Fears of new ‘deep state’ in Iraq as factions fight for key jobs

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, center, has to send a list of nominees to Parliament by the end of June for approval. (Getty Images)
Updated 26 June 2019

Fears of new ‘deep state’ in Iraq as factions fight for key jobs

  • About 5,000 high-profile positions are supposed to be filled by nominees who will act independently of political parties
  • The political party or parliamentary bloc that controls these positions is expected to effectively dominate the Iraqi state for the next 10 to 15 years

BAGHDAD: Political factions in Iraq are waging a secret battle to gain control of thousands of key government and agency jobs in a bid to tighten their grip on power and exert as much political influence as possible, according to lawmakers and analysts.
About 5,000 high-profile positions, including heads of independent government agencies, deputy ministers, heads of universities, deans, ambassadors, diplomats, and commanders of military divisions and security services, are supposed to be filled by nominees who will act independently of political parties.
However, until now they have been filled mostly by proxies of the leading parties, primarily the Islamic Dawa Party, which “was representing the main structure of the deep state built by former prime ministers,” lawmakers said.
There is growing concern that far from dismantling the “deep state,” the latest appointees will simply replace it with another that is even stronger.
Under the 2019 annual budget law, all the posts must be filled by the end of June. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has to send a list of nominees to Parliament by then for approval.The political party or parliamentary bloc that controls these positions will effectively dominate the Iraqi state for the next 10 to 15 years, because the access they provide to the departments they represent will help to serve the personal agendas of any leader, analysts said.
“These posts are not political and they are much more important for the political parties than the ministries, so they are ready to sacrifice anything to get a share of them,” Rahman Al-Joubori, a researcher at the Center for Regional Studies at the American University in Sulaimaniyah, told Arab News.
“Each of the parties has strategically planned to get this department or that department as compensation for the ministries that they gave up, and because some of them are eyeing the same departments or trying to get more than their share, disputes have erupted.”
Iraqi political groups have adopted a power-sharing system since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Each party is supposed to receive a share of the available positions proportional to the number of seats it holds in Parliament. They can submit candidates to fill these posts regardless of the required professional standards or qualification.
The Islamic Dawa Party, which has led four of the six governments in power during the past 16 years, has controlled most of the most important positions and organizations by appointing its followers to run them by proxy, bypassing Parliament and preventing rivals from getting their share.
Former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who led two of the four Dawa governments, frustrated his political rivals, including his successor Haider Abadi, by controlling the acting directors of the most important, or advanced, jobs, especially those related to security and inspections.
“The Dawa party, represented by Al-Maliki, created the deep state and rooted it in the Iraqi state after 2006 by taking over most of the advanced positions,” a prominent Shiite leader involved in the current talks to allocate these positions told Arab News.
“In addition to the human and financial resources provided by these positions, it is an effective tool to terminate opponents, control the core of the state, and destabilize its economy and security whenever it is needed.”

 

The General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, which is responsible for submitting candidates to fill the positions, formed a committee to allocate the jobs two months ago. Its members include the secretary-general of the Cabinet, the director of the prime minister’s office, and representatives of the most prominent Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political forces in the government and Parliament. The commission has been meeting almost daily, but nominees have been agreed for only a few dozen positions, according to the prime minister’s press office.
The disputes between the political factions began on the first day the committee met. Some members demanded positions with levels of importance incommensurate with the number of seats they hold, while others sought control of organizations that are of particular interest to their powerful blocs. These include Saeiroon, the political wing of Muqtada Al-Sadr, the influential Shiite cleric; and the pro-Iranian Fatah alliance, which includes the Badr Organization, one of the most powerful Shiite armed factions, and Assaib Ahl Al-Haq, the second-most powerful Shiite armed faction.
Disagreements about the levels of the positions and the heads of independent agencies took a new turn when many committee members began to publicly complain.
Ammar Al-Hakim, leader of Al-Hikma and a prominent ally of Al-Sadr within the Reform parliamentary coalition, last week announced he was withdrawing from the coalition and joining the opposition in protest at the way the committee was distributing the jobs, and “the lack of access to the posts that he has been looking for.”
He was soon followed by another Al-Sadr ally, Haider Al-Abadi, whose Al-Nassir party also announced it would join the opposition because it refused the “quest (by some political parties) to form a new deep state, greater and deeper than the old one.”
“The coalition of Al-Nassir is backing (the efforts) to end the file of special grades as soon as possible, but must be resolved, in accordance with professionalism and efficiency standards, away from the parties,” Al-Nassir member Ali Al-Sineed said on Monday. “There are parties that want to control the special grades in order to create a new deep state, which (will be) deeper than the current one.”
Although Al-Sadr has publicly warned members of his bloc against “rooting the old deep state or building a new one,” and threatened to abandon them if they insist on a share of the positions, the committee still holds daily meetings in the presence of representatives of Saeiroon.
Hamad Al-Rikabi, a spokesman for Saeiroon, said on Monday that members of the political bloc are following Al-Sadr’s instructions to refrain from seeking any of the positions and work on “dismantling the deep state.”
Badr, Al-Nassir, Al-Hikma and Assaib all issued statements last week confirming that they would not seek any special-grade or high-profile jobs to which they are not entitled based on power-sharing agreements. However, behind the scenes, all are still negotiating to grab a share of the positions, government sources said.
“All of them say that they are not seeking to get a share, but actually they are fighting to get them,” said an adviser to Abdul Mahdi.
“Saieroon, Assaib and Badr are at the forefront of other blocs that are working to get as many of these posts as they can. They say that they are working to dismantle the deep state of Al-Maliki by stripping the Dawa party of all the positions that have been under its control for 14 years , but the truth is that they will just replace it.
“They promised to nominate independents who had nothing to do with them, but that does not mean the nominees are not fully subservient to them.”

