Thursday, October 16, 2008

Political Intrigue and the Cholera Outbreak

There have been 230 cholera cases in Babil (10), 73 in Baghdad (1), 61 in Diwaniya (9), 50 in Basra (6), 39 in Karbala (11), 9 in Najaf (12), 8 in Anbar (13), 3 in Maysan (5), 2 in Irbil (16), 2 in Muthanna (8), 1 in Wasit (4), 1 in Diyala (3)

As of October 14, 2008, there have been 479 confirmed cases of Cholera in Iraq. That is up from 418 on October 5. The worst hit province has been Babil with 230 cases, followed by 73 in Baghdad, 61 in Diwaniyah, 50 in Basra, 39 in Karbala, nine in Najaf, eight in Anbar, three in Maysan, two in Irbil, two in Muthanna, one in Wasit, and one in Diyala. The outbreak has been concentrated in the south, but has recently spread west to Anbar and north to Irbil. The first cases were reported in August 2008. There have been a total of eight deaths so far.

Babil has been at the center of the outbreak since the beginning. The blame seems to be due to the actions of several Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) officials in the province. The Health Ministry bought $11 million worth of chlorine from Iran to purify the water in Diwaniyah, Karbala, and Babil to prevent cholera. Officials in Diwaniyah and Karbala noticed that the expiration dates had passed, so they did not use the chlorine. SIIC officials in Babil did anyway. Hence, the most cases have been found there.

Police moved in and arrested several officials in Babil as a result who were members of the SIIC’s Badr Brigade militia. The SIIC demanded their release, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused. Frustrated, members of the Badr Brigade then forced local police in Babil to release one of the SIIC officials.

This is not the first, nor worst cholera outbreak in Iraq, but it does show the continued power of the political parties over law and order. In 2007, Iraq had a much worse cholera situation that affected over 3,000 people. Although more widespread this time, the 2008 outbreak has not affected nearly as many. More important is the fact that it has spread in Babil due to the incompetence of local SIIC officials. To make things worse, the Badr Brigade then intimidated the police into releasing one of their arrested brethren. After the 2005 elections, the victorious parties doled out government positions to their followers, creating a vast patronage system. Many officials were chosen for their connections rather than capabilities, and the councils and ministries were treated like personal fiefs. The SIIC-Babil incident shows that some parties still see themselves as above the government, and feel like they have the right to set their own rules and ignore laws and procedures when they see fit.

For more on the cholera outbreak see:

Latest United Nations Numbers On Cholera Epidemic

Cholera Cases Multiplying

Cholera Outbreak In Iraq


Babylon & Beyond Blog, “IRAQ: Lots of rivers, not enough water,” Los Angeles Times, 9/7/08

Cockburn, Patrick, “Corruption blamed as cholera rips through Iraq,” Independent, 10/10/08

IRIN, “Cholera deaths rise to eight as disease spreads,” 10/15/08
- “Over 400 confirmed cholera cases so far,” 10/6/08
- “Two more cholera cases confirmed,” 9/8/08

Ucko, David, “Militias, tribes and insurgents: The challenge of political reintegration in Iraq,” Conflict, Security & Development, October 2008

World Health Organization, “Cholera in Iraq - Update,” 9/29/08

Xinhua, “Iraq reports more than 400 cholera cases,” 10/6/08

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