It seems that the message sent by public protests in Iraq was not received hence the purpose was not achieved. It is as if there was no message in the first place to reach the addressed who is no other than the powerful political class in Iraq that even after five months of the parliamentary elections is struggling to form a new government.
The government could have been formed within a month or even less. Now perhaps it will take another month or more to complete the task, a pattern repeated every four years and having taken place for the fourth time in a row.
Less than two months after the elections, a protest movement erupted in Iraq, the strongest in its history. These protests claimed more than 20 lives and left hundreds wounded. In recent weeks, the toll has increased, as a number of civil activists were kidnapped and some were killed, including women, especially in Basra — the city that has been the center of the protests.
Impervious to public protests
It was assumed that this movement would have been sufficient to push the powerful political class towards hastening government formation with the intention of meeting the protesters’ pressing needs. Their demands included first and foremost the basic provisions of electricity, clean water, agriculture, health care services, as well as legislative action entailed by the election process, particularly the formation of a new government.
Yet the influential political class did not show necessary diligence in the matter. When the results of the elections were announced, dozens of objections and complaints were made within the context of competition and power struggle among influential parties.
What hinders the formation of a government in Iraq is a collective effort of the political class to maintain the system of quotasAdnan Hussein
In order to answer and resolve these appeals and objections, the former parliament made the decision to suspend the Electoral Commission’s work and to form a new temporary commission that was entrusted with the job of manual recounting of votes in many electoral sectors and centers. This delayed the announcement of the final results for three months, which in turn postponed the legislative functions.
In fact, the first day of the new parliament was deemed an “open session” due to its inability to reach an agreement on the individual to be elected as the Speaker of the House of Representatives along with his two deputies. This was a clear constitutional violation, which violated a previous decision of the Federal Court which four years ago adjudicated that the first session of the House of Representatives must not be an open one because this is contrary to provisions of the Constitution.
However, as is the norm for the powerful political class, it acted in contempt of the law as what matters to them is to reach a consensus among them on the sharing of influential positions according to the system of quotas. This system is one of the reasons leading to the outbreak of protest movements in recent months, as well as similar movements going as far back as 2010.
Addiction to quotas
Four years ago, the government of Haider al-Abadi went through a similar process. It took months for it to be formed and ended up into a division between the coalition of the State of Law and the Islamic Da'wa Party due to a conflict between Abadi and the coalition and party leader Nuri al-Maliki who wanted to renew his term for a third time after serving two previous terms. Maliki’s terms ended with a major disaster for Iraq and its people as ISIS occupied a third of Iraq’s territories and established itself as an entity. The war to eliminate it lasted for three years (some of the organization’s remnants are still active in some areas).
Since then there has been no president or leader of a political organization in Iraq that has not repeatedly voiced his disdain for the quota system and vowed to work against it and avoid falling into its trap. Yet, the ongoing process of forming a new government contradicts the very principle previously extolled by these leaders. In fact, what hinders the formation of a government in Iraq is the collective effort of the political class to maintain the quota system and to share the positions of government and other higher state posts according to that very system.
The quota system will again be a decisive factor in the formation of the new government. The position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives did not go to any person that was not a Sunni. And as usual the president is Kurdish and the prime minister is Shiite. It is important to note that this system is unconstitutional as it is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution which champions the principles of equality, justice, and equal opportunity and commits the state to guaranteeing them.
To sum up, the political process that has been undergoing in Iraq since 2003 is currently reproducing itself, and those in charge of it are rotating themselves for the fourth time in 12 years. Of course, the powerful political forces and their leaderships will be delighted by this result, unaware of the fact that it will, in turn, drive the Iraqi community into further hating this process and the officials in charge of it.
According to official data of which the veracity is highly doubted, the elections in May were boycotted by about 60% of the electorate, exceeding the boycott witnessed by the 2014 elections. The recycling of the political process and its outcomes necessarily means a higher level of hatred for this process and the parties in charge of it.
This has been expressed in the protests which took place in the city of Basra and elsewhere, where the protesters headed towards the headquarters of influential parties (often Islamic) and demanded their closure as well as the expulsion of their representatives in the provincial councils.
In fact, it appears that these forces have neither grasped the content nor realized the significance of this powerful message.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Adnan Hussein is the executive editor-in-chief of Al-Mada newspaper and head of the National Union of Iraqi journalists. Previously, he has held the position of Managing Editor in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. He tweets under the handle @adnanhussein