Nine years after US forces removed Iraq’s brutal tyrant at a huge cost in lives and treasure, the country is slipping back into the clutches of a precarious new one-man rule, which will inevitably lead to full-fledged dictatorship and dash all hopes for a democratic, prosperous and stable Iraq. Taking advantage of Tehran’s unconditional support and Washington’s indifference, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has repeatedly violated the constitution to consolidate his own power and used the security and military forces to intimidate and oppress political rivals as well as the general population. He has lately suppressed peaceful demonstrations in Iraq.
Al-Maliki is presiding over a decaying, corrupt and brutal Kafkaesque bureaucracy that uses a corrupt judiciary as a weapon against political rivals to conceal his cronies’ crimes. Meanwhile the government fails to provide the people with basic services such as clean water, electricity and decent health care. The unemployment rate of the frustrated youth is more than 30%, allowing terrorists to easily recruit them into criminal gangs. The security situation is deteriorating day after day in spite of an increase in special security forces. But unfortunately, some of these forces are part of the problem. It has been revealed that they operate torture chambers directly overseen by the prime minister himself, as was reported by international human rights organizations.
Of even greater concern are the prime minister’s continued attempts to take over institutions that are supposed to be independent: the elections, integrity and communication commissions and, most recently, the Central Bank. These and other transgressions are chilling reminders of the old dictatorial governing style now returning to Iraq. Recently, al-Maliki stepped up his hostile rhetoric against the government of the Kurdistan region. That came in the context of his unconstitutional moves against Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq immediately after al-Maliki’s US trip. This made Iraqis misinterpret Washington's role in these events, which contradict the original US vision to build a democratic state in Iraq based on civil liberties, national reconciliation, an independent and fair judiciary and pluralistic political and media systems.
Washington's clear indifference to what’s happening in Iraq may have given al-Maliki undue confidence to move even closer to his objective of achieving absolute power by blatantly avoiding the implementation of the power-sharing Arbil Agreement sponsored by Masoud Barzani and the White House. The agreement’s political momentum weakened, which allowed the country to drift back into sectarianism and autocratic rule instead of moving toward reconciliation and reconstruction. This state of affairs is disillusioning Iraqis about the US’ role and efforts to set up a stable democracy in Iraq.
With no clear effort on the part of Washington, the Arbil Agreement’s sponsor, to break the current deadlock, Iraq's sects, ethnic groups and political parties will surely plunge into violence. The status quo will exacerbate differences and encourage some provinces to declare autonomy, as happened with Basra, Salahuddin, Anbar and Diala. That will increase the feuds between the central and regional governments on one hand, and among the various religious sects and groups competing for power and influence on the other. In turn, this may renew the cycle of vengeful violence during the dark days of 2006 and 2007. The fragmentation of Iraq and a return to sectarian violence will not only tear apart the Iraqi fabric. It will also further destabilize our already unstable region, which would cause an intervention by neighboring countries that are competing for influence in Iraq.
It is possible to avoid such a scenario. The US must step up its UN efforts to put the political process back on track without delay by insisting on full implementation of the Erbil Agreement in order to establish transparency, the rule of law, national reconciliation and respect for both the constitution and human rights. While it is up to the Iraqis to find a solution within the terms of the constitution, the US remains an important ally in Iraq's democratic transformation, which is incomplete. Today more than ever, America's support is essential to prevent Iraq from falling back into the hands of one person and one party.
The White House still has considerable influence on the Al-Maliki government. The US should use that influence to ensure that the huge sacrifices of the Iraqi and American peoples were not made in vain. This is Iraq’s only hope to escape what seems like a certainty: the fate of a failed state that will be marred by wars, authoritarian rule and corruption. This will only further fuel terrorism in an already unstable region. This tragic fate for the US role in Iraq, which would have disastrous consequences for the world, can certainly be avoided.