The Permanent Government

The Permanent Government

The December election for the new Iraq Council of Representatives attracted approximately 70 percent of Iraq’s registered voters who chose from lists of parties and coalitions rather than specifi c candidates. Furthermore, a minimum of 25 percent (or 69 seats) of the 275 seats to the council were dedicated to women.

As with the referendum two months earlier, far more Sunnis turned out to vote than had been the case with the January 2005 election for the National Assembly, which most Sunnis believed was unfairly stacked against them. The result, confi rmed on February 10, 2006, was a more balanced legislature. The United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), a Shii coalition, still led the lists with 128 seats—of these the Sadrist Movement was allocated the most seats in the coalition, 28—but this was a net loss of 12 seats from the National Assembly.

The second highest number of seats, 53, went to another coalition, the Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan, but it too suffered a net loss from the number of seats it held in the National Assembly. The biggest gains went to the Sunni and Sunni-led coalitions. The Iraqi Accord Front and the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, both of which were unrepresented in the National Assembly, received 44 and 11 seats, respectively. This placed them third and fi fth among the coalitions on the Council of Representatives.

The various coalitions went into caucus to decide how best to put forth their candidates for the government posts. Notably, there was a split within the UIA over who should be put forth as prime minister (that the prime minister would be a Shii was a given considering the number of seats held by the Shii coalitions). Ibrahim al-Jafaari actually won a UIA vote but in the end fell to political machinations, including behind-the-scenes pressure by the United States, which feared his closeness to the Sadrist Movement, now demonized by the coalition.

The wrangling lasted until late April, when Nouri al-Maliki, a member of the Daawa Party (which was part of the UIA coalition) was chosen as a compromise candidate. In keeping with the form of the constitution, on April 22, 2006, al-Maliki was designated by President Jalal Talibani, himself reelected by the Council of Representatives on April 6, 2006, and sworn in the next day. The reelection of Talibani, a Kurd, was testament to the increased infl uence the Kurds now enjoyed in Iraq. AlMalili was sworn in as prime minister on May 20, 2006, the day the new government took over.

Besides security and sectarian violence, the most urgent problems facing Iraq’s government were the wrecked economy, the decreased energy output, massive food shortages, and a shattered health care system. In the years since taking power, the government received massive amounts of foreign aid to help offset these problems, but it also took steps of its own to alleviate them. Oil continued to be Iraq’s main export, but other industries showed signs of either slow revival or birth. These accounted for about 15 percent of Iraq’s exports.

Iraq’s main imports were food and medicines, showing in that respect that little had changed from the sanction days. Prior to the government’s taking control, only a little more than half of all Iraqis had access to potable water, but several water projects were subsequently undertaken, including a new canal to supply drinking water to Basra.

However, the water crisis in Baghdad had not been alleviated fi ve years after its fall to coalition forces. The Iraqi government also encouraged foreign investment not only in the usual oil industry sector but also in the electricity sector, hoping to give impetus to an industry nearly shut down by the war and the insurgency.By 2008, neither the government nor foreign aid had been able to repair Iraq’s broken health-care system. Doctors, nurses, and other health-care workers continued to fl ee the country as part of the Iraqi diaspora, while the rebuilding of hospitals and clinics was behind schedule.

The emigrations and the high numbers of those leaving the health-care fi eld in Iraq meant that Iraq had only about one-quarter of the number of health-care workers it had prior to the invasion. Poor water and frequent electrical blackouts contributed to the problems. A Reuters article by Luke Baker cited a report by the health organization Medact, which pointed out that only 4 percent of the $18 billion Iraqi reconstruction fund was slated for health care. While the report suggests an increase in government involvement, others have blamed the government, particularly the health ministry, for its failure to alleviate the problem.

Further complications for Iraq’s government arose in 2008. Foremost among these was the insurrection of the Mahdi Army, the Shii militia controlled by Moqtada al-Sadr. Six months after the British forces departed from Basra in September 2007 (at the time perhaps the most stable city in Iraq) the Mahdi Army, bolstered by the surreptitious delivery of arms from Iran, not to mention Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s March visit to Iraq, began an insurgency in Basra that was a direct threat to Shii Prime Minister al-Maliki’s rule. Nevertheless, al-Maliki traveled to Basra as a sign of support for the Iraqi security forces and the civilians. The insurgency lasted until the end of April.

Late in April al-Sadr threatened war against Iraqi and U.S. forces, but after the defeat of the Mahdi Army in Basra and retaliations in Sadr City, the Shii neighborhood of northern Baghdad, he agreed to a (fragile) cease-fi re on May 11. The victory not only boosted the morale of the Iraqi security forces but solidifi ed al-Maliki’s position among the Sunnis and Kurds. Al-Maliki thereupon turned his attention to Mosul, the stronghold of the Sunni al-Qaeda in Iraq. Four months earlier he had promised to rid the city of the group, and on May 14, repeating his successful Basra strategy, he traveled to Mosul to take charge of the military operations in Iraq’s third-largest city.

Conclusion

It will take years before all of the facts regarding the buildup to the invasion of Iraq are made public (if ever), but the U.S. motive of regime change is undeniable. Equally undeniable is that many Iraqis suffered under the Baathists, primarily Shiis and Kurds. A third undeniable fact is that the nation of Iraq has suffered on an unprecedented scale in its history as a result of the invasion and poor planning for the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. From the Arab Iraqi perspective, the aftermath has been far worse than the invasion. Only the Kurds have truly benefi ted in the post-Hussein era, having their plan for a federalist Iraq accepted and one of their leaders, Jalal Talibani, twice elected president.

Five years after the U.S.-led coalition invasion, Iraq lay in ruins, wracked by war, terrorism, and sectarian civil war. The number of refugees approached 4 million, or 16 percent of the total population, split nearly evenly among those who fl ed the country and those who were displaced within Iraq. It is believed that 40 percent of Iraq’s middle class had fl ed. More than 600,000 people had died as a result of violence since the March 2003 invasion, and the majority of these deaths occurred after the fall of the Baathist regime. Health care in Iraq is in shambles, and in a conference held in Baghdad in December 2007, it was revealed that as many as 5 million Iraqi children had been orphaned, accounting for nearly 35 percent of the child-age population.

A World Public Opinion poll titled “The Iraqi Public on the U.S. Presence and the Future of Iraq,” conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes and released on September 27, 2006, revealed that “seven in ten Iraqis want U.S.-led forces to commit to withdrawal within a year,” and that “an overwhelming majority believes that the U.S. presence in Iraq is provoking more confl ict than it is preventing.”

Six in 10 Iraqis also supported attacks on U.S. forces as part of a perception that the United States planned to build permanent U.S. military bases in their country. Overall, the poll revealed that Iraqis favored the central government and even favored the continued training of their security forces by the U.S. military. Prime Minister al-Maliki was the only Shii leader favored by Kurds and some Sunnis as well as Shiis.

However, public opinion of other Shii leaders and many issues were split along sectarian lines, with Kurds generally in agreement with Sunni Arabs. A 2007 BBC poll showed that the percentages of those Iraqis opposing the coalition’s presence in Iraq rose to 78 percent, and the percentage who thought the coalition’s presence was making things worse also increased. Essentially, these polls revealed the hopes and frustrations of the Iraqis and their desires to settle their own problems with foreign assistance, but not interference.