Mustafa Al-Kadhimi wants Iraqis to achieve the change they want — through the ballot box

Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has put the onus on 25 million voters on Iraq’s electoral roll to choose representatives wisely if they want to see change. (AFP/File Photos)
Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has put the onus on 25 million voters on Iraq’s electoral roll to choose representatives wisely if they want to see change. (AFP/File Photos)
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Updated 29 September 2021

Mustafa Al-Kadhimi wants Iraqis to achieve the change they want — through the ballot box

Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has put the onus on 25 million voters on Iraq’s electoral roll to choose representatives wisely if they want to see change. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Iraqi PM has been exhorting compatriots to turn out in large numbers to cast their ballots on Oct. 10
  • The country has been divided into constituencies following the adoption of a new electoral law last year

DUBAI: As the countdown begins to Iraq’s parliamentary elections on Oct. 10, some political parties are hoping that the voting-age population will overlook their history of broken promises and succumb to their blandishments. The onus is on the 25 million voters on Iraq’s electoral roll to choose their representatives wisely if they want to see different results this time around.

That message is being hammered home by Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, Iraq’s prime minister, via tweets and public statements, concurrently with appeals to voters to turn out in large numbers on election day. “Our dear Iraqi people. For the sake of yours & your children’s future, I urge you to get your voter registration cards,” he said in a tweet on Sunday.

“Your votes are a responsibility that shouldn’t go to waste. Those wanting reform & change should aim for a high voter turnout. Your votes are the future of Iraq.”

In a tweet on Sept. 24, Al-Kadhimi called on Iraqis to cast their ballots judiciously so that mistakes of the past are not repeated. “Don’t trust fake promises, and don’t listen to threats and intimidation,” he said. “Defeat them with your votes, in free and fair elections. Together we move forward towards a future that Iraqis deserve.”




Al-Kadhimi listens as US President Joe Biden speaks during a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on July 26, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

Few Iraqis could have known better than Al-Kadhimi how slim the chances were, until now, of major change occurring through the ballot box. Following the re-introduction of parliamentary elections in 2005, Iraqis did not vote for individual candidates, but for patronage-friendly lists — or tickets — that competed for the seats in each of the 18 provinces.

With the adoption of a new electoral law last year that divides the country into constituencies, independent candidates now have an opportunity to compete for the 329 parliamentary seats. That being said, the electoral system has bred deep disillusionment with a political class that has proved either incapable or unwilling to provide security and good governance, fix the economy and heal sectarian and religious divisions.

“Although Iraq’s political elites have shown little willingness to change, some acknowledge that opening the political field for reform may be the only way to prevent another mass outburst, whose consequences could be far more damaging,” Lahib Higel, a senior Iraq analyst for the Crisis Group, said on Twitter.

She added: “In order to restore public confidence in the short term, the government must facilitate a safe environment for elections, where new political actors can compete without fear of losing their lives.”




In a tweet on Sept. 24, Al-Kadhimi called on Iraqis to cast their ballots wisely so that costly mistakes of the past are not repeated. (AFP/File Photo)

Before Al-Kadhimi, five politicians had held the prime minister’s office in Baghdad since 2005, but none of them was able to make progress in ending corruption, raising living standards, creating jobs and opportunities for young people, or providing security.

Admittedly, not all the failures can be chalked up to individual incompetence.

Iraq’s sectarian power-sharing system has stood in the way of the political reforms demanded by protesters who took to the streets of Baghdad in October 2019. Although assassinations and the pandemic put a damper on the protests, parties from across the ethno-sectarian spectrum continued to be viewed as only interested in keeping their positions of power.

Since the beginning of 2020, COVID-19 has infected over 2 million Iraqis, leaving more than 22,000 of them dead, according to Worldometer data. The rapid spread of the disease has put tremendous strain on Iraq’s battered healthcare system.




Al-Kadhimi (R) receiving Dubai's Ruler and UAE Vice President Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum (L), upon his arrival at the airport in the capital Baghdad. (AFP/File Photo)

Falling oil prices in 2020 caused by the pandemic upended Iraq’s budget, which remains heavily dependent on crude exports. On top of everything, the leadership has had to face challenges in the form of paramilitary groups, remnants of Daesh and violations of Iraq’s territorial integrity by neighboring states.   

Clearly, the task of restoring hope remains as daunting as ever, but as long as Al-Kadhimi is in charge, Iraqis at least have reason not to despair. On his watch, a key demand of the anti-government protesters who took to the streets in 2019 — that the government bring forward elections originally scheduled for May 2022 — has been met.

In foreign policy, one of the biggest successes has been the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership of Aug. 28. It was attended by high-level delegations from France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar and the UAE in addition to the general secretaries of the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.

That the Iraqi prime minister managed to bring so many heads of governments and organizations under one roof, even if for only one day, was undoubtedly a major achievement. The assurance of support from the international community that Al-Kadhimi evidently enjoys will probably continue to be his strong suit going forward.

