Al-Sudani and the Gulf

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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Iraq deserves our most genuine wishes for a way out of the dark tunnel and into normalcy. We can only hope that the most recent political transition will be the end of the country’s long journey of sorrow that started with the rise of Saddam Hussein, who dragged his country into futile wars that sowed the seeds of many of the crises plaguing the region today.

At the helm of Iraq’s government today is Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, a little-known figure despite his long history of partisan and political work. His acquaintances say he has little interest in being in the spotlight, which makes the upcoming stage in Iraq’s politics difficult to judge.

Rumors say the prime minister is close to Iran. Facts ascertain that he is close to those who are close to Iran. Yet, this should not be enough to label him as such. At the end of the day, al-Sudani is today the prime minister of Iraq, a key and large Arab neighboring country.

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His promises to focus on domestic issues and develop the state’s administrative systems and executive mechanisms are a beacon of hope that sees Iraq marching toward success and away from external polarizations and currents.

Iraq is poor state with a rich government. With a $100 billion budget, al-Sudani’s government stands to be the richest in the history of the country. The premier will face the challenge of how to spend that budget while surrounded by corruption. After all, money is not everything. The country suffers from a plethora of problems, starting from Shia and Sunni militias that exist outside state authority and enshrine the rule of jungle law, to the widespread corruption that paralyzes the state more than terrorism ever did, to foreign interventions that emerge like parasites, feeding off of the central authority’s weakness.

It may have been 20 years since Saddam left and 10 since the US did, but Iraq still has a long way to go, and it needs to achieve security, political stability and good governance, and begin reconstruction.

As for the problem of external pressures and foreign dependence, no one expects the new prime minister and leadership to throw Iraq into the arms of Saudi Arabia, Iran, or the US. A fully-sovereign Iraq falls in the best interest of the Iraqis and the region in general. After all, the lack of sovereignty has been the core reason for the continued failure of states like Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Somalia, and others.

Outgoing President Barham Saleh, ever the optimist, said: “I am the ninth president in Iraq’s modern history, and all of us, presidents and prime ministers, went to our homes when our terms ended, not to prison, which means a lot for us in Iraq.”

As for foreign affairs, Baghdad can play a positive role regionally in terms of calming tensions in the Gulf and the crisis in Syria, or even with Turkey, given its geopolitical status and its interconnected issues with its neighbors. Or, at the very least, it can take a neutral stance. There are no winners in wars. So, can the new prime minister lay the foundations for such an important role that encourages toward having a prosperous and stable region?

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

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