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Iraq can rebuild itself – but only if the West sets it apart



Today, Iraq has a unique opportunity to break new ground in 15 years of chaos and upheaval.

After the defeat of the IS, the security situation is better than it has been for many years. Politically, there is a glimpse into an identity politics and a problem politics in different mutual electoral alliances. For example, Islamists associated with the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have teamed up with secularists affiliated with the Iraqi Communist Party. Many Iraqis today regard corruption as bad as terrorism, and the gap between elites and citizens has become more important than the gap between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

But despite these hopeful signs, the political class and Iraq's state institutions remain outdated; over 90 percent of political parties and electoral men running in these elections are the same. Instead of supporting the strengthening of institutions and political culture through methods such as new political parties or independent commissions to regulate electoral statutes, Iraq's foreign allies, from Washington to London to Brussels, seem to be more concerned with maintaining the status quo of the old elite.

The short-term logic is that in "exceptional circumstances" preferred political personalities can later repair the institutions. But this is a crucial mistake that has failed in the past in Iraq, devouring today's opportunities for reform.

This error is compounded by the tendency to promote elections as the most important process of state-building and democratization. Although the decision to hold elections punctually in Iraq is constitutionally mandated, international partners rushed too fast and threatened the opportunity to build new institutions such as political parties and civil society observers.

In a place like Mosul, where residents are staying Just to get out of a traumatic three-year period under ISIS, elections favors an old elite that can easily organize itself. New and emerging leaders, including teachers, engineers, social workers and civil society activists, have not been able to develop political platforms and institutions or mobilization strategies. As a result, over the next four years, the same leaders who fostered political dysfunction prior to IS's takeover of the city are likely to reign.

In the run-up to the upcoming elections, many analysts still insist on Western countries They should interfere in the subsequent government education process to ensure a moderate coalition of a mix of Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni elites. But this is the same failed strategy that Western countries received in 2006 and 2010 when they supported former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom they believed would then build the Iraqi state.

During two important processes of government formation, analyst Maliki argued that it was a break from sectarianism. US diplomats often praised the "more nationalistic Maliki". In 2006, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad Maliki, as Prime Minister, approved the statement: "Maliki has deep concerns about expanding Iranian influence in Iraq."

Then, in 2010, US Ambassador Christopher Hill argued: "In an Iraqi policy that is trying, albeit hesitantly, to move to a nationalist focus and move away from the sectarian policies that shaped the 2005 election, the [opposition] regarded INA as a strongly sectarian and religious Maliki SLA. "When Maliki formed the government in 2010, the White House" applauded a clear rejection of the extremists' efforts to encourage sectarian divisions. "

But Maliki's term as prime minister ended a failure when ISIS conquered a third of Iraq in the summer of 2014. Its excessive centralization of power and perceived sectarian, Iranian-based politics failed to build strong independent institutions. And many Iraqis remember Washington's role in assisting the former prime minister.

After all, the flawed process of supporting individuals and institutions rarely leads to effective state-building. Apart from the consequences they have with Maliki, the choice of personalities leads to a top-down legitimacy of the same leadership.

For the allies of Iraq, this process often seemed to be the easier option, as many were late in understanding bottom-up dynamics and the complexity of new and emerging social leaders. In addition, supporting individuals rather than building institutions reinforces the status quo of elites who can more easily mobilize.

As much as it may go uphill, the short 15-year history of the new Iraq has taught this foreign language interference in the formation of government does not create strong institutions, but consolidates the old, dysfunctional elite. Instead of interfering directly and choosing preferred leaders, Iraq's international partners must better understand long-term political trends and help create independent institutions that create a level playing field and hold the elite accountable.

This piece was originally published by Chatham House.


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