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Iraq: No Exit!

Iraq: No Exit!

Sunday, 1 May, 2022 - 08:30

Lebanon is another Iraq, or maybe Iraq is another Lebanon, same thing. “Paralysis” and “impasse” are the two terms that describe the situation in Iraq, and Lebanon too.

That comes 19 years after the US war and Saddam Hussein’s ouster from power.

Failure to elect a president, and there are tons of candidates. Total failure to form a new government six months on from the general elections.

Sectarian fragmentation is expanding, and its contagion has been spreading within the country’s sects and groups: who speaks for the Shiites and chooses the prime minister, Moqtada al-Sadr or the Iranian-backed Coordination Framework, which, until recently, had been questioning the legitimacy of the elections? And who speaks for the Kurds and chooses the president of the republic, Barzani’s KDP or the Talabani’s PUK? And who represents the Sunnis, Mohammed al-Halbousi and Khamis Khanjar, who are allied with Sadr and Barzani, or Muthanna al-Samarrai and Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who are allied with Nuri al-Maliki and the Coordination Framework?

But what do we find outside the world of politics and sects?

These are a few of the past few weeks’ developments: A journalist and an actor were imprisoned for criticizing corruption in the military. The Iraqi Artists Syndicate warned against losing “the only fruit of the fall of the previous regime, that is, freedom of expression.” The Shiite Endowment Office launched a fierce campaign against the series “Watan” (Homeland), claiming that it is offensive to the Hawzah (Shiite seminary), its men, and every one of the “followers of the Ahl al-Bayt (People of the {Prophet’s} House).”

The judiciary is not doing well: that, at least, is what the impression one gets from the “deals” that clear the records of politicians and clan leaders who had been accused of corruption and terrorism. Making matters worse, these accusations could themselves be corrupt, as they go back to Maliki’s era and are directed at his opponents, whom, as is typical of the man, he wanted to avenge.

The 2021 Iraq Country Report on Human Rights Practices submitted by the US State Department to Congress less than a month ago discusses several forms of severe human rights violations. It accuses Iraq state agencies of “unlawful or arbitrary killing.” The report also highlighted severe restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, threats directed to journalists, and dangerous limitations on online freedom and the right to assembly. It also referred to the different ways in which women’s freedom and movement are being impeded, and the forced repatriations of internally displaced persons to areas where their lives had been threatened.

It also refers to “documented cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” in detention facilities run by the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense, as well as the Popular Mobilization Forces' recruitment and illegal exploitation of children.

Besides the many other ways in which it is losing out today, Iraq is paying a heavy price in two regards: the first is the result of the 2019 revolution’s collapse.

A research paper published by Chatham House, an independent policy institute headquartered in London, asserts that: “As the demonstrations that dominated Baghdad and the towns and cities of southern Iraq from October 2019 onwards showed, politically sanctioned corruption is one of the major drivers of popular alienation in Iraq. Until meaningful constraints are placed on such corruption, Iraq’s ruling elite will find it difficult to re-establish any form of popular legitimacy or stabilize the country.” The ruling elite will not establish this kind of popular legitimacy; it will continue to expand the space occupied by the corruption emanating from the sectarian-quota-based spoil-sharing regime.

The second is the price it is paying because of foreign intervention, especially the Iranian and semi-Iranian missiles that are fired from time to time. These missiles did not merely foil Mustapha al-Khadimi’s attempt to develop Iraq’s sovereignty and independence to the greatest extent possible. In solidarity with corruption, it renders saving the country impossible; even if the optimistic projections about Iraq having the capacity to replace boycotted Russian oil play out, it would be water poured into a leaky container.

In 1944, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote his play “No Exit,” which tells the story of three people punished after their death. However, being crammed together into one room is their punishment in Hell. Their being together is the torture.

The play was considered a groundbreaking work of existential literature, especially since the phrase “hell is other people,” which is better known than the play itself, is coined by Joseph Garcin, one of the three protagonists. Garcin, Inez Serrano, and Estelle Rigault are put together in this room, where nothing changes and escape is impossible. Each of them has desires and demands of the other that the other cannot satisfy, but none of them can escape any of the others.

Decades of the Iraqi social fabric, as well as that of other Arab countries, being ripped apart, threaten to leave us feeling the same way: seeing Hell as being crammed together into a tight space from which there is no escape.

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