled by Muqtada Al-Sadr, one of the country’s most influential Shiite clerics who opposes Iranian influence in the country.

Iran-backed Al-Binna’a is led by Hadi Al-Amiri, the head of Badr organization, the most prominent Shiite armed faction.

At the first parliamentary session earlier this month, both coalitions claimed they have the most number of seats which would give them the right to form a government.

Within hours, violent demonstrations erupted in Basra, Iraq’s main oil hub, killing 15 demonstrators and injuring scores of people. The Iranian consulate was set on fire along with dozens of government and party buildings.

The violence on the street reflected the stand-off in parliament and threatened to erupt into fighting between the armed wings associated with the different Shiite groups.

The agreement between the two blocs was the only way to end the violence and prevent a slide into intra-Shiite  fighting, senior leaders involved in the talks said.

Several meetings between Al-Sadr and Al-Amiri were held in Al-Sadr’s residency in the holy city of Najaf last week to defuse the crisis.

Both parties’ desire for a truce seemed clear on Saturday at a parliament session to elect the speaker and his deputies. The two blocks showed their influence without colliding with each other. Al-Binna’a presented its candidate for the speaker post and stepped down after winning to make way for the Reform bloc to present its candidate for the post of first deputy of the speaker without competition.

The negotiations teams continued their meetings over the following days to agree on the details of the government program and select the nominee for the prime minister among the dozens of candidates presented by the forces belonging to the two alliances.

The first results of talks between the two blocs came out on Tuesday when Al-Amiri withdrew from the race “to open doors for more talks,” and avoid  conflict between the alliances.

“We will not talk on behalf of Al-Binna’a or the Reform. We both will agree on a candidate. Compatibility is our only choice,” Al-Amiri, said at a press conference in Baghdad.

“Today, Iraq needs to be saved, as we saved it from Daesh, so we have only two options, either we choose to impose the wills and twist each others arms or choose the understanding between us.”

 Iraq has been a battleground for regional and international powers, especially Iran and the United States, since 2003 US-led invasion. 

Brett McGurk, the US envoy to Iraq and Syria, and General Qassim Soleimani, commander of Iran's Al Quds Force, are deeply involved in the negotiations. 

The candidate for prime minister should also enjoy the blessing of the religious powers in Najaf, represented by Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the Shiite spiritual leader and most revered figure in Iraq, negotiators said.

“The situation is complicated as there are three different sides that enjoy the right to use veto. They are Iran, US and Najaf,” a key negotiator of Al-Sadr’s negotiation team told Arab News.

“One ‘no’ is enough to exclude any candidate. Not only that, Sadr and Amiri also have their conditions and we still have difficulty reconciling all of them.”

The marathon negotiations, which run every day until late at night, finally reached a shortlist for prime minister.

The three names reached were Adel Abdul Mahdi, a former leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Falih Al-Fayadh, the former national security adviser, and Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, the head of the intelligence service.

Adel Abdul Mahdi was the chosen one, three negotiators from different sides told Arab News.

“We have agreed to nominate Adel Abdul Mahdi as he is the only one who was approved by the three sides (Iran, the US and Najaf),” an Al-Sadr negotiator told Arab News.