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20 years after US invasion, Iraqis still in quest for change

March 20, 2023 at 2:05 pm

Paul Bremer, former American diplomat, is seen in Iraq [Stefan Zaklin-Pool/Getty Images]

Twenty years after the US invasion of Iraq, the country is trying to get back on its feet, Anadolu News Agency reports.

On 20 March, 2003, an international coalition led by the US launched a military operation to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime, and, despite toppling the regime on 9 April of that year, the American military presence continued for two decades.

In 2004, Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (post-invasion US-led interim government), instituted a quota system.

The system is ostensibly designed to ensure fair representation, with the position of president reserved for a Kurd, prime minister reserved for a Shia Muslim and Parliament Speaker reserved for a Sunni Muslim.

However, multiple Iraqi citizens told Anadolu that the Americans did not introduce democracy but, instead, established a hybrid political system.

Change for worse

Many citizens who spoke to Anadolu said that, in general, life has not sufficiently improved whether on the economic level or other aspects, such as services, unity of the society or state sovereignty.

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“After the fall of Saddam, the Iraqis hoped that changing his authoritarian regime would lead to a new state, based on democracy and fair distribution of wealth,” an Iraqi academic told Anadolu on condition of anonymity, due to fear of reprisal.

He went on to say “we had high hopes on the US administration’s implementation of its promises to establish a democratic system as an alternative to the 35-year era of the individual system (Saddam’s rule 1979-2003)”.

However, the reality after two decades is that the political process is marked by “corruption, sectarian quotas and resource-sharing among influential powers,” the academic said.

“Most Iraqis live with deteriorating services, uncontrolled weapons, and organised crime gangs,” the academic said.

Usually, consensus takes place between the winning blocs in the parliamentary elections, to distribute ministries and high positions among themselves, according to what is called “quotas”, which has led to unqualified people in high positions who work for the benefit of their parties at the expense of public interests.

Poverty affects 25 per cent of Iraq’s total population of more than 42 million people, according to the statistics of the Iraqi Ministry of Planning in early 2023.

Elusive change

Journalist Wissam Al-Mulla told Anadolu: “The most significant repercussions of the American invasion of Iraq are the state of shock experienced by the Iraqi streets, because of the situation in the country.”

“The Iraqis have not gained much, except for a limited margin of freedom of expression, which is slowly becoming narrower due to the suppression of opinions, the arrest of bloggers and the punishment of activists, journalists and media professionals,” he said.

The journalist went on to say: “Although we have gained some freedom, it came at the cost of social security, and the country witnessed several instances of security chaos and internal conflicts in different periods.”

“After 20 years, we aspire to overthrow the ruling political class and bring about change that leads to a genuinely democratic system similar to those in the civilised countries worldwide,” he added.

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Professor of Psychological Education, Hassan Al-Hamdani, said: “Iraq before the American invasion had prestige in its Arab and regional surroundings despite the blockade and diplomatic rupture with the regime, and the Iraqis were living under the law somewhat.”

The American invasion gave “a margin of democracy, and it had negative repercussions and some positive, including breaking the barrier of fear of power,” Al-Hamdani added.

Iraqi citizen, Ali Khalaf said: “Our life as Iraqis has witnessed a slight improvement with regard to roads and bridges, as well as in the field of hiring graduates of colleges and institutes, and providing job opportunities for the unemployed.”

However, Khalaf noted that poverty affects more than a third of Iraq’s population of more than 40 million people.

The basic rights partially achieved in Iraq, such as freedom of opinion and expression, are among the fundamental rights stipulated by the United Nations and international covenants, as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In October 2019, major popular protests known as the “October Revolution” took place in the capital, Baghdad, and other provinces in central and southern Iraq. Every year, demonstrators continue to demand their rights.

The protesters called for an end to corruption, improvement of living conditions and public services, job opportunities, an end to the quota system between Shia, Sunnis and Kurds, and a halt to the dependence of political forces on external powers, particularly Iran and the US.

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