Friday, August 15, 2014

The Challenges Facing Iraq's New Prime Minister

Iraq Prime Minister-Designate Haider al-Abadi
Guest Contributor, Dr. T. Hamid al-Bayati,  was Iraq’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 2006 to 2013.  He is currently Adjunct Professor in the Graduate Program, Department of Political Science, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA. Ambassador al-Bayati's most recent book is From Dictatorship to Democracy: An Insider’s Account of the Iraqi Opposition to Saddam. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Since parliamentary elections were held in Iraq in April 30, people in Iraq, the region and the world held  their breath, waiting to see if a defiant Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki would continue to rule Iraq for a third term. Despite wining roughly 30% of the seats in the April elections, Maliki had made many enemies during his two terms as prime minister. Thus it was not at all clear that he would be successful in serving a third term.

For example, the president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), Masoud Barzani announced after the elections that, if Maliki remained in power, the Kurds would hold a referendum with the goal of declaring an independent state.  Some Sunni Arabs in Mosul and other areas of  north central Iraq, including some politicians in Baghdad, stated publicly that they would prefer the rule of  the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to that of Maliki.

PM Designate Haider al-Abadi greets Pre Fouad Masoum
While negotiations for choosing a new prime minister were ongoing, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) surprised not only the Iraqi government but the entire world when it managed to take over Mosul, Anbar, and Salah Al-Din provinces within a few days time.  The ISIS threat grew  as its forces were even able to  threaten, Baghdad, Iraq's capital, and Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. 

Despite winning 30% of the vote, Maliki faced much opposition within the Shi'a community as well. The majority of Iraqi Shi'a, and their political parties, such as  Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq (SIIC)), the Sadrist Current (al-Tayyar al-Sadri), and others, blamed Maliki for the Iraqi government's failure to stem the ISIS attack and for his divisive policies that many argue laid the basis for its military successes. Meanwhile, in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, bombings and violence have continued to increase. 

In short, in June and July, Iraq was on the verge of a full scale civil and sectarian war between the Sunnis and the Shi'a, on one hand, and between the Arabs and the Kurds, on the other hand.  There was increasing discussion of Iraq's disintegration and the possibility that it might fragment into three parts.  That would mean the end of a country that had been united for almost a century.   Thus, the problems and challenges that Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi faces are enormous, complex, and chronic in nature.

I have known Haider al-Abadi since we were classmates in elementary school in Baghdad. We were neighbors and we used to play football on the same team.  Later we both joined al-Da'wa al-Islamiya Party (Islamic Call Party) when we were teenagers,  At times, we were both members in the same secret cell of that party.

I left the Da'wa Party after some differences developed within the party leadership in our neighborhood in Baghdad's al-Karada district.  Nevertheless, Haider and I remained friends and we also have a family relationship.

After being imprisoned and tortured, I fled Iraq and lived in the United Kingdom where Haider had already moved. We both lived in Manchester and completed our Ph.D degrees at Manchester University. After we finished our studies, Haider and I moved to London where we worked against Saddam’s regime. I organized a group of 10 Iraqi leaders who represented different political groups, that included Haider, and we met every month in London from 1995 to 2003.
I can describe Haider as a highly educated and successful professional.  I can also vouch for the fact that he is an honest person.  However in Iraq, most of the problems that arise in the government come from the advisers surrounding political leaders and not from the leaders themselves.

In April 2006, I became the Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations when Dr. Ibrahim al-Ja'fari was the Prime Minister.  In December of that year, Nuri Al-Maliki became Prime Minister.  In September 2007, he came to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly meetings.  

During his stay at the UN,  I told Maliki that I had to be frank with him and say what I think, rather than what he might like to hear (as we say in Arabic, "Your friend is the one who tells you the truth and not the one who agrees with you").  I told him, "You are the Prime Minister of Iraq and not the Prime Minister of  the Da'wa Party. Therefore you have to have people around you who represent the Iraqi people and all their different ethnic, religious and sectarian backgrounds."

Maliki asked: "What can I do?  Even President Bush told me that the people around me should be close to me."  I responded by saying: "I am not talking about your chef de cabinet or your secretary but about your advisers. You should select advisers from the Sunni Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen, and Assyrian-Chaldean Christian communities, and you should have experts in all fields who are well known and highly respected both inside and outside Iraq."

That evening, I dropped Nuri al-Maliki at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Manhattan's Battery Park.  When I went to pick him up the next morning, he told me in the secret service limousine that he had decided to listen to my advice and that he had already telephoned people in Baghdad to implement my suggestions.  Unfortunately, the Prime Minister's staff did not ultimately include the best quality advisers, nor did it reflect Iraq's sectarian and ethnic diversity.

The biggest challenge facing the new Prime Minister will be to select a team of advisers who have the capability to give him the appropriate advice and the courage to tell him their actual views and policy recommendations. The Chinese have a saying: "To be a member of a group of lions is better than to be a head of a gang of rabbits."

Prime Minister al-Abadi's second challenge will be to repair the damage in relations between the central government and the Kurdish Regional Government. The Kurds have enjoyed a semi-independent status since 1992, after Saddam Husayn withdrew his forces and government personnel from Iraqi Kurdistan.

During the conference of Iraqi opposition forces that was held in London in December 2002, in which I was one of a 6 member preparatory committee that included the recently elected Iraqi President Foaud Masoum, we agreed that federalism would be the best way to have Iraq's Kurds remain part of Iraq and not seek an independent state. We also agreed that federalism should exist within a unified Iraq, should not be based exclusively on ethnic, sectarian or religious bases, and should be the right of all Iraq's citizens.

PM al-Abadi and Parliament Speaker  Salim al-Juburi

The third challenge facing Haider al-Abadi will be to repair the relations between the Iraqi government in Baghdad and Iraq's Sunni Arab population who feel that, since 2003, they have been marginalized, oppressed and deprived of their rights.

It is very important for the new prime minister to recognize that the Sunni tribes and the Awakening Movement (Sahawat al-'Iraq) fought the al-Qa'ida terrorist organization when Iraq was about to slip into sectarian warfare after the terrorists blew up the holy shrines in Samarra in February 2006.

The fourth challenge will be to implement reforms in the running of the Iraqi government, so as to fight corruption, improve security and build the necessary infrastructure to provide services to the Iraqi people such as water, sewage, electricity and employment opportunities.
The fifth challenge is international rather than domestic and will require repairing the relations with regional and international powers, especially Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE, as well as the United States.  Prime Minister al-Abadi will need a strong team and not just a single individual to shape Iraqi diplomacy in a way that will enable Iraq to establish a new era of strong relations with the countries of the region and the world.

There are Iraqi experts in all fields throughout the world and Prime Minister al-Abadi should invite them to visit Iraq and select those who would like to help their country and its people, without the expectation of salaries or official positions.    

Now that Iraq has selected Prime Minister-Designate Haider al-Abadi, who I know will form an inclusive and national unity government, we Iraqis hope that the United States and other members of the international community will help us move forward in defeating terrorism and building a new, democratic Iraq.

1 comment:

sattar adday said...

"Prime Minister al-Abadi will need a strong team" and "The biggest challenge facing the new Prime Minister will be to select a team of advisers". Yes this is really a big problem facing Iraq not from 2003 but before it. The Iraqi State lacked experts advisers whom improves a good governance, construct state and pursue national unity.
Thank you Dr. Al Bayati
Dr. Abdul Sattar Jabur