Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi forced the political class to face up to its historical responsibilities after turning his call for dialogue into a concrete initiative. His initiative could create a dent in the wall of political intransigence that has plagued the political process in Iraq since the legislative elections held last October.
However, his modest breakthrough can only develop and turn into a genuine opportunity to achieve the political objectives discussed at the negotiating table if everyone who sat at the table contributes to a collective effort. Nonetheless, it is clear that the Sadrist Movement’s absence was not a political ploy but a decision that demonstrates that Sadr continues to insist on having his high bar met. Sadr’s ambitions were far from met by the modest outcomes of the meetings and recommendations of the first session. For that reason, it seems his rivals will be shocked by the difficult demands he would make once he is consulted outside these meetings. Since he distinguished between them and the Prime Minister, his difficult demands will leave the ball in his political rivals’ court.
Indeed, the first session concluded with the parties agreeing to only a single item, but it could well create a roadmap for breaking Iraq’s political gridlock, as everyone agreed that early legislative elections could be the way out of the current crisis. The final statement issued after last Wednesday’s meeting stressed that there is nothing exceptional about settling matters through the ballot box with early elections once the political process in a democratic political system hits an impasse.
Still, the devil is in the details, and ironing out the details of these early elections could take a long time, a luxury the Iraqis don’t have. If the political class does not make constructive concessions, beginning with an agreement on an electoral role that leads to the election of a parliament that genuinely reflects the popular representation, accounts for the political and social changes that have ensued since the October uprising, and does not leave the large segment of society that has been silent boycotting the elections once again. Such a law demands guarantees by the political class that the government enforces through an independent electoral commission that treats all the players fairly and ensures free and fair elections.
This is the latest challenge facing Kadhimi. As the facilitator of dialogue and the guarantor of its agreements, and given his role in bringing the most divergent points of view closer, Kadhimi must safeguard the neutrality of the state and its institutions, now more than ever. He must ensure that participation expands such that the participants are not limited to the factions who have imposed their de facto control on the country.
At this complex juncture in Iraqi history, the country is threatened with collapse, and there is now a pressing need for the emergence of a critical bloc that includes influential politicians and independent thinkers and economists who want to change things and can represent those who have been marginalized and silenced for the past 19 years. This bloc would allow those who had been excluded from taking part in political life, with their representatives becoming influential players overseeing the metamorphosis of state and society currently underway in Iraq, thereby ensuring a relatively smooth transition to a new stage.
In its governance of the country over the past 19 years, the Iraqi political class has taken the worst aspect of the Lebanese model (sectarian quota system). However, Kadhimi has an opportunity to build on the experiences of Hani Fahs and Samir Frangieh, which he saw firsthand.
The two men formed the Permanent Dialogue Congress, succeeding in reconciling Lebanese communities and partisan elites who have genuinely reexamined what had happened in the civil war. They were relatively successful in their pursuit despite the pressure put on them by the former warlords of the country and the security apparatuses of the occupying Syrian forces.
And so, civil strife would be a costly way out of the current political intransigence in Iraq. In a country with such complicated social composition, where ethnic, religious, regional, tribal and confessional identities are intertwined with doctrine and partisan allegiances. Resorting to violence would create a bloodbath that won’t end before the state withers away altogether, what is left of the country’s wealth is squandered, and both victor and vanquished lose out, with the only difference between the two being the number of casualties suffered. This would lead to one of two outcomes: either Iraq ceases to exist as we have known it for the past decade, or the political and democratic process is brought down by those who end the negotiations.