wed 08 jun 11
In response to protests, Iraq’s prime minister set a deadline of 100 days for reforms. That deadline has passed. But what, if anything, has actually been achieved? NIQASH takes a closer look.
Earlier this year thousands of Iraqis demonstrated against their government. In Iraq’s version of the Arab spring style protests which are still going on around the Middle East today, Iraqis made it clear that they were just as angry about high unemployment, government corruption and human rights abuses as their neighbours in the region. Their demands also included better rationing and no more interruptions to electricity supply.
In order to appease the demonstrators, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who holds power thanks to a delicately balanced coalition in the Iraqi parliament, set a 100 day deadline for reforms on February 27. That deadline expired on June 7 – and it seems highly likely that protestors will take to the streets again on Friday June 10, Friday being the beginning of the weekend in Muslim countries.
As the deadline approached, and then expired, there has been plenty of political wrangling going on – opposition parties have said that the country’s ills were supposed to be cured within 100 days and that al-Maliki has failed and should resign, while al-Maliki’s supporters say the 100 days was just about setting an agenda for reform and that this has begun.
Al-Maliki himself said there would be a transparent assessment of the successes and failures within each ministry after the deadline had passed. Specific and objective criteria would be used to assess performance and political bias would not come into it, a government spokesperson argued.
However the political rumour mill was already suggesting that some whole ministries might even be closed down, and in particular those ministries that were apparently only created in order to curry favour with certain voting blocs in parliament.
But what has really been achieved at street level in Iraq, if anything?
On political reforms:
Protestors in different parts of the country had demanded political reforms, and in particular the dismissal of state governors and council leaders who were performing poorly or perceived to be corrupt.
As a result of protests in their regions, the governors of the states of Basra, Babel and Wasit – respectively, Shiltagh Aboud, Salman al-Zarkani and Lateef al-Tarfa – all resigned. Apart from al-Tarfa, the resignations actually took place just before al-Maliki announced the 100 Day initiative.
After the US-led invasion of Iraq that deposed former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, local councils had more power to make decisions about their own regions. But the councils have been heavily targeted by protestors, who say they have achieved very little and have been corrupt and inefficient.
In response, al-Maliki’s government said that early elections could be held so that new state officials could be voted in. However no moves appear to have been made in this direction.
At the federal level, the general secretary of Iraq’s council of ministers, or cabinet, Ali al-Allaq, said that the 100 Day initiative had resulted in some improvements. He listed various ministries that had successfully assessed pertinent issues and prepared timetables for dealing with them. These were the ministries of justice, industry and minerals, health, finance, municipalities, public works and youth, al-Allaq said.
On power problems:
One of the major issues that angered protestors was the fact that electricity supplies were continuously interrupted in many parts of Iraq.
While the supply of electricity has improved since the US-led invasion in 2003, supply is still patchy and has not kept pace with demand. Baghdad had always had fairly regular electricity but the rest of the nation had only ever had between three and six hours of power a day. Many Iraqi homes have their own generators to make up for the shortfall.
And the Ministry of Electricity was not on the list of federal ministries that had apparently completed a programme for reform.
A senior official at the ministry was surprised to discover this. As the official told NIQASH, “the ministry submitted a complete plan featuring three main points before the 100 Day deadline elapsed. The first point talked about distributing electricity fairly throughout all the residential areas in Baghdad, the various provinces, cities and villages,” he explained.
“The second point evaluated contracts signed with Korean companies to connect electrical systems purchased from Siemens, in Germany, which should provide Iraq with 10,000 megawatts of electricity per day. And finally, the third point discussed the supply of generators, complete with fuel, to locals.”
In fact, the senior official said, his ministry had already started on the third measure, in co-operation with the Ministry of Oil, to provide extra power in some of Baghdad’s residential areas. The distributed generators were to provide around 12 hours of electricity to residents.
However residents of those areas told NIQASH that the supplied generators were only providing around six hours of electricity every day: two hours in the morning and four at night.
Financial and administrative corruption were also serious issues for Iraqi protestors. In terms of corruption, the Berlin-based organisation Transparency International had ranked Iraq fourth to last out of 178 countries in its 2010 index.
Ordinary Iraqis also wanted to see those officials accused of corruption brought to justice somehow.
However reports indicate that Iraq’s Commission on Integrity, which is supposed to investigate corruption at all levels of government, has not handled any significant cases within government institutions within the last three months.
Al-Maliki chose to highlight several potential instances of corruption personally. The Iraqi prime minister made a surprise visit to Directorate of Passports in Baghdad where he stressed that it was the right of every Iraqi to have a passport, before admonishing bureaucrats to conduct their business in a non-corrupt manner.
Al-Maliki also intervened personally in the case of the Trade Bank of Iraq; the bank’s general manager had fled the country for Lebanon as he was about to be arrested after an investigation into financial irregularities at the institute. Iraq has asked Lebanon to extradite the bank manager.
On human rights:
In mid-May the Iraqi cabinet ratified a draft law on freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration, the official Iraqi government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh said.
Additionally al-Dabbagh reported that 200 new jobs were being created at the Ministry of Human Rights.