Iraqis had to wait for more than five months after the parliamentary elections to form a new government. On the day of the announcement of the formation of the cabinet, they had to stay up after midnight for the announcement of two-thirds of the names of the new ministers.
They now have to wait two more weeks to learn about the names of the other one-third in the government. Due to this incomplete formation, the new cabinet came as a disappointment in terms of what it can do for the country, which has been greatly suffering for 15 years, in the next four years.
The elite return to power
The conditions of Iraq when the parliamentary elections were held and afterwards necessitated a speedy government formation and not delaying the process of forming a new government to replace the previous one which like its predecessors failed to carry out its basic tasks, such as improving public services and resolving the problems of unemployment, poverty and administrational and financial corruption.
These circumstances also made it imperative that influential forces form a strong government which everyone – including the parties which won in the elections – had publicly agreed that it appoints honest and competent experts without being impaired by the quota system which has been adopted in the distribution of state posts and functions and which has proven to be a total failure, as acknowledged by everyone.
This delay in forming the cabinet is one of the reasons for the outbreak of the strongest and largest protest movement in the history of Iraq last July, which started in the province of Basra which although it floats on a sea of oil, it has suffered from the lack of clean water for drinking and agriculture.
This delay was due to conflicts between powerful forces as they do not only aim to ensure their survival but also want to maintain their hegemony over state administrations – an influence that the election results showed it’s this time seriously threatened since 60 percent of voters expressed their apathy towards the electoral process which always brings the failed parties to manage the state. As for those who voted, the majority of them voted against traditional candidates belonging to powerful parties hence blocking the return of some of them to parliament.
All of this was a bad omen for the influential powers which are mostly Shiite and Sunni Islamist groups. Therefore, they tried to shuffle their cards again. First, they challenged the election results and the integrity of the election commission which was replaced by a new commission that recounted the votes in areas which raised suspicions but the result, which took weeks, remained the same. Thus began a long series of conflicts, schemes and clashes regarding the largest bloc to be entrusted with the formation of the new government.
It was not easy, but these forces found a way to agree on a neutral figure with no connection to them, but who was from the Shiite political class, which has been monopolizing the task of forming a government under the system of sectarian and national consensus that’s been agreed on since 2003. Adel Abdul Mahdi who was selected as prime minister had previously held ministerial positions and the post of vice president, and he was accepted by the two main players in the Iraqi arena: Iran and the United States.
New crown of thorns
In a maneuver to absorb popular anger over the electricity, water and jobs crises in southern Iraq, all powerful forces announced that they would leave Abdul Mahdi free to choose members of his government who meet the conditions of integrity, competence and experience. These traits were among the demands of the protest movement that was accompanied by unprecedented acts of violence.
At first, this announcement made it seem like the path of Abdul Mahdi would be paved with a red carpet and welcomed with flowers but when it was time to finally appoint members of the cabinet, Abdul Mahdi found himself besieged by conflicting wills of powerful forces, sometimes under the pretext of "the electoral merit" and sometimes under the pretext of merits based on sectarian and national concerns.
Out of the 14 picks– and who constitute two thirds of the cabinet – who won the parliament’s vote of confidence, only four or five ministers met the specifications of experience and efficiency. The rest were not assigned to suitable positions based on their competence. The same applies to the other one third whom the parliament did not vote on. As for integrity, which is one of the main conditions to be appointed as a minister in Abdul Mahdi’s cabinet, it’s not something that can be proven because during the discussion at the parliament, it turned out that Abdul Mahdi did not run the name of the ministers by the integrity commission and by the accountability and justice commission so they can look into the political history of the candidates, in relation to their connections to the former regime or terrorist groups. Some media outlets and social media pages have shared shocking information challenging the integrity of quite a few candidates and their political history.
More of the same
The list of ministers, of which some were endorsed while others were not, showed that they were actually chosen according to the quota system, and some of them are actually relatives of the leaders of the influential parties!
Abdul Mahdi has eight ministers left to add them to his government on November 6. If he chooses them they way he chose others, or if they are imposed on him, then he will likely doom himself and his government to failure as his government will not be any different or better than the previous failed governments. This will be the case as long as Abdul Mahdi’s cabinet is not free of the quota system, and this means that we are probably faced with four more lean years for Iraq.
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