Being seen as a rare safe pair of hands means that friends of Iraq, mindful of the competing interests that Al-Kadhimi has to juggle, are willing to cut him some slack, particularly in how he deals with the security and administrative challenges posed by the country’s unruly Shiite militias.




Being seen as a rare safe pair of hands means that friends of Iraq, mindful of the competing interests that Al-Kadhimi has to juggle, are willing to cut him some slack. (AFP/File Photo)

If Al-Kadhimi returns as prime minister after the October elections, analysts believe the government is likely to stick to the current non-sectarian tack.

“His performance so far has proved that he is capable of doing it. Among the political figures who have tried it so far, Al-Kadhimi has demonstrated the most dexterity,” wrote Yasar Yakis, a former foreign minister of Turkey, in an op-ed this week for Arab News.

For his part, Al-Kadhimi, aware of the many political constraints of his job, has been reminding his compatriots that they have to do their bit too if they want a brighter future.

“Protecting our nation and upholding our integrity can’t be achieved by turning a blind eye to errors,” he said via Twitter on Tuesday. “The Iraqi people upheld the values of justice, tolerance and sacrifice throughout history. They deserve a dignified life in the democracy they have chosen.”

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. That old dictum is a reminder of the slight comparative advantage that Iraqis have in spite of all the hardships they face.


Kuwait’s emir launches process for amnesty pardoning dissidents

Updated 5 sec ago

Kuwait’s emir launches process for amnesty pardoning dissidents

Kuwait’s emir launches process for amnesty pardoning dissidents
KUWAIT: Kuwait’s ruling emir on Wednesday paved the way for an amnesty pardoning dissidents that has been a major condition of opposition lawmakers to end a months-long standoff with the appointed government that has paralyzed legislative work.
Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah tasked the parliament speaker, the prime minister and the head of the supreme judicial council to recommend the conditions and terms of the amnesty ahead of it being issued by decree, Sheikh Nawaf’s office said.

Syrian army shelling kills at least 11 civilians

Syrian army shelling kills at least 11 civilians
Updated 20 October 2021

Syrian army shelling kills at least 11 civilians

Syrian army shelling kills at least 11 civilians
  • Among the casualties were several school children

AMMAN: At least 11 civilians died on Wednesday in a Syrian army shelling of residential areas of rebel-held Ariha city, witnesses and rescue workers said.
The shelling from Syrian army outposts, which came shortly after a roadside bomb killed at least 13 military personnel in Damascus, fell on residential areas in the city in Idlib province.
Among the casualties were several school children, witnesses and medical workers in the opposition enclave said.


13 killed in Damascus army bus bombing: state media

13 killed in Damascus army bus bombing: state media
Updated 20 October 2021

13 killed in Damascus army bus bombing: state media

13 killed in Damascus army bus bombing: state media
  • Images released by SANA showed a burning bus

DAMASCUS: A bomb attack on an army bus in Damascus killed at least 13 people Wednesday in the bloodiest such attack in years, the SANA state news agency reported.
“A terrorist bombing using two explosive devices targeted a passing bus” on a key bridge in the capital, the news agency said, reporting an initial casualty toll of 13 dead and three wounded.
Images released by SANA showed a burning bus and what it said was a bomb squad defusing a third device that had been planted in the same area.
Damascus had been mostly spared such violence in recent years, especially since troops and allied militia retook the last significant rebel bastion near the capital in 2018.


Those who want to stop Beirut port blast probe are involved in the crime, say activists

Those who want to stop Beirut port blast probe are involved in the crime, say activists
Updated 20 October 2021

Those who want to stop Beirut port blast probe are involved in the crime, say activists

Those who want to stop Beirut port blast probe are involved in the crime, say activists
  • Civil society members stage a sit-in outside the Justice Palace to show ‘solidarity with the judiciary’

BEIRUT: Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the investigation into the August 2020 port explosion, resumed investigations on Tuesday after being notified by the Lebanese Civil Court of Cassation of its second decision to reject the request submitted by the defendant in the case of MP Ali Hassan Khalil.

Normal service resumed at the Justice Palace in Beirut after a long vacation. The Lebanese army guarding roads leading to the palace and Ain Remaneh, which was the arena of bloody events on Thursday, over protests to dismiss Bitar from the case. The repercussions of these events have affected the political scene, its parties and the people.

Civil society activists under the auspices of the “Lebanese Opposition Front” staged a sit-in outside the Justice Palace to show “solidarity with the Judiciary carrying out its national duties and support for Judge Bitar to face the threats.”

Speaking on behalf of the protestors, activist Dr. Ziad Abdel Samad said: “A free and sovereign state cannot exist without a legitimate authority, judiciary and justice.”

Abdel Samad urged “the defendants to appear before Judge Bitar, because the innocent normally show up and defend themselves instead of resorting to threats.”

“We have reached this low point today because of a ruling elite allied with the Hezbollah statelet, protected by illegal arms.

“They want to dismiss Judge Bitar in all arbitrary ways and threats because he has come so close to the truth after they managed to dismiss the former judge, hiding behind their immunities because they know they are involved in the crime.”

Abdel Samad claimed that “those making threats are involved in the crime.”

