New Age Islam Edit Bureau
12 May 2018
Whom Do You Stand With, Iran Or
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
A Peaceful Revolution in Malaysia
By Richard Javad Heydarian
Trump Is Playing Into the Hands of
By Fareed Zakaria
Disputes over Iraq and Syria: Strategies
By Shehab Al-Makahleh
Lebanon’s Elections and the Region’s
By Randa Takieddine
What to Expect From Iraq's Election?
By Zaid Al-Ali
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Whom Do You Stand With, Iran Or Israel?
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
11 May 2018
It is a very embarrassing question because
it violates all the concepts on which our political culture was built.
Yesterday, Israel attacked 50 positions
managed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria in retaliation for firing
10 missiles toward Israel. It was claimed that the Revolutionary Guards
retaliated against the Israeli attacks a night earlier.
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid
al-Khalifa volunteered to explain the stance. He wrote on Twitter: “Since Iran
violated the status quo in the region and violated countries’ (sovereignty) via
their forces and missiles, then any country in the region, including Israel,
has the right to defend itself by destroying the sources of threat.”
Sheikh Khalid’s stance is consistent with
any state that stands against Iran’s crimes in the region. In politics, stances
change according to the interests and necessities. If we ask the majority of
the Syrian people about their opinion, they would chant and support Israel in
targeting Iranian forces and their militias in Syria.
There is no excuse stronger than defending
the right of 600,000 people and the 10 million displaced citizens from the
crimes of Iran’s forces and allies. Stances have their justifications and they
are not always sacred as they are about a little rationality and a little
The stance is with Iran if it supports the
Palestinians, with Israel when it strikes Iran’s forces in Syria, with the
Palestinians when Israel attacks them, with the Lebanese-Iranian Hezbollah when
it said it was liberating Lebanon from Israeli occupation and with Israel when
it targets Hezbollah when it attacks the Lebanese and when it participates in
killing the Syrians. The stance is with the attacked party against the
Is it difficult to understand this logic?
This is the required rational stance in a mad region. The ideologues are the
only ones who are probably incapable of accepting it.
If you ask any Syrian or Lebanese woman
whose son was killed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, she will not hesitate
to pray for victory to Israel and for the loss and defeat of its rivals. This
does not make the Israelis right in occupying Palestinian territories or right
in their persecution of the Palestinian people.
A Different Phase
We are facing a different phase and a war
that’s new of its kind. For the first time, Israel and Iran are fighting as in
the past the war between them was via their proxies. The fighting is now direct
between them and it’s happening on Syrian territories.
For the first time ever, we see the
Revolutionary Guards who dominated in the region, in Iraq, Yemen and Syria, pay
a high price and realize that they trespassed their limits.
As they usually do in Lebanon, the
Revolutionary Guards tried to evade responsibility and claimed in an official
statement that they are not responsible for firing the 10 missiles towards
Israel and blamed Assad’s forces for firing them.
The Israelis will not go to court and will
not wait for international inspection committees to address this. They do not
need evidence to know that who is behind this are Qassem Soleimani’s forces who
will not be safe by hiding behind the powerless Syrian regime troops.
Tehran must have heard about the stance of
the Syrian regime – Soleimani says he’s willing to sacrifice the last standing
Iranian soldier for Assad’s sake – that it is willing to sell Soleimani and the
Iranians in the first political deal as a result of the new military
Assad will cooperate with whichever power
wins in his land and now that Israel is involved in the war, Iran is probably
the biggest loser. Meanwhile, the Russians do not mind the new developments.
The picture is today clearer and the aim is
to force Tehran’s regime to retreat. The plan includes American President
Donald Trump’s decision to scrap the nuclear agreement and reinstate economic
This is in addition to getting Israel’s
military involved via the painful strikes that destroyed Iranian sites and
convincing the Russians to be neutral as after they usually voiced objections
they now sit in the observers’ seat and are no longer threatening to use their
missiles against Israel’s strikes.
All this aims to serve the same purpose
after the Tehran government refused international calls to militarily retreat
to its borders and to stop interfering in the affairs of the region’s countries
and toppling their governments.
On May 9, Malaysia shocked the world via a
stunning electoral outcome that saw a nonagenarian return to power. Similar to
the Brexit vote and the 2016 US presidential elections, most observers falsely
predicted a narrow victory for the losing side.