FASTFACTS

The Islamic Dawa Party, which has led four of the six governments in power during the past 16 years, has controlled most of the most important positions and organizations by appointing its followers to run them by proxy.


Beirut wakes up to a nightmare after port explosion kills 135

Updated 54 min 41 sec ago

Beirut wakes up to a nightmare after port explosion kills 135

  • Cost of damage estimated at $15 billion
  • Port officials under house arrest

BEIRUT: Most people experience nightmares only when they sleep. On Wednesday, Beirut woke up to one.

The once bustling port area of the Lebanese capital, the site of Tuesday’s massive explosions, lay in ruins. Amid the flattened remains of warehouses, one of which had been used for years to store 2,750 tonnes of confiscated, highly explosive ammonium nitrate, all that remained standing was the twisted, mangled ruin of a grain silo, its precious contents now unusable.

Farther into the city, where the shock wave from the main blast caused devastation over a radius of more than five kilometers, residents mourned the dead, continued to search for missing loved ones and surveyed the ruins of their homes and businesses.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud estimated the cost of the damage at up to $15 billion, an impossible amount for an already bankrupt economy. Maroun Helou, the president of the Lebanese Contractors Syndicate, estimated that about 50,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged.

The official death toll rose on Wednesday to 135. More than 5,000 people were injured and dozens are still missing, many of them believed to be port workers buried under the rubble at the heart of the explosion. The Lebanese flag flew at half-staff across the country as a mark of respect for the victims.

Lebanese Red Cross chief George Kettana described the blast and its aftermath as “an unprecedented disaster.” He added: “Seventy-five of our ambulances have transported 100 dead and more than 4,000 injured so far and there are (still people) missing.”

Surgeons continued to operate on the injured on Wednesday, after hospitals were overwhelmed on Tuesday. Some of the wounded told how they were taken to hospital on motorcycles driven by passers-by because ambulances were unable to reach them.

Security forces cordoned off central Beirut to prevent theft and looting. The few pedestrians that could be seen found it difficult to walk on streets covered in shattered glass.

One shop owner said: “I experienced all the wars that took place in Beirut, and the attacks against it, but I have never witnessed such devastation in my life. How will we survive? Everything has been destroyed. We are tired. We want salvation.”

Eleven members of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, who were on boats anchored at the port, were injured by the blast. They were taken to Sidon for treatment, as emergency departments in Beirut struggled to cope with the flood of wounded. The tourist ship Orient Queen sank in the port. Two crew members were killed and seven injured.

Pierre Ashkar, head of the Syndicate of Hotel Owners in Lebanon, said: “Ninety percent of Beirut’s hotels have been damaged and there are large numbers of wounded people in hotels, including employees and customers.”

Although silos used for storing wheat — which were rebuilt 15 years ago after suffering damage during the Civil War — were destroyed in the blast, analysts said this is not expected to cause a bread shortage. One expert said: “Wheat will not be stored during reconstruction of the silos. Instead, it will be unloaded from ships directly to trucks that will transport it to the mills.”

The Lebanese cabinet, which met for an unscheduled meeting on Wednesday, has declared a state of emergency lasting two weeks, which gives the military the authority to maintain national security. It also ordered that all those responsible for the management, storage, guarding and scrutiny of the chemicals in the warehouse at the port be placed under house arrest, and vowed that those responsible for the explosion would be identified.

While visiting the port to survey the damage, President Michel Aoun said: “The city of Beirut has turned into a disaster city. But the enormity of the shock will not prevent us from carrying out investigations and revealing the circumstances of what happened as soon as possible, holding the officials and inattentive people accountable and imposing the most severe penalties against them.”

A senior judge instructed the General Directorate of the Internal Security Forces to carry out swift investigations into the circumstances of the explosion, including identification of those tasked with ensuring the safe storage of the chemicals, and those in charge of maintenance work reportedly being carried out at the warehouse shortly before the blast.

The details of the confiscation of the ammonium nitrate about six years ago are still somewhat unclear. The port’s general manager, Hassan Koraytem, said there had been correspondence about the chemicals at the time of the seizure and guards were assigned to them, but that port authorities had no authority to move or dispose of them. He added that the judiciary had issued instructions for a gap in a gate to be closed to protect the chemicals from damage or theft and this was implemented by port authorities.

There have been suggestions that welding work at or near the warehouse caused a fire that triggered the explosion.

Meanwhile, messages of support and promises of aid poured in from world leaders. The cabinet was informed that French President Emmanuel Macron will visit Lebanon on Thursday to “stress solidarity with the Lebanese in the ordeal that befell them.”

In a call to Prime Minister Hassan Diab, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged “the support of the United States for Lebanon, and its willingness to provide urgent assistance,” the PM’s office said.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri also visited the scene of the explosion. He was greeted at the nearby memorial to his father, Rafic Hariri, by protesters tried to throw stones at him.
Meanwhile dozens of aircraft loaded with medical aid, including field hospitals, were sent to Lebanon by Arab and other foreign countries.

However, Suleiman Haroun, the president of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals, said: “The stock of medical supplies for hospitals is exhausted. We do not need field hospitals, but rather tools and supplies.”