Iraq at Crossroads

Iraq at Crossroads

Saturday, 10 April, 2010

Hiwa Osman

Hiwa Osman
IWPR Iraq Country Director

As Iraqis remember the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime this month, they are ready to usher in a new era that marks the end of extremism and the beginning of good governance and national reconciliation.

Iraqi leaders must now decide whether to spearhead these efforts with the support of the international community, a decision that could seal their political fate.
 
We have held democratic elections, bravely combated extremist atrocities and averted the danger of a civil war. We are now starting to be able to stand on our own.
 
Despite the recent spate of violence, the worst days are behind us. It is now time for Iraq to enter a new phase of its history by moving forward and facing the challenges of establishing a true democracy.
 
This will be an era that requires good governance and national reconciliation. Implementing these will be major tests for Iraq’s leaders, who will be held to account by an electorate that has proven both vocal and powerful.
 
While Iraq still faces challenges, the achievements have been monumental. The fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime was followed by a bloody and emotional period of uncertainty, the traces of which are still present today.  
 
This is perfectly understandable in a country with the baggage of 80 years of bloodshed, dictatorship, discrimination and intolerance.
 
Iraq was in fragments, with the Shia afraid of the past, the Sunni of the future and the Kurds afraid of both.
 
Despite the divisions, Iraqi leaders managed to sit down under one roof and agree to a constitution – one that was approved by 79 per cent of voters.  Five elections have been held and three different prime ministers have held office, all vital signs of a vibrant democracy.
 
The power shift to the individual has been equally impressive. While most of our politicians emerged as strong leaders, they were humbled by the power of the voter and their decision to oust many incumbents, including leaders who were symbols of divisiveness.
 
The unpredictability of any political process is a sign of a healthy democracy. After last month’s parliamentary election, we still don’t know who the prime minister is.  
 
The changes in government have empowered the people and emboldened democracy. In most Middle Eastern countries, citizens are stuck with their leaders for life. The source of strength of Iraqis is that we can – and do - change our representatives.
 
It is time for Iraqi leaders to step up by promoting national reconciliation and good governance. These should be the priorities of the next government, and require the strong backing of the international community.
 
On April 9, Iraq as a country was completely destroyed – not just the society, but also the state. Iraqis had the monumental task of rebuilding everything from scratch. It was, and is, not easy. We’re still not there. We have too many enemies, among them extremism and corruption.
 
Thanks to the brave soldiers of both Iraq and the United States, extremist acts are subsiding. But corruption is still rife. Unfortunately, the two feed off each other.
 
The primary way for us to rid the country of corruption is to promote good governance. This is obtained through the true separation of powers, greater transparency and a strong and free independent media that holds officials accountable.
 
Iraq’s new leadership will need to take strong decisions to promote national reconciliation, which will be the last nail in the coffin that ends extremism.
 
For Iraq to tackle these challenges, we need the international community to support civil society and the Iraqi media. The international community can work with Iraqi institutions to promote good governance through strengthening the media, civil society and state institutions to encourage a culture of transparency and accountability.
 
The more milestones that are reached, the easier it will be for Iraq to be a healthy state in the Middle East and a viable political and economic partner for anyone seeking an ally in the region.
 
Iraq can be the example that shows the world that Islam and democracy are not mutually exclusive. Unlike some of America’s pseudo-friends in the region, Iraq can be Islamic and a true friend of the United States.
 
America can be an especially strong partner as Iraq addresses some of its biggest challenges yet. With the emergence of a new government, elected officials will have just four years to tackle corruption and national reconciliation.
 
If leaders achieve these important milestones, they will win over Iraqis and lead the country on the path of a true democracy. If they fail, however, Iraqis will not hesitate to escort them out the door.

Hiwa Osman is IWPR Iraq Country Director.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of IWPR

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