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Iraq: contentious, controversial and explosive

By Bashdar Ismaeel - posted Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The Iraqi transitional road to democracy has been difficult and historic, but nothing compared with the future implications of the time-bombs that litter the path ahead.

Five years on from the liberation of Iraq, the US occupation of the Mesopotamian plains remains as contentious, controversial and explosive as ever.

While Iraq has dominated international media almost daily, hopes for a swift and successful transition to democracy have been all but dashed. Rampant insurgency, a stagnant economy and bitter squabbling among the Iraqi mosaic has effectively placed Iraq in a worse position in respect to its stability and economy than it was under Saddam.


Battling a deadly Sunni-inspired insurgency and the forces of al-Qaida has left the US coalition in a quagmire. Daily suicide bombings, attacks by sectarian militias, high-profile assassinations and mass unemployment took a dramatic toll that was only later partially bridged by a controversial US surge strategy.

However, short-term gains and initiatives have all too often over-looked the long-term implications in Iraq. Ultimately no plan is effective if the will of the factions, plagued by common mistrust and animosity, is lacking the appetite to make the state a success.

Post-2003 euphoria

The short-lived euphoria that followed the Iraqi liberation from decades of brutal totalitarianism was quickly submerged by mass looting and anarchy. A number of high-profile blunders, such as the disarmament of the entire army and rapid de-Baathification by the Coalitional Provisional Authority only added fuel to a raging fire.

Although clearly none of the weapons of mass destruction were found as had been suggested by US intelligence, the majority of the Iraqi population, particularly Kurds and Shiites who suffered repression and lived under the shadows of Baathist nationalism, were grateful that in their eyes the real weapon of mass destruction was dethroned and later dramatically hanged.

As the problems compounded, the stance of the US administration slowly turned from attaining victory to achieving “success”. What was hoped to be a short-term operation has seemingly lengthened month by month. Within weeks, Iraq became the battle-ground for Islamic terrorism, fuelled by a disenchanted Sunni population who after decades of supremacy were now affectively playing second-fiddle to the Kurds and their Shiite arch-nemesis.

History making at the polls

The transitional road to democracy was rocky but nevertheless historic. In 2005, the population defied terrorists’ threats and went to the polls in their millions. Elections for an unprecedented Iraqi constitution in October 2005 were followed closely by the first elections for an elected Iraqi National Assembly.


However, although pictures of Iraqis with voting cards served as great marketing boost for the US, mass boycotting by the Sunni population only undermined the process.

While the constitution was approved by the required threshold, the Sunnis have demanded ever since that before any talk of political reconciliation, the constitution must be amended, a greater Sunni representation must be afforded in government and the Iraqi security forces be overhauled to dilute the virtual Shiite hegemony.

This is easier said than done in Iraq, with factions reluctant to loosen their hard-fought gains, just because Sunnis “regretted” their stance at the polls. Under strong US pressure, mindful that without enticing Sunnis into the political fold terrorists and insurgents may never be undermined, the Iraqi government has attempted to reach out to the Sunnis. Loosening of the de-Baathification laws and a promise to establish a constitutional review committee have provided limited dividends.

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About the Author

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel is a London-based freelance writer and analyst, whose primary focus and expertise is on the Kurds, Iraq and Middle Eastern current affairs. The main focus of his writing is to promote peace, justice and increase awareness of the diversity, suffering and at times explosive mix in Iraq and the Middle East.

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