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The Baghdad Follies.


IRAQ, engaged in a brutal war against the Islamic State, faces myriad other problems, including a depleted treasury and a weakening dam in Mosul that if not repaired could flood a huge strip of territory and kill thousands. None of these problems can be effectively addressed given the failure of governance and societal cohesion that has produced another political crisis.

On Tuesday Salim al-Jubouri, the Parliament speaker, suspended Parliament, days after lawmakers voted to remove him and elected an interim replacement. The turmoil centres on political corruption and fiscal mismanagement, which have become major issues since oil prices collapsed in 2014, sharply reducing the country's main revenue source as Iraq's military battles ISIS.

In February, under pressure from the Shiite clergy and with support from America and Iran, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi proposed a Cabinet overhaul that would remove appointees with political and sectarian connections and replace them with presumably less corruptible nonpolitical technocrats.

After the list of technocrats was announced on March 31, Shiite political blocs, which dominate the government and fear the loss of patronage and influence, pushed back and forced al-Abadi to include more of their allies. Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical Shiite Muslim cleric who once fought US troops and has refashioned himself as an anti-corruption reformer, is using the threat of street protests to demand more representation for technocrats and al-Abadi's resignation. Parliament has postponed action on al-Abadi's Cabinet overhaul three times and this has led to moves to oust al-Jubouri as well.

Al-Abadi has been unable to repair the social divisions and sectarian tensions that former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki fed by alienating Sunnis and Kurds, who are minorities in the majority Shiite nation. By refusing to consult other political leaders in advance, al-Abadi has failed to build the coalitions needed to support initiatives like the Cabinet overhaul. Even the threat of the Mosul dam collapse went unaddressed until the Americans publicly warned of impending disaster. Only then did Baghdad name an Italian firm to make repairs.

Such political dysfunction has been the one constant in Iraq since the US invasion in 2003. It has made some people rich and powerful, and has left millions of others without jobs, public services and hope of a better life. Now with the Islamic State holding significant territory in Iraq, including Mosul, the second-largest city, the government's incompetence poses a regional threat.

The United States is working with Iraq to prepare for a major assault to retake Mosul, a necessary goal. But President Barack Obama has done little to explain the expanding mission to the American people to win public support. There are now about 5,000 US forces in Iraq, despite Obama's past pledges to withdraw all troops. On Monday, Pentagon officials said they were moving US military advisers closer to the front lines, giving Iraqis eight helicopters and providing $415 million to pay the salaries of Kurdish militias.

US officials have been trying to persuade Iraqi leaders to calm the frictions and focus on the urgent Islamic State threat. Even as the Iraqis pursue military victory, they also need to create a plan to rebuild Mosul and allow Sunnis " who remained after the terrorist group forced Yazidis, Assyrians and other minorities to flee " more self-governance. But so far, the political chaos makes that impossible.

It would be disastrous if Americans, Iraqis and their partners were to succeed in the military campaign against the Islamic State only to have the politicians in Baghdad squander another chance to build a better future. More than 13 years since Saddam Hussein's overthrow, there's less and less reason to be optimistic.

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Publication:Qatar Tribune (Doha, Qatar)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Apr 25, 2016
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