The real face of democracy in Iraq

The Iraqi election last month resulted in endless squabbling within the political parties.

June 17, 2018 21:37
3 minute read.
The real face of democracy in Iraq

Iraqi people show their ink-stained fingers after casting their votes at a polling station during the parliamentary election in Basra, Iraq May 12, 2018.. (photo credit: ESSAM AL-SUDANI/ REUTERS)

Iraq’s 1958 revolution resulted in the fall of the Hashemite monarchy. Since that day, democracy has been grossly neglected.

In the late 1970s, the Baathist regime took power in Iraq, promising serious reforms and implementing democratic elections in Iraq, yet the elections were completely undemocratic and no opposition parties remained.

After the US invasion of Iraq, it was assumed that democracy would flourish in Iraq and reforms in Iraqi institutions would help build a new democratic and free Iraq. The US implemented a de-Baathification process that led to many Sunnis losing their positions in the new Iraq, but the effort to create a new and democratic state instead resulted in sectarian war and a destabilized Iraq with a tumultuous political climate. This led to the rise of terrorist organizations and militia. Still, despite the conflicts, the democratic process within Iraq was being implemented to some extent and it was hoped it could be a model in the Middle East.

In its precarious state, Iraq is a target for militias and neighboring countries pursuing their interests by meddling in Iraqi internal policies and sovereignty.

Iraq faces Turkey’s military incursion in the northern region of the country in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, as well as the PKK’s invasion of areas in west of the country in Shingal, the home of the Yezidis. On the eastern side of Iraq, Iran maintains full control over the border security and administration process. All of the conflicts in different parts of the country make the country extremely unstable, leading to a democracy susceptible to external powers as well as internal corruption.

The Iraqi election last month resulted in endless squabbling within the political parties; the defeated parties accused the IHEC of fraud. The victors opposed a vote recount; Iraqi political parties give lip service to democracy only when it benefits them.

Generally in Middle East – and specifically in Iraq – civilians pay the price when politicians cannot reach agreements. As a result of the parliament’s decision to implement the manual recount at all polling stations in Iraq, several bomb blasts rocked Sadr city in Baghdad, where the winning coalition is headquartered (Al-Sairoon). A major polling station in Baghdad was burned.

Democracy in Iraq is a tool wielded by the political parties in power, who use it as a populist bargaining chip. A similar dynamic is taking place in the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.

Another challenge to democracy in Iraq is the issue of free speech and the absence of neutral media. There were many closures of the Sunni and Kurdish media in Baghdad and areas in south of Iraq by the Iraqi government, which accused the media of spreading propaganda and fomenting sectarian conflict. The same strategy against opposition media was implemented by the Kurdish government in the Kurdistan region when the population started to protest against the regional government. Democracy in Iraq is extremely restricted; the concept exists only until it harms the control of the government or the political leaders over the population.

The Iraqi government and parliament implement articles of the Iraqi constitution only when they are perceived to serve the interest of the Shi’ite parties in Baghdad and Iran; The constitution is completely ignored in situations that do not favor the government or the political leaders.

Since 2005, democracy has been a tool used by the country’s pro-Shi’ite leaders in Iraq to placate the Western media, to project a positive picture of a successful democratic Iraq to the world. In reality, though, Iraq is grossly deficient in terms of implementing truly democratic procedures that could help the unstable and crippled country to stand on its own again.

The writer, a political analyst from the Kurdistan region of Iraq, is a master’s degree candidate in International Business Management and Economics from Coventry University in United Kingdom.

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