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Democracy in Iraq appears to be taking its terminal breath

March 29, 2023 at 10:49 am

A view from the Iraqi Parliament during the session on electing the president in Baghdad, Iraq. [Iraqi Parliament Press Office – Anadolu Agency]

We are witnessing another decline in Iraq. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Democracy Index indicates another low point, with Iraq falling eight places to rank 124 out of 167 countries and the Iraqi regime classified as “authoritarian”. This is the lowest Iraq has ranked since the index was established in 2006 and is the fifth consecutive fall since 2017, according to Iraq Trade Report. The index provides a glimpse of the state of democracy worldwide based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; the functioning of government; political participation; political culture; and civil liberties. Based on the results of a group of indicators within these categories, each country is classified as one of four types: “full democracy”, “flawed democracy”, “hybrid regime” and “authoritarian regime”.

The indicator of this deterioration is added to a long list of indicators of Iraq’s decline into the underworld in which the country has been living for twenty years, following its 2003 invasion and occupation by US-led forces. The tragedy lies in the fact that, at present, most of the regime’s politicians are the same people who came along with the occupation under pretexts that were created for the purposes of misleading and marketing imperialism in a showy costume called democracy. It was an intentional linguistic-practical misrepresentation, of the kind that George Orwell wrote about in his essay Politics and the English Language: “It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way.”

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Orwell’s words could not be truer than they are today when describing Iraq, where the conscious intent to be dishonest is the policy adopted by the US and Britain in their silence about what the regime has done to the people, and their continued support for this corrupt sectarian regime 20 years after their invasion. This is probably because Baghdad has provided them with billions of dollars’ worth of reconstruction contracts to rebuild the same infrastructure that they had ensured was destroyed in the first place. In their effort to create an obedient nation, the imposed occupation authorities attempted to erase cultural heritage and memories, burn libraries, loot museums and ancient sites, target academics and scholars, and fuel sectarian violence; human rights violations became a daily practice that spared no one.

It has become commonplace for Iraqi politicians to reuse and recycle vocabulary with noble meanings to camouflage the regime’s terrorism, such as “liberation” instead of occupation; “democratic government”, not sectarian regime; “transparency” rather than the dominant corruption of bribes, theft and extortion; and “sectarian violence” instead of a dirty war involving fake terrorism and black operations. Meanwhile, the reality being lived on the ground translates the terms into their true meanings: security means lawlessness, and the rule of law means the rule of sectarian militias, especially the special forces trained by the US and linked to a number of parties of the authoritarian regime, according to the Democracy Index.

While international and local human rights reports and the indicators of democracy and the defence of human rights — such as the right to life, movement, religion and sect, and freedom of expression and the media — all confirm either actual violations or connections to the massively corrupt system, the two main occupying countries continue to recite the mantra of “democratisation” and “fighting terrorism” in order to support the regime. Such support is given despite its brutality against anyone who tries to protest against the political situation, the corrupt economy and humiliation by the state in all possible forms.

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On 7 March, for example, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin made a surprise visit to Iraq. The reason, he claimed, was to “reaffirm the strategic partnership” between the two countries; US forces, it was said, are willing to stay in Iraq according to the wishes of the Iraqi government. In answer to the question about what would prompt the regime to request additional military forces in the country, Austin said: “US forces are ready to remain in Iraq at the invitation of the government of Iraq. These forces are operating in a non-combat advise, assist and enable role to support the Iraqi-led fight against terrorism. This is a critical mission, and we’re proud to support our Iraqi partners. But we must be able to operate safely and securely to continue this vital work.”

The stated reason, then, is the continuation of the “war against terrorism” and for the regime to protect the US forces against any attack. It is the same policy that is militarily and politically profitable for economic domination that the US administration has tried to bury under the lie of “democracy”. It is as if the world has forgotten the similar claim made by US Secretary of State Colin Powell at the UN, a month before the US-led invasion, when he said in front of the whole world: “Iraq is involved in terrorism and the gravity of the threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to the world are real dangers that are present in the region and the world.” He lied. Powell also referred to the “sinister nexus between Iraq and the Al-Qaida terrorist network.” Another lie. And another one: “Iraq and terrorism go back decades.” By the end of Powell’s speech, or the tragicomedy he performed so brilliantly, the US military invasion of Iraq became an inevitable “necessity” to save the world and the Iraqis. It is the same type of intimidation that directs the “strategic partnership” with America today; the only difference is that the terrorists are no longer Al-Qaeda but Daesh, because the lie about Iraq’s relationship with Al-Qaeda was exposed for all to see.

READ: 20 years after the US invasion of Iraq

As for the British position in support of the Baghdad regime, British Minister of State for the Middle East Lord Tariq Ahmed made it clear during his visit to Iraq at the end of February: “I am delighted to have returned to Iraq and the Kurdistan region to see how the relationship between our two countries is continuing to flourish.” It is important to note that Ahmed referred to the Kurdish region as if it isn’t part of Iraq, and that the relationship between the UK and Iraq is flourishing as they are “working together to address shared challenges such as climate change, human rights and security.” He also mentioned the “richness of Iraq’s religious and ethnic diversity, the need to protect freedom of religion or belief and the importance of interfaith dialogue.”

His statements have a veneer of civility, and are useful for the continuity of the US and UK economic and military interests in Iraq at the expense of the status of its citizens, not least because the resulting material gains for Washington and Westminster are huge and they will not give them up. The responsibility for liberation from them falls on the shoulders of the national movement in Iraq, if it is able to gather itself together and unite, and work in cooperation with global anti-war and anti-racism movements. Only then can work be done to build true partnerships based on equality with all regional and international countries, and to stop Iraq’s seemingly endless deterioration and decline. In the meantime, democracy in Iraq appears to be taking its terminal breath.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 29 March 2023

READ: The Iraq war 20 years on

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.