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Iraq's ‘Powerful’ and the Slain Lebanese

Iraq's ‘Powerful’ and the Slain Lebanese

Monday, 25 July, 2022 - 08:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Haven’t the Lebanese people the right to denounce the lack of respect for the constitutional deadlines? Aren’t they allowed to be surprised that a new president has not been elected at the end of the reign of the occupant of the palace, and to dread the much-hoped for election results, which suddenly portend a new problem?

Aren’t they permitted to condemn attempts to turn the government formation process into a test of strength that awakens all kinds of sectarianism and quotas?

Do the Lebanese have the right to be shocked by the failure of the existing institutions to assume their role to preserve the interests of the country and people, and by solutions imposed from outside, by force of the street or arms?

Aren’t they allowed to be surprised when seeing politicians putting their personal interests above all other considerations?

Is it normal for them to witness their economy collapse under a thoughtless ruling authority? Is it strange to see the country’s main players unconcerned with the numbers on soaring unemployment, hunger, and the tragedies of those jumping on the “death boats”?

The Lebanese people certainly do not have the right to condemn or to be shocked, as their country has been afflicted with a national and institutional immunodeficiency disease.

Lebanon has been subjected to a systematic process of destruction, which struck its institutions, spirit, meaning and role. Some hoped that the colossal devastation of this Arab state would be a deterrent lesson to all countries groping their way between a difficult legacy and a very complex present.

The Iraqi politician was adhering to hope, betting on the young people who took to the squares to expose the corrupt and the losers.

But this time, I sensed some despair in his words.

“They say that Russia can only be ruled by a strong man,” he said. “Iraq is the same; but we tried the strongman republic and it took us to utter ruin. Today we no longer have a strong man in power. The powerful reside outside the offices and the institutions, which weakens the state at home and in the face of external interventions. I wish we were like Russia. The strongman there arranged a democracy on his own terms and in thoughtful architecture. But here he is sending his army to Ukraine in a more dangerous adventure than Saddam Hussein sending the army to Kuwait.”

The Iraqi politician expressed his deep concern over the coming days, warning of an endless struggle between Nouri al-Maliki and Muqtada al-Sadr, stressing that Iraq would accommodate two strong men, in the absence of a culture of respect for institutions and the dominance of the mentality of elimination of the other.

Is it true that we do not learn from our history and the heavy prices our countries have paid? Is it true that we pretend to preach, then repeat the tragedies under different titles and new slogans?

Iraq cannot house two strong men. It is said by more than one politician, as if it is doomed to live on the tunes of a single musician. Otherwise, the country will drown in fear and remain threatened with bloodshed, waiting for something resembling a civil war. The experiences are stark. Abdel-Salam Aref was a full partner in the revolution alongside Abdel-Karim Qasim. Friendship did not last long, for power kills friendships and affection.

The leader did not hesitate to marginalize Aref and humiliate him. In 1963, in the radio house to which Qasim was taken, Aref did not agree to the losing leader’s traveling abroad, nor to his survival, so the country fell again in the hands of the only musician.

Iraq experienced a strongman republic in the absence of any institutions that delineate borders, rights, and powers. Terror was the only partner of the powerful ruler.

The country’s president, in turn, was afraid of the strong man whose nickname was the deputy, Mr. Saddam Hussein.

Minister Hamid al-Jubouri told me that he got angry one day and went to the office of President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and informed him of his intention to submit his resignation. Al-Bakr’s response was strange, as he said: “And who will accept my resignation?” Al-Jubouri concluded that he should disregard the resignation as long as the president does not dare to make such a step.

Let’s leave the past and its lessons. Would Turkey have attacked targets on Iraqi soil if Iraqi institutions were allowed to assume their role, and the Iraqi decision was permitted to be made when needed? The answer is known. The current crisis between Baghdad and Ankara reminds us of the geographical fate, which means that Iraq is the weakest side in the Iraqi-Turkish-Iranian triangle. We should of course bear in mind that Tehran and Ankara did not experience the inability to form a government.

In the last two years, Iraq has sent promising signals of an exit from a time of failure, violence and destruction. Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s government gave the impression that it had listened to the voice of the young people, who called for the fight against corruption, poverty and unemployment, and for an end to the militias.

The government managed to invent a role that qualifies the country to be a player, rather than an arena. Baghdad hosted a number of regional meetings, including the Saudi-Iranian dialogue.

Al-Kadhimi walked a tightrope in internal balances and regional and international files. However, the winds that blew in the aftermath of the elections threaten to squander the gains that have been achieved internally and at the international level.

It is not simple at all for Iraq, ten months after the legislative elections, to be unable to elect a president and form a new government. The disruption of institutions comes in a very difficult situation internationally, regionally and internally.

It is enough to look at the crises: The Russian war in Ukraine, the decline in the prestige of international law, and the return of the language of force as a means of communication between states; as well as the Iranian file, with the nuclear agreement and the policy of destabilization.

Those come in addition to Iraq’s accumulated problems, including unemployment, poverty, food prices, desertification, drought, and the faltering of development efforts due to battles between the powerful, and as a result of interventions, all of which restore tension to the Iraqi structure, and awaken the specter of a crisis of components.

There is no solution for Iraq but to fortify and work under an institutional structure. The country has no interest in dissolving its institutions in a sea of militias, missiles and drones. Chaos will only produce more despair and blood.

I hope the Iraqi forces would carefully understand the story of the slain Lebanese people.

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