The recent news of a cabinet reshuffle within the Iraqi federal government, which will be exclusively made up of technocrats, highlights the terrible crisis faced by the Iraqi government. The important loss of territory by ISIS a few days ago, won’t necessarily be a gain for Baghdad, which has been sinking these few years into a failed state situation.
The first challenge of the Iraqi government is the divisions within its own territory. In fact, Baghdad doesn’t have full control over the Iraqi territory. These past months, as a result of the international coalition’s relentless bombing, ISIS has withdrawn from and abandoned a certain number of its positions in Iraq. This changes nothing to the reality that the Iraqi army was unable to resist ISIS’ dramatic breakthrough in the region, which had in part been facilitated by the Sunni population’s feeling of abandonment by Nouri Al-Maliki’s government. In a country where confessional divisions are highly present, the liberation of these territories doesn’t mean they will automatically be under Baghdad’s control.
We notice the same situation in the northeast of the country were most of the oil reserves are found. The major part of the region is controlled by the regional government of Kurdistan, which has total autonomy and acts like an independent country in its diplomatic and commercial relations. In Iraqi Kurdistan, the Peshmergas were able to resist better to ISIS’ advances than the regular Iraqi army, in fact many Kurdis part of the regular army deserted to join the Peshmerga’s resistance. Foreign funding and the international delivery of military materials to fight ISIS has now allowed Iraqi Kurdistan to become a military force out of the reach of the Iraqi army. The Iraqi government is therefore left with no political or military room to integrate Kurdistan to the Iraqi federation.
One month ago, Iraqi Kurdistan resumed its oil exports and has been receiving since the entire revenues from the transactions without fears of illegal commerce allegations from the Iraqi government.
At the same time Kurdistan was highly vigilant of its relations with Turkey. Massoud Barzani, Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional president stated that supporting the PYD is akin to supporting the PKK; his approach holds the same rhetoric than that of the official Turkish position and is against that of Turkish and Syrian Kurds. Barzani’s statement, which may seem paradoxical coming from a Kurdish leader, is in fact the result of real-politic by the Iraqi Kurdish leadership, who is fully aware that in the region, only Ankara can stop their hopes for independence.
In addition to the issues of territorial and confessional divisions, Iraq is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The whole country is plagued by corruption, it goes from the payment of salaries of 50 000 fictitious soldiers, to the recent revelations by The Huffington Post, showcasing two Iraqi oil ministry directly corrupted by Unaoil, an energy consulting firm based in Monaco.
In face of this emergency, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi wants to pass a series of reforms that would deprive officials and government members from certain privilege, as well as suppress multiple honorific positions, for the sake of fighting against the ramping corruption that is of significant cost to the country. The government’s budget in 2015 for example, shows that the annual salary for the three vice-presidents and their 7000 bodyguards cost over 55 million euros to the Iraqi Treasury.
Al-Abadi’s reforms are indeed positive, and have been supported by the population as well as by the Shia clergy, which has an important influence over politics in the country. Unfortunately the reaction is too late. Since 2003 and the American intervention in Iraq, many basic services have been lacking in the country such as electricity and drinking water. With the barrel price down to 47$, outdated petroleum infrastructures, the absence of direct foreign investment because of instability and security problems and the looming threat of oil rich Kurdistan’s independence, Iraq doesn’t have any keys to opening the doors of stability and prosperity.
Picture: Check point in Al Anbar province in Iraq [Jayel Aheram/Creative Commons]