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Abdul Mahdi and the Iraqi Fireball

Abdul Mahdi and the Iraqi Fireball

Monday, 8 October, 2018 - 10:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

A few months ago, no one expected that Adel Abdul Mahdi would be asked to form the Iraqi government, despite his natural presence in the club of prominent Iraqi politicians. The reasons are many. Many felt that Dawa Party, which held this post for a long time through Nouri al-Maliki and then Haider al-Abadi, would not abandon such a critical position in the Iraqi state.

There are those who believed that Abadi would be the lucky man in a new tenure because the victory over ISIS was achieved during his premiership. Others saw in Abadi the perfect guarantor of coexistence between the Iranian influence and the American power on the Iraqi land.

Abdul Mahdi was probably well-aware of these facts. Months ago, he wrote an article in Al-Adala newspaper- overseen by him- apologizing in advance for not assuming the post of prime minister if it was assigned to him. Abdul Mahdi talked about the lack of the necessary conditions for success because of quotas, non-independence, conflicts and the absence of a vision, a plan and an approach. His analysis seemed realistic. The Iraqi situation is very complex and the Iraqi balances are very difficult.

However, the balances created by the recent elections and the ruptures within the Iraqi components finally led to Abdul Mahdi catching the fireball, following the election of Barham Saleh as president of the Republic. It is not surprising that Abdul Mahdi feels intimidated by his new mission. He was a partner in the post-Saddam Hussein era, became familiar with its problems, afflictions, and practices that added a heavy burden to the heritage of the Saddam period.

From his early presence in the governing council to his assumption of the ministry of finance and the posts of vice president and oil minister, Abdul Mahdi was in daily contact with the political, security and economic files. He knew that trying to resolve those matters was like walking through a minefield without a map.

The Iraqi opposition was trying to convince the world and itself that Iraq’s problem was limited to the existence of a tyrant named Saddam Hussein… that the ousting of the tyrant would immerse the Iraqi components in love and harmony… and that the elections would open the door to the establishment of a state worthy to be named as such, and modern and productive institutions that would help Iraqi citizens recover from feelings of oppression and marginalization and engage in a national workshop to restore dignity and decent living, and to regain Iraq’s unity and status in the region and the world.

It soon became clear that the Iraqi political forces were not ready to undertake such a large-scale mission. The winners were drenched with greed that does not allow for the restoration of the national equation. The losers were hit with frustration that prevented them from joining a formula that would limit their losses. The problem persisted despite several electoral rounds that failed to refine the political process and save the institutions from their weaknesses.

Abdul Mahdi knows that Iraq needs a massive reconstruction plan. Iraq’s national will must be rebuilt so that the country can regain the immunity it was lacking since the overthrowing of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The only way to accomplish this task is to restore the formula for coexistence. This process should be implemented on the basis of citizenship and equal rights and duties, away from the logic of dominance and monopoly on power.

A true Sunni-Shiite partnership in daily life and in major decisions is a must. The Arab-Kurdish partnership must also be revived based on the Constitution and its provisions. If successive governments have done their duty to maintain this partnership, the Iraqi army would not have collapsed in Mosul as we have seen, and the language of confrontation between Baghdad and Erbil would not have been renewed.

The task of the new government is not less than the recovery of Iraq and its people. The re-concentration of Iraqi institutions under the umbrella of the Constitution is a necessary first step to put an end to external intrusions into the Iraqi body. It makes no sense for Iraq to remain an arena for Iranian-American confrontation on its soil. This step is even more important given that relations between Washington and Tehran are heading for a new hot season, especially after oil sanctions become effective in the first week of November. Allowing the continuation of the policy of moving pawns on the Iraqi territory threatens to cause major damage to Iraq’s security and economy.

It is no longer a secret that in the post-Saddam era, Iraq has been subjected to unprecedented looting that has compounded with the losses imposed on the country during Saddam's military adventures. It is not normal at all to witness such poverty, unemployment and poor services in a country that supposedly floats on oil fields. The task is not easy at all. The network of interests established by years of corruption has deep roots in Iraqi minds and institutions. Abdul Mahdi is required to use the strength of citizens who have suffered from the absence of the obvious conditions for living, including drinking water and electricity.

Abdul Mahdi will not import ministers from another planet. They will come from the political forces; but he must be tough in rejecting the corrupt, who consider the state an open source for the children of their families and the group to which they belong.

Adel Abdul Mahdi knows Iraq. He knows the winds that crashed on his land. He passed through the Baath party and left. He joined communism and Maoism and left. He joined the Islamic trend through the “Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution”, and he is now in an independent position. He tested ideas and tasted capitals. After Baghdad, he lived in Damascus and Beirut, then in Paris and Tehran. His study of political economy in France qualifies him to deal with the problems at the table of his government. His stay in Iraqi Kurdistan in the 1990s enables him to understand the Kurds’ concerns and problems. Abdul Mahdi knows the story of Iraq. He was present at the pivotal moments. One day, civil administrator Paul Bremer decided to convince a number of members of the governing council that Saddam’s page had been turned. He took them to the Baghdad airport building. The US soldier woke up Saddam who was resting on his bed. He saw himself in front of Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Pachachi, Adel Abdul Mahdi, Muwafaq al-Rubaie and General Sanchez, commander of US forces in Iraq. Saddam was tireless during the meeting because he was fighting the Americans, as he said. The conversation saw harsh words. Rubaie told Saddam: “You are cursed in this world and in the Hereafter.” He replied: “Shut up, you traitor, agent.”

It may not have occurred to Abdul Mahdi at the time that he would one day be called to heal the wounds of more than an era and that assuming the premiership task would be like receiving a fireball.

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