Yet, only hours after election booths
closed down, it became clear to everyone that the impossible had happened. At
the age of 92, a remarkably robust and fiery Mahathir Mohamad, the former
strongman of Malaysia, led an energised opposition against the formidable
machinery of outgoing Prime Minister Najib Razak.
With legendary conviction and swagger,
Mahathir braved the sweltering summer heat, a battering campaign schedule, and
endless mudslinging by his critics, who mockingly claimed he was just "too
old" to run for office.
The newly minted Malaysian leader isn't,
however, expected to stay in power for long. As part of a grand bargain,
opposition groups adopted Mahathir as a transitional leader to shepherd the
country towards a new era of democratic dynamism and clean governance.
Last century saw Mahathir build the
foundations of an economically dynamic Malaysia. This century may see him
paving the way for the creation of a robust democracy in Asia.
The ultimate winner of the elections is
long-time democracy activist and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is
currently in jail on sodomy charges. Having just secured a royal pardon, Anwar
is slated to become Malaysia's prime minister for the foreseeable future.
After decades of sterile authoritarian
politics, Malaysia has become, almost overnight, a beacon of democratic hope in
a region troubled by right-wing populists and military regimes.
A Revolt against Corruption
At its very heart, the latest Malaysian
elections reflected a nationwide rejection of corruption and impunity among the
In many ways, the electoral outcome was
tantamount to regime change, as the Mahathir-led opposition coalition Pakatan
Harapan ended the six-decades-long rule of Barisan Nasional (BN), formerly the
It marked the first interparty transition
of power in post-independence Malaysian history. The outgoing prime minister
and his associates were desperate to stay in power amid a massive corruption
scandal, which could see him and his associates end up in jail.
Mr Najib and his coterie have been accused
of looting as much as one billion US dollars from the state investment fund,
also known as 1MDB. As a result, governments around the world, from the United
States to France and Singapore, have launched investigations or frozen accounts
associated with the 1MDB fund.
Yet, the Najib administration showed little
interest in accountability and reform. If anything, it chose to dig in. Over
the past two years, Najib mercilessly purged all critics within the government,
including Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, in order to stave off any
internal political coup.
In a direct assault on state institutions,
the embattled leader went so far as firing the attorney general investigating
the 1MDB corruption scandal.
After leaked confidential papers alleged
that hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen funds ended up in his bank
accounts, Najib astonishingly claimed that they were just "gifts"
from the Saudi royal family.
But a majority of Malaysian people were
sick and tired of painfully watching state institutions decaying under the
punishing weight of widespread corruption and outright decadence among the
Father of a Nation
The upshot was a political tsunami that saw
no less than Mahathir, an ultimate insider and long-time mentor of Najib,
joining forces with the opposition.
For two decades, Mahathir led with an
iron-fist, muzzling the media, jailing rivals, including his former
deputy-turned-ally Anwar, and overseeing draconian laws, which heavily marginalised
ethnic minorities (ie, Chinese and Indian) and the liberal intelligentsia.
He also became a leading voice behind the
so-called "Asian values" paradigm, self-interestedly claiming that
civil liberties and individual freedoms are alien principles that run counter
to the communitarian fabric of Eastern civilisations.
But Mahathir is also credited for turning
Malaysia into a manufacturing hub, with a world-class infrastructure and a
booming middle class. It's precisely this commendable legacy that has won him
supporters across generations.
After stepping down from power in 2003, he
quickly turned from a king to a kingmaker, engineering the ascent (and later
dismissal) of his two successors, Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak.
Najib would have lost power as early as
2013, if not for heavy gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement, systematic
intimidation of opposition media, and large-scale patronage of favoured and
heavily rural constituencies,
Back then, the opposition, led by Anwar,
won the popular vote but was heavily underrepresented in the parliament. This
time, however, Mahathir managed to split the rural, Malay base of the ruling
party, while rallying the more urbanised and ethnically diverse opposition
groups under his charismatic leadership.
The road ahead, however, is challenging.
Mahathir has promised to retrieve stolen funds from the state coffers, hold
corrupt officials to account, and even review the country's major
infrastructure deals with China, which heavily invested in Malaysia during
Moving forward, he will have to reform
state agencies, including the judiciary and internal security services, which
are still populated by holdovers from the previous regime. Otherwise, any
anti-corruption initiative will likely provoke a backlash from within the state
Overhauling Malaysia's heavily damaged
democratic institutions, however, will be a long-term project that will fall
under the responsibility of Mahathir's successor, Anwar, and the country's new
generation of progressive, young leaders.
For now, boundless hope is in the air.
