Africa and the Middle East

Iraq in 2018 3-31-18

Source: "Iraq - under construction"  

2018 IraqFrom the article: "When IS captured the city (Mosul) in 2014, Iraq seemed a lost cause. Its armed forces had fled. The government controlled less than half the country and the jihadists stood primed to march into Baghdad. With the collapse of oil prices in 2015, the government was broke. Iraq was a byword for civil war, sectarianism and the implosion of the Arab state order established at the end of the first world war. Now Iraq, home to nearly 40m people, is righting itself. Its forces have routed the would-be caliphate and regained control of the borders. A wave of victories has turned Iraq’s army into what a UN official calls the Middle East’s “winniest”. Baghdad feels safer than many other Middle Eastern capitals. The government is flush with money as the oil price has doubled since its low in 2016 and production has reached record levels. Iraq remains a rarity—the only Arab state, other than Tunisia, to get rid of its dictator and remain a democracy. Its fourth multiparty election since 2003 will take place on May 12th. In a region of despots, Iraqis talk freely. Media and civic groups are vibrant."

From the article: "In the 15 years since America’s invasion of Iraq, some 300,000 Iraqis and 4,400 American soldiers have been killed. In quick succession, three ideologies tearing the country apart have been tamed. Revanchism by the Sunni Arab minority, who are about 15-20% of the population but have dominated Iraq since Ottoman times, was a cocktail of Saddam Hussein’s brutal Baathist nationalism and even more brutal jihadism. It spawned al-Qaeda in Iraq and IS. But today it seems weaker than ever. Triumphalism by the long-repressed Shia Arab majority, making up about 60% of the population, also turned violently sectarian. But this seems to have lost much of its appeal after 14 years of misrule by Shia religious parties. And Kurdish nationalism lies in tatters, too. Denied independence in the 1920s, the Kurds are scattered across four countries. In Iraq they have long enjoyed quasi-independence in an enclave in the north-east. But last September Masoud Barzani, the Kurdish president, overreached by calling a referendum for a fully fledged state, defying Baghdad as well as protests from America and Iran. When he refused to back down, Iraqi forces snatched back the disputed territories that Kurds held beyond their official autonomous region (about 40% of their realm)."

From the article: "The calm is drawing Iraqis home. Worldwide it takes five years on average for half of those displaced by conflict to return home after a war, says the UN. In Iraq it has taken three months. “We’ve seen nothing like it in the history of modern warfare,” says Lise Grande, who headed UN operations during the war on IS. Millions returned without compensation, electricity or water. Rather than wait for the government to provide homes, they are repairing the wreckage themselves."

From the article: "Against this background one worry stands out. Iraq’s politicians are mostly failing to rise to Iraq’s new spirit. The main government jobs are still dished out by sect and ethnicity. In healthy democracies the opposition holds the executive to account. In Iraq the government is a big tent. Factions name their own ministers, and they in turn appoint ghost workers to claim salaries. Ports, checkpoints and even refugee camps are seen as sources of cash and divvied out between factions. Appointment is rarely on merit. Opinion polls suggest that most Iraqis want new faces, but Iraq’s leaders remain mostly the ones America installed in 2003."