Global Policy Forum

Politics Start to Lose Luster for Iraqis

Agence France Presse
March 30, 2005

Iraq's unfruitful second parliamentary session stirred anger on the streets of Baghdad Tuesday and raised fears that the body's paralysis could damage the country's ambitions for democracy and cost it victory against the deadly insurgency. Two months after a historic vote, Baghdadis watched the newly elected body's second session fail to pick a speaker and degenerate into a shouting match, causing them to question what they had risked their lives for by voting.

"It just shows that the parliament is a body rife with contradictions and struggles from the get go and it will not be able to guide Iraq to the safe shore," said lawyer Nizar al-Samarrai, a Baghdad-based analyst and Sunni from Samarra. "It is a bad omen and bad start for the national assembly."

The January 30 elections had been hailed by many as a turning point in Iraq's battle against a violent insurgencyh and had embued the country's post-Saddam Hussein power structure with a desperately sought legitimacy. But now as Iraq's Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis bargained tortuously over cabinet posts, with no apparent end in sight, the election's luster has started to dim.

Many worry that if Iraq's diverse mix of ethnic and religious groups fail to find a way to live together, it would discredit democracy in a country that has a tradition of authoritarian regimes. "The danger is we may not get an agreement among the various (political) blocs. As a result, what you have is a paralyzed process," said Ali Allawi, a former defense minister under Iraq's US occupation administration.

Allawi warned that the provision in the US-sponsored interim constitution that the government be elected through a presidency council chosen by a two-thirds majority in the parliament had effectively crippled the government. "It allows for all kinds of diversions and digressions ... This is one of the general causes of frustration among the public."

And that frustration was in ample display Tuesday as police blocked off streets and searched cars in central Baghdad. "Iraq's interests are being harmed. We took risks the day of the election when we went to cast a vote even though we thought we could die," said 32-year-old motorist Fahmi Mohammed. "We want to put an end to this business so that security will improve. These delays damage the stability."

Lawyer Omar Samarrai, 30, expressed similar anxieties. "If there is no agreement in the parliament and they continue like this, they won't reach an agreement. Delays mean failure," said the lawyer. "Eight million people voted in hard conditions. All of this seems like it was a big lie. I think they are working in secret to get just what they want alone. If it stays like this, the eight million voters will be transformed into insurgents against them."

Walking in the deserted streets, abandoned amid fears of a rebel attack, 50-year-old Abed Saidi hoped for normalcy. "We are here today after two years of occupation filled with blood and hardships. We want to put an end to this and have no more troubles," he said as the capital's omnipresent black helicopters roared overhead.

But such hopes for peace seemed illusory amid the parliamentary deadlock, which hinged on the new government's king-making Kurds, with 77 assembly seats, finally agreeing with the top vote-getting Shiites on a cabinet line up. "The Kurds have all the time in the world ... They have real leverage because they are not in a hurry in the short term," said Joost Hilterman of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank.

The election had raised hopes of creating a new social contract among the Shiites, Kurds and the country's disgruntled Sunni minority. But the longer Iraq goes without a new government, the greater the chance for insurgents to feed off discontent and attempt to discredit the post-Saddam era. "We're getting deeper into a vicious circle instead of out of it. The election had promised to get us out by having an elected government."

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