So much for democracy in Iraq!
I Never really bought into the purple fingers hype, which the Bush administration propagandized for all it was worth in an attempt to justify its 2003 criminal blunder. It stands to reason that a nation like Iraq, split along sectarian lines, would be democratic in name only when its citizens would be inclined to tick their ballots according to their ethnic or religious affiliations rather than on core issues. And since there is an approximate 60 percent Shiite majority in what was once considered an Arab heartland it was evident from the get-go that the government would be dominated by Shiites. That’s an inescapable reality given Iraq’s make-up, perhaps, but let’s not fool ourselves that Iraq is a democracy or will ever be a shining example to be emulated elsewhere in the region which the neoconservatives in the Bush administration were naïve enough to believe — or pretended to.
On Sunday, the Iraqi authorities pronounced the death knell on even any pretence that the government is adhering to democratic principles such as freedom of the media. The powers that be have chosen to shoot — or rather shut-down — the messenger by revoking the licenses of 10 television stations, including Qatar’s Al Jazeera that have been punished for “sectarian bias” which translated means “critical of the Shiite-dominated regime.” Whoever took that fascist-type decision is delusional if they thought that by doing so sectarian violence would be quelled. It is not only anti-democratic, it is provocative, guaranteed to incite anti-government elements. Moreover, in an era of satellite television and the Internet, closing people’s eyes and ears to news is simply unworkable. The authorities have also crushed another of democracy’s staples by using a heavy hand on protesters peacefully demonstrating.
Putting the democratic argument aside, the faith-based beliefs of a prime minister, president or members of Cabinet wouldn’t or shouldn’t be a topic of discussion, if those leaders operated in a fair and just manner treating all citizens with equal respect regardless of their religion or ethnicity. That was one of the reasons Saddam Hussein was disrespected; top jobs were mainly reserved for Sunnis while Shiites were treated as an under-class — and worse. Be that as it may, it’s in the past and is no excuse for Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki to follow Saddam’s lead.
The US-led coalition was very much to blame as well by setting the stage for inequalities. If you remember, America’s civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer banned former members of Saddam’s secular Baathist Party from public positions in government, universities and hospitals thus excluding experienced individuals best placed to rebuild the country. Most of those Baathists, whose livelihoods were stripped away by a foreign power, had joined the party to improve their career paths not because they were necessarily admirers of Saddam’s regime.
That ill thought-out policy was a recipe for widespread resentment and was later acknowledged to have been a grave error. Now former high-level disaffected Baathists calling themselves “The Men of the Army of the Naqshbandia Order” have taken up arms and are leading a Sunni insurgency, which some experts believe could thrust Iraq into civil war. The New York Times’ Baghdad Bureau Chief Tim Arango writes “What Iraqis are seeing now is entirely different: Large numbers of Sunni men and picking up weapons forming militia units and pledging to fight the government.” He also highlights a warning from the International Crisis Group, a conflict-preventing organization, to the effect “Iraq has begun a perilous, downward slide toward confrontation.” Indeed, in recent days, Prime Minister Al-Maliki warned that sectarian conflicts could morph into a civil war mirroring the one now raging in Syria. But rather than hold dialogue with the Sunni opposition with a view to making concessions, he has chosen to crack down.
Much of the anger being displayed by Iraqi Sunnis is justified; they accuse Al-Maliki of monopolizing power, finding ways to eliminate Sunni political rivals and being too cozy with Iraq’s neighbor the Islamic Republic of Iran where he spent eight years in exile. Sunni demonstrators have been seen waving Saddam-era Iraq flags and heard chanting anti-Iranian slogans; some are demanding an autonomous Sunni state. It seems hard to imagine nowadays, but little more than 10 years ago Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites lived together harmoniously as good neighbors, friends, colleagues and inter-Sunni-Shiite marriages were commonplace. Iraq’s prime minister has also managed to alienate Kurds as well as other Shiite leaders who complain of political marginalization, the government’s authoritarianism and Al-Maliki’s determination to hold on to power.
President Barack Obama is currently mulling military intervention in Syria, where Bashar Assad’s forces are believed to have crossed one of Washington’s red lines by using chemical weapons, in this case liquid Sarin, against the opposition. Such intervention would be billed as humanitarian. But looking at the mess the US created in Iraq that’s worsening 10 years on, the very idea of “shock and awe” in Syria makes me shudder. What can be gained from ridding a country of one devil while opening the door to another?
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