Iraq is burning again … and this time Wahhabi fundamentalists are nowhere near the heart of the matter, at least not in the sense that we have grown accustomed to over the years.

A nation in perpetual crisis for the greater part of the last two decades, Iraq has been caught in an ever convoluted vicious cycle of violence as political factions, religious ideologues, and hawkish foreign powers have competed for power. In those dynamics, the people seldom had a say at all.

BASRA, (IRAQ) SEPTEMBER 6 2018, Ahmed Ali

Will Violence in Basra Create a Dangerous Power Vacuum?

Basra, the second biggest city after the capital, Baghdad, has seen unprecedented displays of violence since early September with attacks on several state buildings. “The people want their rights” protesters cry.

But are those calling for social change the same people venting off frustration against the state institutions? More to the point is Iraq’s flashpoint of discontent: Basra, serving as a catalyst and a springboard to usher another type of change – or rather form of leadership?

If Iraq has managed, on the back of America’s invasion in 2003, to reinvent itself a modern democracy – or for lack of a better word: a tentative democracy, this is not to say that the nation dissipated the very clouds which allowed the likes of Saddam Hussein to rise to prominence in the first place. It is often we forget that for any given regime to exercise power, legitimacy must, at least to some degree, be offered. And though such dynamics: power versus the people, is in the case of a dictatorship defined in fear and oppression that is not to say that it does not reflect a nation’s political conceptualization of power.

In other words: democracy is more than a simple system of governance and tyranny exists not just as manifestation of a political will, it is a surrendering of one’s right to exercise control over one’s destiny.

To unlearn the suffocating pull of dictatorship takes time.

To grasp the extent of what Freedom means within a democratic context requires first and foremost for people to actualize their existence as individuals with civil rights and responsibilities.

Corruption and Greed in Iraq Breed Civil Unrest

To that effect, Iraq has some obstacles to surmount, biggest of all, its political factions’ propensity to play civil unrest as a mean to placate the opposition.

Iraq is in the midst of a crucial political transition and certain parties – many of which happen to have interesting foreign patrons, are quite willing to push the nation to the brink of a civil war should it advance their cause. Such political nihilism is, I grant you, revolting, but it is nevertheless true.

As it stands, Iraq has become a plaything in the hands of political factions, whose sense of nationalism has been warped by their ravenous greed. A country as rich in natural resources as Iraq should not sit in the pitiful state that it is in right now, regardless of the hardship it went through.

DEMONSTRATION IN BASRA CALLING FOR AN END TO CORRUPTION (IRAQ) – SEPTEMBER 6, 2018 – Ahmed Ali

Corruption and a pandemic lack of political will … or maybe it is courage, have crippled any socio-economic advancements, thus allowing for resentment, a sense of disenfranchisement and even social desperation to fester in – the recipe of civil unrest.

Twelve civilians have been killed since early September in confrontations between demonstrators and police, according to Iraq’s Independent High Commission for Human Rights, which said another 93 civilians and 18 security force personnel have been injured.

Iraq’s Political Games and Democratic Growing Pains

But today’s violence is not a simple case of socio-political discontent – even though it could be. Today’s violence betrays an attempt by several actors within Iraq to seize prominence through a dangerous game of thwarted populism at a particularly delicate juncture in time for the nation.

Whatever do I mean?

Iraq is waiting for the nomination of its next prime minister on the back of contentious parliamentary elections. Should Iraq fail to nominate its prime minister the country would default as per its constitution.

But the core issue is not constitutional or even institutional, it is political.

Iraq is undergoing the growing pains of democracy, plagued by the remnants of a former regime that simply won’t go quietly in the night. With ISIS on the run, the Baath party (formerly headed by Saddam Hussein) thought it would try again … this time under the convenient cover of one of Iraq’s most divisive figures: Moqtada Al Sadr.

Formerly called “the most dangerous man” by Newsweek in 2006 for his anti-American stance, Al Sadr reinvented himself a powerbroker. Feared by his detractors for the many armed loyalists he exerts control over, Al Sadr recently moved to form Iraq’s biggest coalition group with serving Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi.

Only his play was foiled by the formation of yet another coalition backed by an interesting across-the-political-spectrum faction, highlighting Iraq’s move to transcend old religious and tribal labels for the sake of a common future.

Why is this relevant to Basra and a recent mortar attack on Baghdad’s Green Zone?

It is relevant in the sense that Iraq’s unrest exists within a very well defined political context.

Basra’s escalation did not take place in a vacuum, it did not come as a surprise and it certainly was not dealt with as diligently as one would have expected.

Prime Minister Al Abadi allowed for the situation to deteriorate the way it did so that he could play the few cards he has left in his hands to secure himself another term: the formation of an emergency government under his leadership.

There is also the possibility, although unlikely, of an attempted forceful takeover of government.

In a televised speech earlier this week Al Sadr said the parliament session should be held no later than Sunday, and that the prime minister and other officials should either attend the session or resign – certainly an indication that idleness is no longer an option.

There is also the matter of Iraq’s many militias and who exerts control over them – but this at the moment plays second fiddle to the ongoing political play … we will circle back to that pertinent issue in a following analysis.

Iraq’s current predicament is that of any new democracies! The danger here is that this particular new democracy sits in a region of the world plagued by dangerous forces … ISIS, we would do well to remember, might have been militarily defeated but its patrons and ideologues still run free – many of which found a convenient ally in Saudi Arabia’s religious intransigence.

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