Getting used to democracy in Iraq

December 12, 2008

By Waleed Ibrahim
Before making a recent speech, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the following: “I was given a specific time in which to talk, so I have to be brief. I was informed that there are other people speaking after me.”

I was shocked. Did I just hear an Iraqi leader sound and act as if he were
an ordinary citizen who had to make way for others? Maybe he was joking, but he looked serious. Could this really be an Iraqi leader who wasn’t going to pontificate on and on to his heart’s content?

During the reign of the former president Saddam Hussein, who was deposed by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, no one even dared to look at their watch while he was speaking. Saddam’s speeches
lasted at least an hour. Sometimes he would speak for many.

In that speech he gave a short while ago, the prime minister of the post-invasion Iraq, Maliki, spoke about federalism and autonomy for the provinces. He said he believed authority should lie with the central government, not with local executives, but he told Iraqis it was up to them to decide. “I am stating my opinion as an Iraqi person, the decision is yours,” he said in the televised speech.

His opinion? Not a diktat? When Saddam was around, people used to say: “When Saddam has spoken, Iraq has spoken.”

Maliki’s apparent deference to the Iraqi people gives some Iraqis hope that a country still reeling from car and suicide bomb attacks may be on a path toward eventual, durable democracy. A history of authoritarianism in the Middle East and Iraq’s legacy of dictatorship suggest it won’t be easy.

Maliki’s increasing assertiveness as violence drops across the country and U.S. forces prepare to withdraw from cities by the middle of next year and the country as a whole by the end of
2011, has given some of his political opponents — and partners — cause to wonder about his ambitions. But many Iraqis are hopeful.

Ali al-Sai’di, a 75 year-old Iraqi professor living in Jordan, fled abroad during Saddam’s reign. He fled Iraq again after Saddam was toppled and Iraq descended into a frenzy of sectarian bloodshed.
“It is a golden opportunity that is in our hands now … If democracy succeeds in Iraq, all these sacrifices will have been worthwhile,” he said.

Millions of Iraqis, still struggling with little electricity and the threat of violence, are undoubtedly sceptical. But many, cheered by the drop in violence and the prime minister’s tone and demeanour, say they are willing to give hope a chance.


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A great post. Democracy seems to be making slow but steady progress in Iraq. I am looking forward to the next elections.

Posted by Noah | Report as abusive

It looks very democratic and fair indeed. But you forgot that this leader is shunning the sunnis in Iraq (who did not necessarily elect him). No fool can believe that Iraq is becoming democratic just because Al-Maliki made way for others to speak. It is a huge change from Saddam’s days, Walid, but democracy is not only about elections and voting and giving way for others to speak. It’s about justice, fair resource distribution and equality to all Iraqis: Sunnis, Shi’is and others, not al-maliki’s electorate.

Posted by Abdallah | Report as abusive

After five long and terrible years of invasion, disaster and death, the Iraqis have a chance to regain their lives. I hope the next elections go by peacefully and transparently and that the international community plays a much better role in supporting Iraq as a reborn nation and the attempts to set up a puppet government there end, whoever wants to pull the strings.

Posted by Bill | Report as abusive

Waleed writes about the reduction of violence and return of democracy to Iraq, but he fails to mention that most of it is as a result of curb being put on the Iranain influence. When 6 months ago over 3 million Shiites from all over Iraq and especially Basra threw their support behind MEK, (Mojahedin-e-Khalgh)of Iran, the biggest opposition force to the Iranian regime, the message was clear. Iraqi people have come to know the Iranian regime as the Godfather of terrorism in their country. For the last 5 years Iraqis have been the victim of terrorism and sectarian violence mainly strategized by the Iranian Mullahs, who always benefit the most from a destabilized Iraq. Iranian political agents and terrorist arms in Iraq, namely Aziz-Al-Hakim and Qods & Bader forces, have also faced a series of set-backs in recent months. Since last 4 years, the MEK has played a crucial role in raising the public awareness about the Iranian murderous affairs in Iraq. It was only last year that MEK issued the names and bank accounts information of more than 34000 Iranian agents on payroll in Iraq many of whom work in various Iraqi goverment minisitries, police and security agencies. (The list was also given to the goverment and coalition forces, which triggered many raids on safe houses in and around Baghdad). in short, the current relative stability in Iraq is due to awareness of Iraqi people who also say NO to the Iranian Mullahs. Nuri-Al-Maleki has two choices now, distance himself and his goverment from Iran by joining the world against terrorist atomic Iran, or get ready for another bloodshed when the US forces leave Iraq, this time by the Mullahs.

Posted by I’ve been there | Report as abusive