Democratic change has finally come to the Southeast Asian country, though,
quite paradoxically, through the intervention of a former strongman.
Decades from now, Malaysia's 14th general
elections will likely be remembered as a peaceful revolution, which altered the
Southeast Asian nation's history.
May 11, 2018
It is hard to understand the rationale
behind Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
Jeb Bush said Donald Trump would be a
"chaos president." And this week, Trump lived up to the billing,
choosing to defy virtually the entire world, including America's closest
European allies, and raising tensions in the most unstable part of the globe,
the Middle East.
It is hard to understand the rationale
behind Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. If Iran is as
dangerous and malign an actor as he says, surely it is best to have its nuclear
program frozen at a pre-military level and monitored 24/7. The chances of
getting Tehran to agree to more stringent terms are close to zero. If the terms
of the Iran deal were applied to North Korea, it would require Pyongyang to
destroy its nuclear weapons - the fruits
of a decades-long effort - and agree to invasive inspections and foreign
surveillance in a country so closed it is known as the Hermit Kingdom.
If there is a strategy behind Trump's move,
it is probably regime change in Tehran. His closest advisers have long
championed regime change and have argued that the best approach toward Iran is
a combination of sanctions, support for opposition groups, and military
intervention. As a congressman, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the
Obama administration for negotiating with Tehran and instead suggested that the
US launch close to 2,000 bombing sorties against Iran. National security
adviser John Bolton has been even more forceful in pushing for regime change,
advocating much greater support for the MEK, a militant opposition group with a
checkered past and little support within Iran. Both Bolton and Trump attorney
Rudy Giuliani have given paid speeches for the MEK, and in Paris last July,
Bolton declared that the United States should pursue regime change in Iran so
that the Islamic Republic would not celebrate its 40th birthday (which would be
in 2019). Thus, three of Trump's closest advisers right now have views on Iran
that are so extreme that it is hard to think of anyone outside of Saudi Arabia
or Israel who shares them.
Iran is a repressive and anti-American
regime that has spread its influence in the Middle East, often to America's
detriment. But it is also an ancient civilization, with centuries of power and
influence in the region. The notion that the United States could solve all of
its problems with Tehran by toppling the regime is fanciful. It has withstood
American pressure and sanctions for nearly four decades. And even if it were
somehow possible to topple it, look around. The lesson of the last two decades
in the Middle East is surely that regime change leads to chaos, war, refugee
flows, sectarian strife and more. It opens a Pandora's box in a land already
rife with woes.
Look beyond the Middle East at the record
of regime change. Whether it was an unfriendly ruler like Guatemala's Jacobo
Arbenz or a friendly one like South Vietnam's Ngo Dinh Diem, regime change was
followed by greater instability. Look at Iran itself, where a British-American
sponsored coup led to the dislodging of the elected government, which was one
of the factors that led to and still legitimizes the Islamic Republic. Consider
also America's heavy-handed intervention in the Cuban liberation movement
around the turn of the 20th century, which left a legacy of anti-Americanism
that the Cuban Communists exploit to this day. Misjudging and mishandling
nationalism may be the central error in American foreign policy.
By contrast, when America has helped open
countries to capitalism, commerce and contact, these acids of modernity have
almost always eaten away at the nastiest elements of dictatorships. For all its
problems, China today is a much better and more responsible country than it was
under Mao Zedong. People often point to Ronald Reagan's campaign against the
Soviet Union as one in which pressure against an evil empire helped produce
regime change. But they remember only half the story. Reagan did pressure the
Soviets. But as soon as he found a reformer, in Mikhail Gorbachev, he embraced
him, supported him and made concessions to him. So much so that he drew furious
opposition from conservatives in America who called him "a useful
idiot" who was helping the Soviet Union win the Cold War.
Iran is a complicated country with a
complicated regime. But it does have moderate elements within it that were
clearly hoping the nuclear deal would be a path to integration and
normalization with the world. Those forces do not have the dominant hand, but
they do have power, not least because President Hasan Rouhani has popular
backing. But Iran has always had a strong hard-line element that believed that
America could never be trusted, and that self-reliance, autarky and the spread
of Shia ideology was their own strategy for self-preservation. Donald Trump has
just proved them right.
Disputes in the Middle East cannot be
resolved unilaterally. They can only be tackled collectively, through
integrated regional and international cooperation. This applies to challenges
such as the Palestinian cause, terrorism, Arab-Iranian conflict and other lesser
Some political observers believe that the
Arab-Iranian dispute should be addressed even before the Palestinian-Israeli
issue. Since 1967, the Middle East has been a hub for the worst military
conflicts and wars.
