The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
Why Iraq's Abadi must step down Open in fullscreen

Laith Saud

Why Iraq's Abadi must step down

Serious questions persist over whether Iraq is still a country for all Iraqis [Getty]

Date of publication: 5 July, 2016

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
Comment: Iraq is in desperate need of strong and inclusive leadership, that will take responsibility for its actions and put nationalism before sectarian divisions, writes Laith Saud.

This week's devastating attack in Karrada, Baghdad might have seemed unfathomable had it not come on the heels of several major attacks across the Muslim world. Turkey, Bangladesh, and Saudi Arabia have all borne the brunt of "IS-style" attacks that as yet claim no position, objective or message; these attacks only further the induction of incessant and seemingly endless chaos.

It is certainly tempting to offer a broad critique of IS as a scourge that must be eradicated. But as common-sensical as it sounds, IS is a symptom of the region's problems, it is not the disease. These places are all very different and to treat them properly, one must look at the underlying foundations facilitating the disease.

In Iraq, for example, the problem is the politicisation of "sect" and the corrupt short-sightedness of Iraqi politicians hoping to make advances using sectarian platforms. To begin this process, it is necessary to start simply: The Prime Minister of Iraq, Haydar al-Abadi must step down.

We are all well-aware that in 2003, the US led an illegal invasion of Iraq that brought terror to the lives of its innocent people. They proceeded to dismantle the Iraqi state, piece by piece, until Iraq no longer served the purpose of a state, namely the monopolisation of the use of legitimate force to preserve law and order.

Thereafter, the occupying forces constructed a facetious facade of democracy that they touted to the world as "victory", when in fact the system created was one that facilitates and sustains the most vile and simplistic sectarian squabbling. Iraq was not always like this; in fact Iraq was once a model of integration and secular culture. To even ask whether one was Sunni or Shia in Iraq was considered "ayb", an Arabic expression that connotes "ignorance" and "rudeness".

Social consciousness was too evolved for such an incidental concern. Alas, that Iraq no longer exists and serious questions persist over whether Iraq is still a country for all Iraqis. This is a failure on the part of Iraq's leadership, not of its people.

Case in point: The recent "liberation" of Fallujah by Iraqi military forces was not an operation carried out by Iraqi military forces. Instead it was carried out by poorly regulated militias who often invoke sectarian mantras as part of their rhetoric, while the Iraqi military fought alongside them.

Iraqi leadership should have had a well thought out public relations plan for nationalising the Fallujah operation

Phrases such as "Oh Hussein", were spray painted around the city center, diminishing the tone and dignity of the operation to one of sectarian goading, rather than national liberation. The message is counter-productive. Rather than saying "this was a victory for Iraqis", the message was "this was a victory for Shia symbols against you (Iraqi Sunnis)".

Narrow-mindedness is unfortunately all too common, as the region is ablaze with simplistic sectarian pride. But Iraqi leadership should have had a well thought out public relations plan for nationalising the Fallujah operation. Failing to do so represents a shortfall in leadership, particularly on the part of Abadi, as the "buck stops" with the PM. Whether that failure is one of intent or capacity, is irrelevant.

On the heels of the Fallujah operation comes the absolutely abhorrent attack in Karrada. Again, it is logical to condemn IS, as we all should, but to do only that, is an act of sentimentality, not political agency. I do not know who IS are, what they want or who they criticise.

Abadi has overseen two years of unending violence and terrorism and he has failed to bring it to an end, or even remotely address the sectarian disease fueling it all

Abu Baker al-Baghdadi has brought nothing but chaos, death and despair to his supposed country of Iraq. He is not an elected official, but a criminal, and it is the state's responsibility to defend its citizens against criminals.

Abadi believes that the rogue elements now in Iraq, mean that his ineffectual leadership is to some extent excused. On the contrary: It is the obligation of a leader to overcome these difficulties, not pardon himself because ruling is difficult. It seems, I regret to say, typical for a leader of an Arab state to be filled with excuses.

Further, a state is required to protect its citizens under international law and norms. Abadi has overseen two years of unending violence and terrorism and he has failed to bring it to an end or even remotely address the sectarian disease fueling it all. It is time for him to step down.

What Abadi's resignation would accomplish

I understand that Iraq is a porous place; Iran and Saudi Arabia meddle in her affairs, not to mention the United States. But the election of Abadi was one that these major powers agreed to, and the dismissal of Abadi, though simple would send a strong message to Iraq's neighbors that the country must be, and will be above the sectarianism that Iran and Saudi Arabia seem altogether too comfortable with.

If it is clear that Iraq will produce a democratic system that honors accountability, this will be the first step towards introducing a wiser form of politics.

There must also be a dramatic shift in Iraq's political culture, which sees leaders boldly take responsibility for successes and failures

Nationalists are abound in Iraq, men and women who decry sectarianism. They are found among intellectuals, artists and yes, even politicians but the powers that be have prevented these voices from rising to the top of Iraq's political discourse. Despite this, I truly believe they represent the majority of Iraqis as the admittedly ambivalent victory of Iyad al-Allwai several years ago demonstrated.

There must also be a dramatic shift in Iraq's political culture, which sees leaders boldly take responsibility for successes and failures. This type of culture would instigate greater effort and long-term thinking. It is indeed a daunting task to lead in Iraq, the US left Iraq in ruins, and the Iranian and Saudi Arabian governments are engaged in a destructive regional conflict in Iraq itself.

But as long as leaders seek patronage from regional powers, the case of Iraq will remain hopeless. Only in Abadi stepping down can an effort be made to at least elect an "Iraqi-first" leader who will appeal to the population as Iraqi first and foremost.


Laith Saud is a writer and scholar. He is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at DePaul University and co-author of An Introduction to Islam for the 21st Century (Wiley-Blackwell). Follow him on Twitter: @laithsaud


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff. 

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More