Ten years have passed since Saddam Hussein was removed from power, following more than three decades of tyrannical rule. The dream of Iraqis after Saddam’s fall was that they would be able to build a new, prosperous and democratic Iraq. To establish a country at peace with itself and with its neighbors, with a constitution upholding basic human rights and the rule of law, was the desire of almost everyone.
But the United States and its allies, who lacked a coherent vision of Iraq’s future, much less a sound policy for the post-Saddam era, declared Iraq an occupied country and appointed an American administrator to run the country. This administrator, Paul Bremer, soon decided to dismantle all existing security, military and media institutions. He also introduced a law on de-Baathification, which evicted members of the Baath Party from official positions without allowing them legal recourse. This paved the way for a sectarian reaction and, ultimately, for communal violence and unrest.
These unfortunate – and ultimately disastrous – events created an unstable foundation in a strategic country that is at the heart of a highly troubled, yet vital, region of the world. As Iraq moved through progressive phases of mismanagement during the subsequent 10 agonizing years, the country began to fracture. This shattered the dreams of Iraqis who saw their beloved homeland once again sliding toward authoritarianism, with almost daily violations of the constitution taking place. The world watched as this situation unfolded, seemingly helpless to do anything about it.
Iraq’s last general election, in 2010, brought hope of recovery in the form of a power-sharing agreement among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, which was supposed to ensure that the country did not revert to dictatorship. The Al-Iraqiyya bloc, which I lead, was the largest electoral bloc to emerge from that vote. But, despite our success, we agreed to give up the leadership position afforded by the constitution in the belief that a power-sharing system and respect for the rights of all Iraqis was the only formula for governing the country democratically. These hopes, however, soon vanished, as Iraq’s two-term prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, subsequently reneged on the agreement.
Today, the very human rights that were guaranteed by the Iraqi constitution are being violated, with a politicized judiciary routinely abused and manipulated in order to justify the actions of the prime minister. Instead of keeping the Maliki government in check, the courts only facilitate its quest to accumulate ever-greater power.
Making matters worse for Iraqis, public services have deteriorated to a dismal level, and unemployment is rising sharply, despite public expenditure in excess of $500 billion over the seven years of Maliki’s rule. Sectarianism and racism have become a regular feature of the political landscape. Corruption is rampant, and Baghdad is now considered one of the worst places in the world to live.
If Iraq continues along its current and disastrous path, the inevitable outcome will be mayhem and civil war, with dire consequences for the entire Middle East. Yet Iraqis continue to hope for a better future.
The advent of a new electoral cycle, which begins with local elections in April, may provide another opportunity to put the country on the right path. But that can happen only if the voting is free and the counting is fair.
The current government, however, is unable to supervise free and fair elections. Significant measures must be taken, including the active involvement of neutral international agencies and observers to keep the government in check and ensure that voters can have their say. We are hopeful that Iraqis, who have had their fill of sectarian political parties, will be allowed freely to choose candidates who embrace a nonsectarian and nonracist agenda.
Given a new law limiting senior officials to two terms in office, we also hope to see new and accountable leaders in positions of power. I am certain that power-sharing, reconciliation and accountability are the only way forward for Iraq. Let us hope that this spring – 10 years after the American invasion and Saddam Hussein’s downfall – brings Iraq a new and constructive beginning.
Ayad Allawi was Iraq’s first prime minister after the fall of Saddam Hussein (2003-2005), and he oversaw Iraq’s first free election. He now leads the Al-Iraqiyya bloc in the Iraqi parliament. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate © (www.project-syndicate.org).