In a controversial move, Iraq appointed an education minister with well-known ties to ISIS.

A relatively new democracy, Iraq has had over the past decade to overcome more internal crises, roadblocks and threats to its territorial integrity than most countries. To add to such a bleak picture, the country was literally sold to the ravages and pestilence of Islamic radicalism, courtesy of Wahhabism growing regional influence.

To put it simply, Iraq was put through its paces! One invasion, a semi-military occupation and one attempted takeover by crazed Wahhabi radicals later, Iraq nevertheless managed to stir its budding democracy to safer shores, somewhat battered, but for the most part alive and kicking.

One would expect such brushes with political and constitutional annihilations would spur Iraq to apply itself to higher and greater administrative standards, if anything, to protect itself from another ride around the crazy mill.

Such expectations are based of course on the assumption that state officials would want to honor their mandate by keeping to both the letter and spirit of the constitution. Recent developments have proven such rationale to be wishful thinking!

Late in December 2018, amid the Christmas celebrations, and let’s be honest, a distracted world media, Iraq’s newly appointed prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi Al Muntafiki decided to offer up the education ministry to a suspected ISIS sympathizer.

Let me repeat this so it can truly sink in. Iraq, a country that barely escaped the blade of Terror, a country that was bled to an inch of its life, chose a few months into its reconstruction to hand over the EDUCATION ministry to an individual whose ties with ISIS are not only well-known, but run in the family.

I give you H.E. Shaima Al Hayali, an academic from Mosul whose appointment was approved by parliament without so much of a whisper of disapproval or rebuttal. What could be wrong, indeed?

It gets better: Ms. Al Hayali’s ties with the radical group are public knowledge!

So what’s wrong with this picture, other of course than the blatantly obvious?

Our first question should be why? Why in the world would any well-informed state official dream of empowering such a potentially nefarious individual at a ministry as vital as the education ministry, considering the fallouts such a decision would have on the overall stability of the country?

Why, indeed? I would like to think that Iraq has seen enough of the lunacy of ISIS ideologues to not want to further empower their leadership by offering a platform as sensitive as that of the Education Ministry … but let’s leave this to the side for a moment.

News of Shaima Al Hayali’s appointment was received with hot public anger, forcing the new minister to offer up her resignation alongside a fierce denial of any and all affiliations to ISIS terror group. Only Iraqis have a longer memory than their officials and politicians would like to give them credit for.

Dr. Abbas Khadim, Resident Senior Fellow and The Iraq Initiative Director at the AtlanticCouncil writes the following on Twitter: “These are not allegations. Mr. al-Hayali’s ties to ISIS are established. The salient questions are: ‘Was he a willing participant?’ and, more importantly, ‘Has his sister, Dr. Shayma al-Hayali, done anything wrong to preclude her from being ‘s MoEd.?'”

While Ms. Al Hayali may not herself be an active ISIS member, we should extend her the courtesy of a trial before condemning her. The same thing cannot be said of her brother, Laith Al Hayali.

And while she made a point at claiming that her brother had been strong-armed into serving ISIS during its occupation of Mosul, she conveniently brushed over the fact that he occupied a senior leading position as one of ISIS commanders. Such ‘responsibilities’ are not handed out to mere civilians … not without proving one’s loyalty to both the group and the group’s ideology.

ISIS forced everyone in Mosul to work for them, threatening those who refused to join,” Ms. Al Hayali said on Twitter.

Screenshot taken from an ISIS video published in 2016 where Laith Al Hayali calls for all anti-ISIS forces to suspend their attacks and instead embrace ISIS ideology.

Her brother, she alleges, was made to work as a civil servant after the extremists seized control of the city in 2014. “The threats continued even after Mosul was liberated,” she told social media, and “my brother never carried arms nor killed or helped kill any Iraqi … there was no concrete evidence to prove he belonged to ISIS.”

Ms. Al Hayali’s defense of her brother also says nothing of his appearance on several ISIS recruiting videos. But why ask difficult questions when one can play the sectarian card by screaming prejudice and thus deflect from the elephant in the room?

Whether Ms. Al Hayali does or does not abide by ISIS ideology makes little difference: her close association and the stringent standards Iraq’s Constitution demands for the nomination of all state officials should have rendered her nomination null and void … and yet Parliament was only too happy to oblige its new prime minister by expediting her vetting. But here is where things get a little tricky, or should we say, awry. Al Hayali’s vetting by Parliament is itself a contentious matter as many concerned parties have argued that vote counting was tampered with in her favor – an allegation the Speaker denies. A slow-motion video made public shows indeed that Ms. Al Hayali failed to rally enough yeses to her name.

Meanwhile, Iraqis are not amused. Taking to social media, Iraqis laid blame at their Premier’s feet, demanding that he honors the pledge he made to the protection of Iraq and all Iraqis within it.

On this instagram post, Laith Al Hayali is seen bottom left.

If anything has transpired from this overlooked scandal, it is that Iraqi politicians care more about the consolidation of their political base than they do serving the people who entrusted them with the affairs of the state … treason often rhymes with self-driven interest.

But what exactly do I mean by political consolidation over the benefit of the people? Iraq, I fear, has become a prisoner of latent sectarianism through its warped distribution of power according to individuals’ religious affiliations.

Iraq’s unwritten political rule demands for example that Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds be offered a share each of all parliamentary seats, and ministerial portfolios. This division is also reflected at the most senior level, as it is mandatory for all Iraqi PMs to be Shia, for the Head of Parliament to be Sunni, and the President to be Kurd.

Such a system does little by way of erasing religious and ethnic divides, and instead forces politicians to be nominated not for their expertise but to fill quotas and political alliances by-laws.

In October Reuters wrote the following on Prime Minister Al Muntafik: He faces the daunting tasks of rebuilding much of the country after four years of war with Islamic State militants, healing its ethnic and sectarian tensions, and balancing foreign relations with Iraq’s two major allies – Iran and its arch-foe the United States.”

As long as Iraq’s realpolitik will set a golden standard to religious-identity politics, a reconciliation will remain an inaccessible pipedream.

That is not to say that Iraq lies in democratic ruins … far from it. Iraq has proven particularly resilient in the face of overwhelming adversity. That said, officials cannot continue to play Russian roulette with Iraq’s national security to fill their quotas.

If ISIS armies have been sent running, Iraq has a long way to go before it can declare itself free from the ideology that sought the destruction of its religious and cultural diversity … there are still sympathizers to its cause sitting in office, and THAT is not tolerable.

 

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