About 22 percent of world’s conflicts have
been concentrated in the region during the past three decades. When the
eight-year Iraqi-Iranian went on from 1980 to 1988, both countries lost more
than 2 million soldiers.
UN statistics reveal that about 40 percent
of the total number of those killed in armed conflicts has fallen in the Middle
East since 1980 until the end of 2017. Such conflicts have complicated the
political scene and have led to further chaos when the Arab Spring erupted in
some Arab republics.
Up to 72 percent of world war toll and
military conflict fatalities have been reported in the Middle East. Moreover,
the Middle East has the highest levels of terrorist attacks since 2003.
Incidents of terrorism increased by 50 percent, leaving many countries behind
owing to their impact on economies.
Balance Of Power
Many states harbour a strong belief that
their main enemy is Iran as it tampers with the stability of Arab countries.
This started with Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria. Since no conflict can take
place without the pretext, if the root cause is to be resolved then changing
the balance of power and the regime in Iran are a must.
As Iran was eying Iraq since 1980s, after
regime had changed in Tehran in 1979, a conflict broke out which saw in the
Iranian expansionist policies a strategy to rule over the whole region.
The first Iranian step was to control Iraq
after American pullout because Iraq is in the north of the Gulf and Iran is
located to the east of the Gulf States.
This is likely to pose a major threat to
Gulf states as Iraq is geographically and strategically located between three
major powers: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, Turkey and Iran.
Iranians have sought to play the Iraq card
first before moving to play other cards which include sectarianism, the cards
of Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Iran believes that an Arab-Iranian model can be
created through the Iraqi gate, with the support of others – such as Russia,
Syria – without reaching a compromise between Arabs and Iranians in such a
There is a firm belief that the Iranian
regime should be changed in order for the country’s policies to be changed
accordingly. Hence, changing the regime of the Vilayat al-Faqih may be
considered a regional and international necessity before the possibility of confluence
of Iraq and the other Gulf states in the form of an alliance or to form a new
No Peace Deal
But why all previous wars have ended with
no peace deal or surrender agreement? The Iran-Iraqi war ended on August 8,
1988 with a truce but without a peace or surrender agreement being signed. The
same applies to the two wars against Iraq.
Thus, the answer is simply tacit which
bears the seeds of a war that would erupt any moment. Should this happen, Iran
will be forced to leave Iraq and Syria to protect its borders.
Iran looks at Arabs, whether Sunni or
Shiite, from a heritage perspective. It considers the GCC a springboard backed
by the West to besiege Iranian revolution.
On the other hand, Gulf Arabs regard the
Iranian revolution as an existential threat. This was exemplified by Khomeini
who called on Arabs in the Gulf to stir up revolution.
Iran and Arab states are heading toward
direct regional conflict that would drive Israel to intervene by targeting some
strategic sites in Iran to turn balance of power. The month of May is very
critical where the future of the Middle East region will be at stake.
The recent elections have not changed the
balance of power in Lebanon. Everyone knows that Hezbollah dominates
decision-making in the country and the proof is that it never commits to the
“policy of dissociating” the country from the region’s crises.
The regional arena and international
developments following Trump’s decision on the nuclear deal with Iran has
raised plenty of questions as to how Lebanon and its new government, which will
probably be headed by Saad Hariri, will deal with various issues — primarily
those pertaining to Syrian refugees, the country’s relations with the Syrian
regime, the stance towards Iran’s activities in the region and the
implementation of the conditions of the Cedar Conference.
Hariri’s Stance against Syrian Regime
President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil have repeatedly said it is important that Syrian
refugees return to Syria. Hariri agrees to the principle that they must return
to Syria, but only when the security situation is conducive for their return.
At a meeting in Brussels, Hariri asked the international community to help
Lebanon bear this burden.
The Syrian regime wants Hariri to negotiate
this matter with it and wants to force him into giving up his stance against
talking with Bashar al-Assad. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem visited
New York and asked his Lebanese counterpart, who did not hesitate to meet him
without getting an approval from the cabinet and the prime minister first, not
to say that it’s important to negotiate with the Syrian regime regarding the
issue of the refugees and to leave this task for Hariri to force him to speak
with the regime.
