Monday, February 22, 2021

Review The Struggle For Iraq’s Future, How Corruption, Incompetence and Sectarianism Have Undermined Democracy

Al-Ali, Zaid, The Struggle For Iraq’s Future, How Corruption, Incompetence and Sectarianism Have Undermined Democracy, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014

The Struggle For Iraq’s Future, How Corruption, Incompetence and Sectarianism Have Undermined Democracy is Zaid al-Ali’s diatribe against the Iraqi ruling class that came to power in 2003. Zaid came from an Iraqi exile family and returned after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He worked for years as a legal adviser to the United Nations on drafting a new Iraqi constitution and legal and parliamentary reform. It gave him an insider’s view of how the country’s new politics worked. What he found was incompetence, corruption, and an elite that didn’t care about the welfare of the public. Zaid’s book lays out a devastating account of how Iraq got to this point.


Ali starts out by making a comparison between the original ruling class from the 1920s to today’s politicians. The Iraqi government was created by the British after World War I. London said it was creating a constitutional democracy, but the king actually had wide ranging powers to overrule and disband the government. The rich controlled the state and ignored the populace which was mired in poverty. The author thinks the country’s current politicians are much the same. The new Iraqi state was put together by the Americans, the elite are mostly exiles that followed the U.S. into power, the government is supposed to be a democracy but lacks the social contract where the public provides the funds for the state via taxes and in return Baghdad serves their interests. That’s been abrogated because Iraq gets almost all its revenue from oil which goes directly to the government. Public employees are also the largest part of the work force leading the elite to think everyone should answer to them. This is the first major argument of the book that Iraq has never had a representative government. The rich made up of either the landlords of the monarchy or the political class of the present have ruled and feel entitled to the nation’s wealth with only paying lip service to the public good.


The next part of The Struggle For Iraq’s Future covers the background to the new rulers. They are almost all exiles who had no real base within the country, had little to no experience in government and didn’t even have an ideology for how they wanted to shape the country. They put their family and friends in office, created patronage networks using the state for their followers, and began stealing everything they could since there was no oversight or penalties for such crimes. Ali has one chapter on their misrule and another on their looting. As Ali Allawi who served in several administrations said the state was “corroded, inefficient, incompetent and corrupt” as a result. This is a widely held view by the Iraqi public as well who have taken to the streets the last several years to complain about the mismanagement of their country.


The last important part is about the 2005 constitution which the author believed completely failed to lay down divisions of power and resolve major issues the country was facing. First, Ali covers the chaotic and time constrained process the documented was drafted under. The constitutional committee was only given three months to finish when other countries in similar situations took a year or more. The final draft was made in secret by a leadership council that made major changes from what the original committee wanted. It also allowed the two main Kurdish parties to dictate many of the terms on federalism and how the constitution was to be passed or not. It never laid out important details such as the differences between making laws and regulations or the division of power between the different branches of government. The result was a very weak and vague document which simply allowed the ruling parties to continue with their misrule. Ali writes that it was designed to create a dysfunctional system and has accomplished that. One can’t expect to have rule of law in Iraq if the constitution is so flexible it allows the prime minister, ministers and others to do almost anything they like.


The Struggle For Iraq’s Future is full of example after example of how Iraq’s government does not work. It doesn’t provide services because there are no penalties for not doing so. The parties steal at will because they will never be prosecuted. The one failure of the book is that Ali’s solutions are not realistic. He argued for a new constitution to be drafted that would deal with all the nagging issues the nation faces. There is no reason why the elite would do that however because it would threaten their prerogatives. Then he called for politicians to move away from sectarianism and launch a national reform campaign based around elections. Again as long as the ruling class benefit from the way things are there is not going to be any change. The only real hope for the country maybe to wait for the current group of politicians to pass and for younger ones to come up who are not so wedded to the status quo. That may even take more than a generation since running Iraq offers such wealth and amenities.


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