Al-Kadhimi… The man with a dream too big for Iraq

Ghassan Charbel
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This time, fingers cannot point to the “remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime,” nor to ISIS, nor to “the Great Satan.” This is the work of those whom Muqtada al-Sadr calls “the forces of the non-state.” The fingerprints are clear, and the sun is shining bright.

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The targeting of Mustafa al-Kadhimi comes as no surprise. The man who turned post-US invasion Iraq around knew what to expect. He placed himself in the eye of the storm, and the verdict has been pronounced. He has committed acts that deserve brutal punishment. He led the coup that seeks to restore the Iraqi state’s capabilities that had been crushed under the weight of violating forces, and that’s no easy feat. It cannot be done so simply. Nobody in their right mind expected the disturbed forces to concede their privileges and greed so easily.

Mustafa al-Kadhimi comes from the world of information and interpretations. He knows all the local, regional, and international aspects of the game too well. He is no adventurer or gambler. Well aware of the obstacles and traps on his way, he moved forward slowly and wisely, just as an explosive clearance expert tackles a mine field: defusing first, then circumventing or postponing when defusing is not possible. Yet, he never once moved forward without keeping his eyes on the road or abiding by the rules of a minefield. For every step forward, he took a step backwards; for every advance, a retreat; for every action, an initiative; yet never once compromising the core of his battle: restoring the Iraqi state.

With his studied words and calm manners, he tried to use the help of an actor that had been marginalized by the sounds of rifles in the past few years: the regular Iraqi citizen, with his fears and bitterness and without any affiliation other than his belonging to the silent, patient majority. Arguably, the dream of a normal Iraqi state was revived in the minds of a considerable number of Iraqis. A normal state where a police officer is a police officer and a court is a court, where decisionmaking happens in elected legitimate institutions with the primary aim of defending the security, interests, stability, and prosperity of Iraq and its citizens.

Al-Kadhimi was pained whenever he heard that an Iraqi drowned in a “death boat” trying to reach the European paradise, or that an Iraqi was arrested in this or that country after fleeing the Iraqi hell. He was pained because Iraq already has all the conditions for prosperity and a dignified life if the state reclaims its presence and role and jumps on the forward-looking global wagon.

Al-Kadhimi knows that the catastrophe began when the concept of an “Iraqi battlefield” was enshrined in the stead of the “Iraqi state”. He knows that a battlefield is synonymous with failure and violations, for it allows the transformation of the Iraqi battlefield into a frontline for proxy wars, a rocket launching platform, and a bargaining chip in regional developments, throwing any stabilization, investment, and prosperity opportunities out the window. A battlefield means Iraq remains a fragmented state that’s constantly threatened by internal wars, poverty, and alienation from its regional and international environments.

Instead of its portrayal as a battlefield for proxy wars, al-Kadhimi painted a picture of Iraq as a bridge between regional powers; a land of dialogue and partnership and a stability project in a long war-torn region that failed to catch up as the world moved toward progress and successive technological revolutions. In harmony with President Barham Saleh’s ideas, and with the help of Iraq’s position in the hearts of Arabs and the world, al-Kadhimi began his attempts to fix Iraq’s regional and international relations. Some militias worried about his rebalancing policy that empowers the state to address the region and the world with the uniform voice of state institutions without supervision from factions and their anti-state rhetoric.

Al-Kadhimi knows Iraq has no interest in antagonizing Iran. He knows geography and understands the composition of Iraq. However, he also sees no interest in an Iraq that’s affiliated to Iran and submissive to its decisions. With a realistic and calm approach, he promoted Iraq’s right in addressing the countries of the region and the world from a state-to-state perspective, refusing to yield to the dangerous game often played on the outskirts of the Green Zone and the echoes of wayward missiles in the skies of Baghdad and Erbil.

Domestically, al-Kadhimi committed another “crime.” He denied the right of mysterious-yet-straightforward forces to murder all those who oppose them. His policies helped expose the forces that speak to young men who take to the streets with silencers and daggers. His insistence on investigating crimes unveiled the “death squads” that pursued activists and revealed that some murderers barricade themselves behind officials in suits and security agencies, which was a terrible thing indeed. Some forces were betting on leaving no footprints in the crime scene, sure that the state would not dare lift prints or talk about them. The calm man disappointed the expectations of the barons of arms, allowing the average Iraqi to find out who the real makers of the catastrophe is.

Al-Kadhimi used the weapon of conviction and patience, but he lacked no resolution in restoring the morale of military and security agencies to encourage them to face the looming threats. His reconciliatory approach helped lower sectarian tensions, which he rushed to contain whenever they threatened to break out again.

The state’s reputation gradually improved, so did its foreign reputation. But going back to the Iraqis themselves to choose their representatives and clarify their directions was paramount. Hence, the elections came as a response to the demands of the Iraqi people and a test of the improvement of the state project in citizens’ eyes.

Some militias were surprised that their arsenals could not force ballot boxes to swear allegiance to them. They doubted the integrity of the elections, contradicting both Iraqi and international observers. Exposed by election results and knowing that the challenges they submitted lack convincing ground, the militias accused al-Kadhimi of election fraud. Thus began the intimidation and terrorizing on the outskirts of the Green Zone. The militias that believe in rifles and missile instead of persuasion and voting are a school in using force to twist facts, addressing both citizens and the state with a battlefield discourse, and drafting decisions with the barrel of a rifle outside the government and parliament.

Only the insistence on Iraq as a battlefield explains the explosives-laden drones that attempted to assassinate al-Kadhimi, who lives on the epicenter of the Iranian-American earthquake. Luckily for Iraqis and Iraq’s friends, the attempt failed. The Arab and international reactions are sure to increase the isolation of those who use the rhetoric of explosives, drones, and assassinations. However, this does not mean they won’t try other ways. After the elections, Iraq stands at a crossroads: the government either carries on with its project to restore the state or yields to the logic of the battlefield. This is the wager and the test. Al-Kadhimi committed the crime of awakening the state project; a crime that earned him the praise of the people and the severe punishment of militias. Some believe al-Kadhimi laid the cornerstone for restoring the Iraqi state. Other believe he’s a dreamer who’s too big for Iraq.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

Read more:

Iran-backed militia used Iranian-made drones in attack on Iraqi PM: Sources

Iraqi PM al-Kadhimi says he knows those behind assassination bid, will pursue them

Iraq PM speaks out after attempted assassination, photos show attack aftermath

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