Iraq's political elite failed to settle essential underlying issues in reforging the political system after the occupation of Iraq in 2003 and in light of the sweeping Iraqi constitution approved in 2005. These problems have continued to reproduce themselves through various practices and a policy known as “crisis recycling.”
April 9 went down in history as the worst day in modern Iraq with the collapse of the country's security structure and economy, 17 years after the fall of Baghdad at the hands of an allied coalition headed by the U.S. In addition to the current critical crises, the threat of the global coronavirus pandemic against the weak Iraqi health sector and the fall of oil prices that threaten the collapse of the Iraqi economy are two additional developments that have further threatened the future of political and economic stability in Iraq.
Iraqis believe the main cause of the collapse of the country’s political system and economic structure rests on the failure of the ruling political elites, who lack political legitimacy, and the absence of the national identity that frames the political behavior of all social, political and economic forces across the country. The relationship between different institutions within a political system, between the political system and society, as well as the future relationship of the state structure, determine a certain degree of continuity in the system and balancing of the various challenges a country faces.
Today, the most recent developments in Iraq raise a fundamental question for countries across the Middle East going through intersections between two different state systems: a constitutional democracy and the Iranian theocratic model. As a result of these sharp contradictions between the two systems, the path of the political process collides with a wall consisting of three angry societies severely affected by the system. The Kurds feel they were left out of Iraq's national accounts and have been angered by insufficient financing. As for the Sunnis, they are still exhausted after years of suppression by the central government, the burdens of the war against Daesh and the control of the Hashdi Sha’bi militia. Meanwhile, the Shiites feel angry at the government’s inability to provide basic services and the handing over of the country’s resources to Iran.
This reality caused a state of popular rage, which turned into a massive series of protests that have pervaded Baghdad and a number of cities across the country. Popular demonstrations have paralyzed the political process since last October 2019, when Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi was forced to resign from his position in an attempt to absorb the anger. After this move, Iraq was plunged into a constitutional vacuum, with the government taking on the role of a caretaker and parties unable to agree on choosing a prime minister for five months in light of a complex local and regional equation.
The Iraqi political system is close to a state of “political occlusion,” which means that the political system remains closed to only a limited set of components. Access to the system depends on the loyalty of the circles surrounding the main power brokers and decision-makers, and the country’s future remains dependent on the directions of this group that form the core of the system. In the Iraqi case, political elites are trying to consolidate their influence at the heart of the state with limited players in the game. Moreover, they do not think that the political system born in 2003 has reached a state of failure that threatens the existence of Iraq as a state. On April 9, 2020, the anniversary of the invasion of Baghdad, the Shiite elite returned to approve this by agreeing to assign Mustafa al-Kazemi, who belongs to one of the ruling political families, as the new prime minister, after the approval of the Sunni and Kurdish parties.
When tracking the path of development of the relationship between the state and society in light of the country's ongoing political occlusion, it measured the possibility of anticipating the collapse of the Iraqi political system but in the relatively long term. For the current regime in Iraq, moving past the current situation will inevitably be key to solving regional, if not global, crises. In other words, the transformation of the Iraqi state must be realized at the bottom level, not from high at the top of the social pyramid. Therefore, a social transformation without a political transformation, among other factors, means the political system has a negative effect on the social system. So, it seems that the likely scenario may lead to the continuation of the political system with some amendments, whether large – such as amending basic laws or even constitutional articles – or minor, such as changing laws, faces or alliances.
Finally, it is true that the political system in Iraq has reached a dead end, but the greatest of dangers lie in the case of eliminating the political system and bringing it down completely. After all, guarantees cannot be made that the alternative system will be better, especially in the absence of a complete and objective view of what a positive future will look like.
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