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What Can Adel Abdul Mahdi Do?

What Can Adel Abdul Mahdi Do?

Sunday, 18 August, 2019 - 07:45

Adel Abdul Mahdi is a politician for stable countries: He is calm, open and pragmatic. The problem is that Iraq is not like stable countries, the numbers of which are dropping. He plays in the middle while the country is being stretched to extremes.

On the surface, some improvements can be noted in daily security in Iraq. Some varying achievements have been made in the agriculture and electricity sectors.

However, the volcanoes under the surface are much too powerful to be snuffed out by the good intentions of the prime minister. They include the vast and deep Iranian presence, coupled with the parallel state imposed by the Popular Mobilization Forces. Add to this the partial American presence and the remnants of the ISIS group, which remains sizable. Crises are still pending over the distribution of oil revenues and corruption remains rampant. We must not forget that the government lineup is still incomplete in a process that started in 2018.

The situation in Iraq therefore appears similar to the one in Lebanon where the foundations of the country, namely the state and army appear powerless against the statelet and its army.

The signs of incapacity are many, the last of which was the retraction of the decision to withdraw the PMF’s 30th brigade from Nineveh. For the thousandth time, it became clear that implementing official orders that would lead to the state’s control over the instruments of violence, was still a pipe dream. The PMF was, therefore, formed to remain and expand. The “mysterious Babel corpses” and other “known” ones may increase.

As in Lebanon, so-called “moral” issues are brought up in Iraq to fill the political vacuum. The PMF plays an influential role in this regard. This was demonstrated in the outrage over the female violinist who played at a football game in Karbala or the questionable “inappropriate” attire of some people in Kirkuk.

The absence of the main elements that make a state renders governing a form of dialogue and Abdul Mahdi is good at dialogue. Much of politics, however, is imposed through stubbornness and unyielding stances rather than dialogue. This was an approach adopted by former PM Nuri al-Maliki. Moreover, there are concerns today that one dialogue would lead to an endless other, leaving Iraqis with nothing but patience for the light at the end of the tunnel.

To make matters worse, Abdel Mahdi uses the stairs when moving forward, while Iran and regional developments are using the escalator. If we believe the Israeli story, Iran is dragging Baghdad by the hair to a war, which can be avoided, through its rockets factories and military bases in Iraq. It is no longer a secret that the Israelis are following the same approach they have adopted in Syria in Iraq where they have targeted Shiite militias affiliated with Tehran. They have done this on at least two occasions. Analysts and observers in Tel Aviv have meanwhile said that Iran has transformed Iraq into a “logistic passage.”

Israel’s Haaretz reported that Iran was providing Iraqi militias with precision-guided rockets that can reach any target in Israel. This may possibly be an attempt to compensate for the losses of platforms in Syria to attack Israel that were struck by Israeli raids. Latest reports said Israeli jets had struck Iranian rocket shipments in Iraq that were on their way to Hezbollah. If the reports are true, then Iraq would have turned from a “supporting country” - a role it played in the old Arab-Israeli conflict – to a “confrontation country” in the new Iranian-Israeli conflict.

This can be added to the escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran and may pave the way to a significant shift in developments and possibly even war, Iraq’s most reviled form of conflict.

A new war in Iraq would be a massive crime. The country had to contend with a history of strife and military coups, the massacre of Assyrians and Farhud Jews and the ongoing assault against Kurds. It also had to deal with ISIS. Iraq in the last 25 years of the 20th century witnessed the greatest number of wars in the world and suffered the greatest number of losses.

This has resulted in a composite country that is made up of several components and very little consensus. This was the case before, during and after the American invasion. Faisal I once famously said: “There is still – and I say this with a heart full of sorrow – no Iraqi people but unimaginable masses of human beings, devoid of any patriotic idea.” Since 1958, and especially after 1963, the reasons for fragmentation and division increased. Saddam Hussein ultimately suppressed these contradictions with force and left them to lurk in the background. They came out in the open when his regime collapsed. There are as many “nationalities” in Iraq as there are sects and ethnicities.

Given these challenges, toning down ideological rhetoric is key to survival in Iraq. It should not be pushed to the extreme, which is war. The Iraqis cannot live or lead a stable life with such extremes.

This suffering country needs, more than any other, an authority that can bar violence in all of its forms. Abdul Mahdi or any other well-intentioned politician is not up to this task. This deep decision lies in the hands of the Iraqi people and they will most likely ignore it.

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