Iraq in angry turmoil

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IT now seems possible that at least 500 protesters have been gunned down in two months of anti-government riots in Iraq. Though police and soldiers have been responsible for some of the killings, much of the slaughter has been done by Iranian-backed militiamen. In Najaf this week, unidentified thugs attacked demonstrators with knives and batons as well as guns.

Resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has been accepted by parliament and the influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has called for new elections. On the face of it, the widespread popular protests have brought results. The truth however is that another general election is extremely unlikely to solve the mess into which Iraq has been plunged by its leaders. And the tens of thousands of demonstrators are perfectly aware of this, which is why they are continuing to occupy the streets even after Mahdi has quit.

Iraq’s problems can be summed up in two words — Iran and corruption. The regime in Tehran wants its Arab neighbor to continue to be weak and pliable. To this end, one of its essential weapons has been the corruption it has actively encouraged among Iraqi politicians. Key figures have been suborned with Iranian money, which has also served to finance and arm the militia thugs who have played such a wretched part in running up the butcher’s bill during two months of angry demonstrations. Tehran has also promoted the plundering of Iraqi state assets and is actively using Iraq as one of the secret channels to combat US economic sanctions.

The effect of Iranian interference in the proper running of Iraq and its finances has been utterly debilitating. Bureaucrats and ordinary officials, who see clearly that much of the political leadership is on the take, would consider themselves fools if they did not also join in the general payola. Thus the entire state is shot through with rottenness and venality, which of course is precisely what is wanted by the ayatollahs in Tehran.

The widespread recognition that Iran is the cancer seeking to eat away at any prospect of a stable and prosperous Iraq is why thousands of desperate demonstrators have targeted Iranian diplomatic missions, including twice last week the consulate in Najaf. They want Tehran’s malign influence excised from Iraq’s body politic.

However, unfortunately it is hard to see how the fresh general election Sistani wants is going to bring about any real change. Outgoing premier Mahdi was a basically decent individual, certainly in comparison with his disastrous predecessor Nuri Al-Maliki who was craven in his bowing to the diktats of Tehran. But he was unable to control a depraved and greedy political establishment, even when it came to providing citizens with essential services such as decent water and reliable power.

Whatever the result of another national vote, weeks, maybe months of wheeling and dealing will see ministries awarded to politicians purely on the basis of their clout, with no reference to their ability or their genuine willingness to make a difference for the long-suffering population. Unless Iran’s doleful influence is ripped out of the political system and the brutal militias it sponsors crushed completely, it is hard to see any new administration being able to govern for the interests of Iraqis alone. These remain very dark days for country.


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