So will Hariri, if he heads the government
that will include several ministers affiliated with Hezbollah, negotiate with a
regime that’s fighting with its Sunni citizens, displacing them and forcing
them to become refugees in neighbouring countries? Before killing its Sunni
citizens, the Syrian regime has killed plenty of Lebanese figures of whom the
most important was its Sunni leader Rafiq Hariri.
There is no doubt that addressing the issue
of ties with the Syrian regime will be one of the most difficult matters that
Hariri will confront because Bassil, who aspires to succeed his father-in-law,
will stand with Hezbollah, the actual decision maker in this case, which never
cared about the government’s dissociation policy.
In addition, how will Hariri confront the
threat of escalation between Hezbollah and Israel after Trump withdrew from the
nuclear deal and if Iran escalates its destructive activities in the region,
from Syria, Yemen to Lebanon, via Hezbollah? After winning in the elections,
Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said Beirut is part of “the
Meanwhile, an Israeli official said after
elections ended that “Lebanon meant Hezbollah” – as if this harmonizes with
Hezbollah’s stance. If Israel continues to escalate the situation with Iran in
Syria, the question will be: Will Iran drag Hezbollah to involve Lebanon in a
war since Nasrallah thinks Beirut stands for the “Resistance”? It’s not in
Hezbollah’s interest to open another front in Lebanon but it may find itself
forced to do so to serve its Iranian guardian.
Will the 2006 scenario repeat in Lebanon?
In this case, the promises made at the Cedar Conference will come to an end.
However, when it comes to the economic aspect, the Lebanese president — like
the prime minister — showed he wants the path of the Cedar Conference to
succeed, unlike Hezbollah and its media outlets which have been skeptical about
Hariri has an ally in this matter, the
president and his governing family – although Bassil’s ambition to become a
president makes him stand with Nasrallah all the time as seen in the statements
he made during the electoral campaign.
The results of Lebanon’s elections did not
carry huge surprises but they raise plenty of questions during a very critical
period of time in the Middle East considering there is a confrontation between
the Iranian regime and its proxy Hezbollah, which are destabilizing the region,
and an impulsive American president and his Israeli allies. We pray to God that
what’s next is not worse for a region that has been enduring many wars and
By Zaid al-Ali
This week's elections in Iraq are unlikely
to produce any earth-shattering results. There is far more electoral
competition between parties in Iraq than most other countries in the region,
including Lebanon where voters this week returned the country's political
monopoly to power with scarcely any changes. But most of the main candidates in
Iraq are well-known quantities and there is absolutely no chance of any
independent figures or new political forces breaking into parliament or into
government. Given how dysfunctional many of those candidates have been while in
power since 2003, many voters have already decided that they will protest
against the state. The only real question is how many votes Iraq's dominant
parties will gain on election day, and how they will use the results when
negotiating the formation of the next government.
Some commentators have noted that one
difference in 2018 is the increasing number of cross-sectarian alliances, but
that trend started many cycles ago, and there are currently very few electoral
alliances that are likely to attract voters from across the ethno-sectarian
divide. There is an argument that electoral politics have regressed in that
regard: in 2010 and 2014, there was significant chatter about new civil,
independent movements that contested those elections, but they have been close
to absent from the current elections.
As in the past, the main focus of attention
will be on how Shia Iraqis will cast their votes. Their community's dominant
position virtually guarantees that the next prime minister will be drawn from
one of a small number of parties and alliances. That is even more certain than
in the past, given how divided and discredited other communities' politicians
have become. And while most parties barely have any political platforms to
speak of, there are a few differences that will make a difference to Iraq's
future, including their respective positions on whether the country should be
involved in the region's many conflicts.
Who Is Running?
Past electoral cycles have produced many
surprises, including Iyad Allawi's surprise victory in 2010, so predictions are
naturally unwise. However, the frontrunner in the 2018 elections appears to be
current prime minister Haider al-Abadi. The question is less whether al-Abadi
will come out on top, and more how much distance he will be able to put between
himself and his closest competitors. Al-Abadi is a moderate in both substance
and style: a soft-spoken individual whose rhetoric is consistently conciliatory
and who seeks to keep Iraq at arm's distance from all international and
regional powers and, thereby, protect the population from any new conflicts.
Al-Abadi's narrative and electoral platform will appeal to many voters,
particularly given the state's victory over the Islamic State of Iraq and the
Levant (ISIL) for which al-Abadi has taken some credit, and for Baghdad's
vastly improved security since 2014. He has set the tone for these elections,
which have been remarkably civil in comparison to the poisonous atmosphere that
prevailed in 2005, 2010 and 2014. At the same time, however, al-Abadi's
moderation suggests weakness to those voters who are accustomed to their
leaders projecting strength and arrogance, which has led some analysts to
question whether he will do well enough to dominate the next government.
