In Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s bold plan to revitalize a country ravaged by war may provide stability – or it could undo it all.
More than a decade after being invaded by the U.S., Iraq is moving away from the democracy the West tried to establish in the country.
On the streets of Baghdad, and in other corners of Iraq where locals have endured almost unimaginable chaos and tragedy over the last decade, two popular phrases capture the complexities of modern life.
“We used to have one Saddam Hussein, now we have a thousand,” one saying goes. The other: “The patch is small, and the hole is big.”
The first adage helps personify what has become endemic corruption in Iraq, giving rise to massive protests against public officials’ exploiting their positions to steal money and the government’s failure to stop it. The second represents the inherent fear among Iraqis that no leader, particularly in the current government, possesses the vision to see beyond the country’s existing problems and come up with a proactive solution in service of Iraq’s future.
The sentiments reflect the concerns of demonstrators who have taken to the streets in recent days in frustration over the government’s inability to deliver basic services like a reliable flow of electricity at a time when summer temperatures have topped 120 degrees. The largely peaceful and nonsectarian protests, set against the urgency of war with the Islamic State group, prompted Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to announce a bold set of anti-corruption reforms over the weekend aimed at making the government more effective. The seven-point plan attacks fraud and waste in key areas of the political, national security and leadership infrastructure where Abadi, a Shiite Muslim, sees some of the most flagrant abuses.
Some consider it the beginning of a labyrinthine path to actual reform. For others, it suggests a power grab by Abadi, who may have just laid the foundation to oust encroaching rivals, consolidate power and build his base of support.
Regardless, in a country defined by autocrats, the move almost certainly marks the official death of the model of democracy the U.S. attempted to impose over a decade of war.
“Iraqis in general blame the U.S. government [for choosing to] fund, train and support the present, corrupt Iraqi government,” says Kamal Jabar, an Iraqi-American human rights activist and journalist who recently returned to the U.S. from Baghdad and has been closely monitoring the tenor of the protests in and around the capital city. Many of the protesters on the streets celebrated the news, he says, but Iraqis have learned to temper their optimism.