Regarding the Tayouneh events that took place last week, he said: “They took to the streets to demonstrate peacefully, as they claimed, but they almost got us into a new civil war as a result of the hatred and conspiracies against Lebanon.”

Lawyer May Al-Khansa, known for her affiliation with Hezbollah, submitted a report at the Lebanese Civil Court of Cassation against the leader of the Lebanese Forces party, Samir Geagea, Judge Bitar and “all those who appear in the investigation to be involved, accomplices or partners in crimes of terrorism and terrorism funding, undermining the state’s authority, inciting a strife, and other crimes against the law and the Lebanese Constitution.”

Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah on Monday night waged an unprecedented campaign of accusations and incitement against the Lebanese Forces party and its leader.    

Nasrallah accused them of being “the biggest threat for the presence of Christians in Lebanon” and said they were “forming alliances with Daesh.”

In a clear threat to Geagea and his party, Nasrallah bragged in his speech of having “100,000 trained fighters,” calling on Christians to “stand against this murderer.”

Nasrallah accused Bitar of “carrying out a foreign agenda targeting Hezbollah in the Beirut port crime” and of “being supported by embassies and authorities, turning him into a dictator.”

During the parliamentary session on Tuesday, no contact was made between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces. However, a handshake was spotted between the Lebanese Forces’ MP Pierre Abu Assi and the Amal Movement’s MP Hani Kobeissi.

Minister of Culture Mohammed Mortada, who represents Hezbollah, said “Hezbollah’s ministers will attend the ministerial session if Prime Minister Najib Mikati calls for one, but the justice minister and the judiciary must find a solution to the issue of lack of trust in Bitar.”

Several calls were made on Monday night between different political groups to prevent escalation and calm the situation.

Efforts are being made to reach a settlement that allows Bitar to keep his position and for defendants in the Beirut port case — who are former ministers and MPs — to be referred to the Supreme Judicial Council for prosecution.

Elsewhere, parliament dropped the proposal of a women’s quota ensuring female participation through  a minimum of 26 seats.

It passed a move to allow expats to vote for the 128 MPs and dropped the decision to allocate six additional seats representing them.

The parliament’s decision angered Gebran Bassil, who heads the Strong Lebanon parliamentary bloc. Following the parliamentary session, Bassil referred to “a political game in the matter of expats’ right to vote, which we will not allow to happen.”


European court raps Turkey over presidential ‘insults’ law

European court raps Turkey over presidential ‘insults’ law
Updated 20 October 2021

European court raps Turkey over presidential ‘insults’ law

European court raps Turkey over presidential ‘insults’ law
  • Thousands have been charged and sentenced over the crime of insulting President Erdogan in 7 years

STRASBOURG, France: Europe’s top human rights court on Tuesday called on Turkey to change a law regarding insulting the president under which tens of thousands have been prosecuted, after ruling that a man’s detention under the law violated his freedom of expression.

Vedat Sorli was given a suspended 11-month jail sentence in 2017 over a caricature and a photograph of President Tayyip Erdogan that he shared on Facebook, along with satirical and critical comments.

There was no justification for Sorli’s detention and pre-trial arrest or the imposition of a criminal sanction, the European Court of Human Rights court said.

“Such a sanction, by its very nature, inevitably had a chilling effect on the willingness of the person concerned to express his or her views on matters of public interest,” it said.

The criminal proceedings against Sorli were “incompatible with freedom of expression,” the court added.

Thousands have been charged and sentenced over the crime of insulting Erdogan in the seven years since he moved from being prime minister to president.

In 2020, 31,297 investigations were launched in relation to the charge, 7,790 cases were filed and 3,325 resulted in convictions, according to Justice Ministry data. Those numbers were slightly lower than the previous year.

Since 2014, the year Erdogan became president, 160,169 investigations were launched over insulting the president, 35,507 cases were filed and there were 12,881 convictions.

In a prominent case earlier this year, a court sentenced pro-Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas to 3-1/2 years for insulting Erdogan, one of the longest sentences over the crime, according to Demirtas’ lawyer.

The court said Turkey’s law on insulting the president affords the head of state a privileged status over conveying information and opinion about them.

It said the law should be changed to ensure people have the freedom to hold opinions and impart ideas without interference by authorities in order to put an end to the violation it found in Sorli’s case.

10 diplomat summoned

Separately, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors of the US and nine other countries to protest a statement they issued that called for the release of imprisoned philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala.

Kavala, 64, has been kept behind bars for four years, accused of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government through the 2013 nationwide demonstrations that started at Istanbul’s Gezi Park. He has also been charged with espionage and attempting to overthrow the government in connection with a failed military coup in 2016.

The ministry said the ambassadors were told that “the impertinent statement via social media regarding a legal proceeding conducted by independent judiciary was unacceptable.” Turkey rejects the attempt to “politicize judicial proceedings and put pressure on (the) Turkish judiciary,” it continued.

“Turkey is a democratic country governed by the rule of law that respects human rights, and it was reminded that the Turkish judiciary will not be influenced by such irresponsible statements,” the ministry added.