To paraphrase a famous quote, madness is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. This about sums up the insanity of Iraq’s dalliance with the democracy that never was since the US instituted regime change in 2003 at gunpoint.
After the elections this Sunday, Iraqis will have been asked to vote for their future half a dozen times, and the expected results will invariably be the same as they always have been – a further entrenchment of a corrupt political class backed by a coterie of shadowy clergymen, and enforced by the violence of Shia Islamist militias.
“Democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” Abraham Lincoln once said.
Obviously, there is a lot more to it than that, and I am certain political scientists would like nothing more than to chew everyone’s ears off about its deeper meanings and ideological history, but that is well beyond the scope of this article.
The quote is, however, sufficient for expounding the central concept of the democratic ideology that has now become an unassailable sacred cow in modern political discourse, and that is that the people ought to have a say in how they are governed and by whom.
Iraq’s democratic lie falters at the very first hurdle. While there can be no doubt that the Baathist regime that preceded it was harsh, oppressive, dictatorial, and paid no mind to the political opinions of anyone it ruled over, it was not brought down by the Iraqi people.
Instead, it was brought down because an angry, self-righteous, and ignorant white man who just so happened to hold the office of the president of the United States of America decided that he would bring the most powerful army in the world to bear on an already beaten and contained foe and call the wreckage a “democracy”.
The logic for the war was anything but logical. In essence, President George W Bush wanted to blow Iraqis up, devastate their cities, destroy what little infrastructure they had left after years of withering sanctions, and then declare himself their liberator and friend. After all the destruction he and his accomplices had wrought, they thought the Iraqis would be grateful for this ash-covered, blood-soaked gift they called “democracy”.
The Americans and their British allies, suffering from delusions of grandeur, thought that the Iraqi people would welcome the formerly exiled and newly enthroned opposition – composed of a mixture of Shia Islamists, fringe Sunni groups, and separatist Kurds – and simply set about voting for these parties who, for all the Baathists faults, were viewed as being destructive to Iraq’s interests because they served masters either in Washington or Tehran.
People did vote, but their vote mattered little and the facade quickly fell away. How else can you describe a “democratic” system whereby the constitution is designed to pit Iraqis against one another? The prime minister must be a Shia Arab. The president must be a Kurd. The parliamentary speaker must be a Sunni Arab.
This, plus the fact that the parties who collaborated with the West in their invasion of Iraq were only interested in gorging themselves off the corpse of what was once the Iraqi state, ensured that Iraq would be Balkanised ethno-sectarian blocs which could never win a parliamentary majority and all administrations would be weak coalition governments beholden to outside forces.
This is why, despite narrowly losing the elections in 2010, the unelected, sectarian, and pro-Iran Shia Islamist, Nouri al-Maliki, was able to remain as prime minister, a position he simply hopped into in 2006 after the CIA and Qassem Soleimani, a man Donald Trump would later kill in 2020, cut a deal to give him the big chair.
It was simply a case that the US and Iran could agree amongst themselves that he was the right candidate to ensure both their imperial interests in Iraq could be maintained. After all, who gave a damn about the interests of the Iraqi people who were asked, yet again, to vote in an election that did not even have their interests at heart?
The jig is up
It is for this reason that every Iraqi election since the post-war constitution was adopted in late 2005 has shown a demonstrable pattern of a reduction in voter turnout (a pre-constitution election was an anomaly, turning out some 58 percent).
In December 2005, the turnout was an impressive 79.6 percent, and is probably explained by the hopefulness some Iraqis felt at giving the new political elites and constitution a chance. Half a decade later, and after watching Iraq spiral into corruption, nepotism, and sectarian violence under Maliki, the turnout in the 2010 election that he won even though he lost dropped to 62 percent. Four years later, there was a slight drop to 60.5 percent.
But the story of 2018, and even after the defeat of the Daesh terror group, was that the electorate had clearly had enough of the never-ending lies, false promises, continued violence, and rampant corruption, and an abysmal 44.5 percent turned out to vote.
Since that vote things have only gotten worse in Iraq, something even a popular protest movement that broke out in October 2019 was unable to stop. Instead, not only did the state and allied Shia militias kill more than 600 peaceful protesters, but most of their demands have yet to be met by incumbent Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi who promised to hold the militias to account, but was instead himself held hostage by those he was charged to bring to justice.
This has led to not only activists vowing to boycott the elections, but also many political parties have announced they will not contest a vote they deem to be rigged.
After all, and going back to the theme of madness, the Iraqi people may be furious at how they are being taken for fools, but they are not insane to keep buying into the same process expecting different results. They know that modern Iraq is a gangster state, and the militias and politicians only care about lining their own pockets rather than dealing with the concerns of the people.
In such a hopeless environment, I would be very surprised indeed if this election drew a legitimately high turnout. The jig is up, and no one is fooled by pleas to engage in a phantom democracy that does not exist, so it is time to stop insulting Iraqis’ intelligence and for elites to either engage in meaningful change or else expect revolutionary movements to form to contest the political space in a manner a rigged ballot box cannot.
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