Alliances headed by Muqtada al-Sadr and by
Hadi al-Amiri are al-Abadi's main competitors. Al-Sadr and his family profess
to represent Iraq's most marginalised economic communities, and as a result, he
is one of the country's very few political movements that has a loyal
constituency that consistently earns him approximately nine percent of the
popular vote. Al-Sadr's platform strongly favours an independent foreign
policy, which sets it apart from Iranian-backed politicians including al-Amiri.
He also carries a strong anti-corruption message, which he has demonstrated his
commitment to by forbidding almost all of his alliance's previous MPs from
standing in this year's election (nominally in an effort to curb the benefits
of incumbency). Finally, al-Sadr has allied with the Iraqi Communist Party,
formally to encourage greater participation of Iraq's technocratic class in any
future government. It is unclear whether that will translate into additional
votes (some Iraqis are likely to shy away from voting for any alliance that
includes communists), or even whether it will actually lead to an improvement
in the government's performance.
Hadi al-Amiri's Fatah Alliance is one of
the main unknowns in the coming elections. Fatah is led by the Badr Brigades
and by elements drawn from the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), many of which
have received material support from Iran. The Alliance will no doubt benefit
from the PMF's popularity in some circles, but a number of other factors will
bear significant negative weight on its prospects. Among other things,
al-Amiri's own performance when he was minister, which includes serious
allegations of nepotism and a series of questionable statements to the press
denying that there was any real poverty in Iraq, does not play very well with
the public. Serious questions have also recently been raised about al-Amiri's
administration of PMF monies, which will serve to remind voters of his pre-2014
past. In addition, al-Amiri's and Fatah's close association with Iran is an
overall negative in Iraq generally and in the Shia community that al-Amiri
hopes to draw most of his votes from. It is by now well established that a
large number of Iraqis, including Shia Iraqis, would prefer to keep an expansionist
Iran at arm's length and to not be involved in in the region's worsening
conflicts. In the past, those preferences caused for voters to abandon other
Iranian-backed alliances en masse and that factor could easily work against
al-Amiri, particularly given how war-weary Iraqis have become in recent years
and given that Iraq's regular army, police and special forces have now regained
many people's trust.
The other two alliances that are worth
discussing here include Ammar al-Hakim's Citizen Alliance and former prime
minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law Alliance. Al-Hakim has rebranded
himself and his movement on a number of occasions since 2009, in an attempt to
formally distance himself from his family's pro-Iranian past. His platform is
currently designed to appeal to a younger generation of Iraqis. That narrative
is unlikely to be particularly appealing to sufficient numbers of voters,
particularly given the competition from other coalitions, which means that his
Alliance is unlikely to improve on its performance in the 2014 elections.
Meanwhile, al-Maliki is broadly damaged goods at this point. He has been at the
receiving end of so much criticism and blame for his role in the Iraqi army's
incredible defeat in 2014 that few major political figures were willing to join
forces with him, and most of the rest have essentially vetoed him as a viable
national figure since 2014. He will still attract votes, mainly due to the
lingering benefits of his eight-year incumbency as prime minister, but he is no
longer considered a leading candidate for prime minister.
After the dust clears, and each party's
respective vote count is tallied, they will start the long and painful process
of forming a new government. Given all of the above, pro-Iranian forces are not
likely to win a controlling share of parliament, which means that Iraq will
probably be able to maintain its independent stance and focus most of its
attention on internal issues.
At the same time, however, whatever
government is formed will be necessarily as incoherent as in the past. Research
that was carried out in Lebanon in the run-up to last week's elections showed
that a crushing majority of candidates had little knowledge of their own
parties' platforms. If similar research were carried out in Iraq, it would no
doubt lead to similar results. Government formation in Iraq is negotiation not
over policies, but over personalities and power plays.
If there is one thing that the future
government could do to improve performance it would be to prioritise one area
of reform over all others (such as education or healthcare) and to invest the
bulk of the state's capacity into that area for a specific period with a view
to making real and quick progress at least in one area. That would not only lead
to improved standards of living, but it would also improve the public's trust
in government. Previous government programs did not set out clear priority
areas, and the result was that whatever progress was made was painstakingly
slow and marginal. Let us hope that at least that lesson will be learned and
that some form of prioritisation will be introduced in the coming period.