Iraqis are excited for the upcoming parliamentary election in October, the fifth since the US invasion in 2003 and the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Weeks ago, the government completed the election plan and organizational procedures, deploying 500 international and UN observers to guarantee a safe and smooth electoral process. This election, which will be held earlier than its originally scheduled date mid-next year, will generate a 328-member parliament.
So, why is this election of utmost importance to the Iraqi people?
First, its conduct on an earlier date resulted from the popular protests that shook the political system and brought down Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government a year after its formation in 2018. People took to the streets to express their anger about poor services, widespread corruption in public institutions, negligence, and poor accountability and oversight. Despite having occupied several key positions, such as Vice-President and Minister of Defense, Interior, and Oil, Abdul Mahdi could not do anything other than withdraw from the rage-filled political scene. President Barham Saleh was once again before the daunting task of forming a new cabinet, which would eventually be headed by Mustafa al-Kadhimi, whose name was proposed to lead the transitional stage.
Iraq has complex, deep-rooted problems. First and foremost is corruption, followed by illicit enrichment, embezzlement of public funds, sectarian partisanship against specific categories of the Iraqi society, and a law that is incapable of protecting people and their rights. Since corruption is a far-reaching, octopus-like evil, al-Kadhimi knew he needed the international community to help him sever the bonds connecting the corrupt at home and abroad, with the help of distinguished international entities and organizations and with the non-biased cooperation of Arab and non-Arab states to resolve this issue and bring home the funds deposited outside Iraq. Fighting corruption meant fighting a multi-headed monster and suffering the consequences, as many of these heads had big names: deputies, ministers, elites. Taking on this particular class was much more impactful than going after some other, inferior thieves.
Countries may get drained after armed conflicts or environmental disasters, but nothing eats away at the foundations of the state and snatches away its opportunities for growth and the advancement of human capabilities like corruption. Al-Kadhimi understood that the transitional period is short but intense. He realized that he has limited chances of making a change in Iraq’s present, and perhaps even in its future. Since assuming his post, al-Kadhimi had one main preoccupation: restructuring the financial system and reducing corruption. He achieved this by taking audacious measures that no other Iraqi official dared take in decades, such as forming a senior committee of inquiry into major corruption and criminal cases, which has the power to arrest any suspected figure through a special government force. Indeed, dozens of officials were arrested.
Some may argue that among the corrupt were figures that belong to untouchable armed militias; and, as such, the fight against corruption is futile if it is going to be selective or incapable in the face of some “backed” names. However, though the arrest of the Popular Mobilization Forces’ Al-Anbar Commander Qassem Mosleh four months ago under the anti-corruption law ended with his release after his group rioted, this move was like a dream for those who lived through the drowning of Iraq in financial and administrative corruption by the Baath first, then post-US invasion governments. This rich Arab country was dropped to the bottom of the abyss, finding itself today with no medication, power, clean water, or safety.
Al-Kadhimi was able to make huge strides forward to ensure Iraq gets the international and regional cooperation and solidarity it needs to build state institutions on solid foundations. He called a conference that brought together various neighbors of Iraq who agreed, despite their differences, on the need to extend their hand to the new Iraq seeking a renewed position at the global stage. Arab states, headed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, warmly welcomed the Iraqi change vis-à-vis the Arab region.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited Baghdad for the first time after three decades of estrangement, loaded with major economic files. For its part, Saudi Arabia, Baghdad’s most influential neighbor yet the one most affected by developments in Iraq, saw its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meet with al-Kadhimi in Riyadh. The meeting agreed on the formation of a $3 billion joint investment fund and a Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council that oversees the implementation of agreed projects in the transportation, renewable energy, infrastructure, and electricity sectors. The shuttle visits of Saudi officials (including the Foreign, Interior, Commerce, and Transportation Ministers) to Iraq in the last few months prove the Kingdom’s serious desire to support Iraq.
So, once again, why is this election of utmost importance to the Iraqi people?
It’s because the results will determine whether Iraq will keep going on the path of political and economic revival that Mustafa al-Kadhimi had started, and whether the popular protests had an actual impact on the political scene.
Iraq deserves a rebirth, and the Arab duty to support it is indisputable, to ensure Iraqi citizens remain the key actor in the change process and the whole picture through the figures they will choose as their representatives.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.