If one were to view unfolding events in Iraq like a tragic movie script, the scene sequence might progress in the following manner, shedding light on the events that have led to the unravelling and demise of a once great nation.
Scene 1 is reminiscent of the silent cinema era: five gloomy men standing in dark suits, two of whom take turns to mumble phrases that are inaudible to the audience. They are not attending a funeral, but the confirmation of the sudden appointment of Haider al-Abadi as the new Iraqi prime minister. The other four sombre figures beside Abadi are Fuad Masum, the newly chosen Iraqi president, handing over the decree to confirm Abadi’s appointment, which the latter displays to the cameras; Hussein al-Shahristani, the current minister of foreign affairs — and overall coordinator of energy, among a few other tasks — as deputy prime minister; Ibrahim al-Jaffari, the head of the alliance of all the Shiite groups; and Salim al-Juburi, the newly chosen parliament speaker.
This first scene seems choreographed to display the representatives of the sectarian and ethnic parties that the U.S. empowered after occupation in formal accords: Masum for the Kurdish parties, Juburi for the “Sunni” groups, Jaafary for the Shiite groups, Shahrastani for the religious authorities in Najaf and Abadi of the Da’wa party. A wider angle take of the camera shows four key figures of the Shiite coalition to indicate a wider consent in the largest parliamentary group.
Shown on Iraqi state television on Monday afternoon [Aug. 11], it takes place in one corner of a sparsely furnished room, somewhere in the Green Zone, but not where “historic events” in post-2003 Iraq normally take place: within huge halls with clapping audiences. It was a sombre scene in defiance of the current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
The defiance is needed, since Maliki has been, for the last eight years, the supreme commander of the armed forces. He has also been in charge of the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Security Ministry and has co-opted the Supreme Court to assign to him nine supposedly independent bodies by the Constitution, including the central bank, in charge of the $700 billion in oil royalties over the past eight years; the Integrity Commission, in charge of dealing with fraud and corruption; the National Media Commission, television, radio and the press; and the Justice and Questioning Commission, in charge of deciding who can or cannot be employed or elected.
Maliki’s office is also the holder of the purse for funding a number of militias that carry out atrocities that soldiers and policemen cannot easily commit, and to fund the tribal chiefs who support him against the rising population.
Scene 2 is of defiant Maliki himself, standing with 30 of his members of Parliament in sombre rows, in a big hall with a chandelier. But absent are all the big shots of his party or the Shiite coalition. Maliki speaks offering a tirade on duplicity, referring countless times to the Constitution. He even decries the U.S. endorsement of unconstitutional moves. It is worth remembering that he is the same Maliki who has shown no regard whatsoever for the Constitution during his eight years in office. Now he is the supreme guardian of the Constitution, accusing the Iraqi president, Fuad Masum, of violating it and vowing to protect Iraq’s Constitution.
Scene 3 is of military units in key points in Baghdad, blocking whole areas and guarding the Green Zone. At the moment, since Maliki shows no signs of relinquishing power, Iraq has two prime ministers who belong to the same sectarian Da’wa party. Iraqis, in general, seem wary of the new development. There are a couple of demonstrations in support of Maliki, and militias are all over the place in Baghdad.
Scene 4 is of U.S. officials and commentators galore, each shouting “Eureka!” washing their hands of over a million Iraqi lives. They have finally discovered that Maliki is the problem and Abadi is the solution. But Abadi will have to form “an inclusive government,” we are told. “An inclusive government,” like in Disney films, is the magic wand to get rid of all demons. President Barack Obama interrupted his holiday to welcome the nomination of Abadi, urging Iraqis to “form a new inclusive government.” (New York Times, Aug. 12)
U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden congratulated Abadi on the phone, promising U.S. support and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry went further, promising that “the United States will consider additional military, economic and political assistance to Iraq, once a new inclusive government is formed.”
Listening to this repetitive U.S. mantra, one is compelled to wonder if U.S. officials either suffer an acute state of dementia to forget their disastrous role in Iraq, or if they hold nothing but contempt for the Iraqi people. Why?
Firstly, one look at Iraq today, or what is left of the Iraq we used to know, is enough to show the extent of the destruction in social and human terms as much as in infrastructure. The fragmentation of society and the ever increasing animosity and revenge sentiments in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led occupation dubbed “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
Secondly, calling upon Iraqi politicians to form a new inclusive government is a meaningless act, since most, if not all of today’s Iraqi officials are the same politicians who have been collaborating with the U.S. since the nineties. Official labels and tags may have changed, but corruption, sectarianism and squabbling over power remain the same.
Brutal militias attached to the same parties engaged in the political process which has been designed by the U.S. occupation are the same. As we say in Iraq, “It is the same donkey, different saddle.” The yearlong peaceful protests, long since squashed with massacres, ending in armed risings under a plethora of labels — tribal councils, military councils, political councils. These forces are adamant to continue the fight for a sovereign unified Iraq.
These four scenes are of fast, unfolding events and changes in the relative weight of various powers and actors. While Islamic State (I.S.) fighters terrorize vulnerable communities of Christians, Turkomen and Yezidis in the north of Iraq — forcing them to leave their homes — hundreds of thousands of Sunnis are forced to leave their homes from cities which have been subjected to continuous bombardment and airstrikes using explosive barrels by the Iraqi regime. U.S./U.K. forces are dropping food parcels, while using at the same time the guise of humanitarian aid to supply the Kurdish region with weapons, a stand seen by many Iraqis as the final nail in the coffin of a nation once called Iraq.
In order to understand what is happening, it is important to weigh these events in light of the recent history of individuals and forces. One must also examine the truthfulness of media claims, considering the lies on which so many atrocities have been committed in the past, and to pinpoint the responsibility of the U.S.-led occupation in the unfolding catastrophic events of today. To destroy a country in the morning and to hand over charity to its population in the evening can summarise our experience with U.S. policy.
What can we do in the midst of this mayhem? In order to preserve what is left of the ravaged country, it is our responsibility as Iraqis to stand for justice, unmask human rights abuses and uphold the principle of preserving human lives. To progress on this road, we need the support of the international solidarity movement.
Haifa Zangana is an Iraqi author and co-founder of Tadhamun Iraqi Women Solidarity organisation. She is also the founding member of the International Association of Contemporary Iraqi Studies.