Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Iraqis Scathing of Leaders

Political vacuum angers Baghdad residents as violence mounts.
By Zaineb Naji
Baghdad residents are expressing anger that the country has been left in a political vacuum at a time of mounting sectarian violence.

They say they are disgusted with their politicians for failing to form a new government, accusing them of being out of touch with security and social problems that are worsening daily.

Baghdadis are fearful of leaving their homes because of the car bombings and abductions, while the power and water supply to their neighbourhoods remains poor.

Some told IWPR politicians had little regard for the lives of ordinary Iraqis who, they felt, were the main victims of the political vacuum.

Mohammed Kahz'al, a 37-year-old university professor, said the country’s leaders are unaware of the problems Iraqis are facing because they don't have to wait hours at gas stations to get fuel or worry if their children will return home safely from school.

"If it was their blood that was shed every day, they would have speeded up the formation of the government," he said.

"We don't know how long our leaders will behave selfishly because of their personal interests and power," agreed Asma Ahmed, a 32-year-old primary school teacher in the Karkh area in Baghdad. "We suffer daily from this tragic situation."

Nearly four months after the national election, political blocs are still negotiating Iraq's first permanent post-Ba'athist government. The main stumbling block is Ibrahim al-Ja'afari's controversial re-nomination as premier.

Ja'afari is trying to form a cabinet but has faced strong opposition from secular, Sunni Arab and Kurdish blocs who say they want more power in a national unity government.

He said this week that he wants to remain premier even as his core support from the United Iraq Alliance, Ja'afari's political bloc, crumbles.

Ja'afari's current government, dominated by the United Iraqi Alliance, has been accused of sectarianism and creating pro-Shia security agencies that target Sunni Arabs and fail to protect the public.

Sectarian militias are controlling certain areas in Baghdad, and residents in some neighbourhoods have established their own armed security groups.

Sunni Arab political blocs are jockeying to run the ministries of interior or defence, but Ja'afari has insisted that his alliance, which won about 60 per cent of the votes in the December election, hold the most powerful posts.

Bakir Mohammad Sami, a 53-year-old civil servant, blamed the United Iraqi Alliance for not being more flexible over the composition of the government.

"They don't want to step down even from one post, particularly the terrorist ministry of interior and its Safawi [Iranian Shia] elements," he said.

Sami said it was unacceptable that the Palestinians held elections one month after Iraq and have already formed a government, while the Iraqis still show no sign of reaching an agreement.

The public criticisms have been echoed inside parliament.

The delay "diminishes the credibility of [our] leaders," admitted Mahmood Osman, a Kurdistan Alliance member of the national assembly. "It will increase security problems that Iraqis suffer from because by paving the way for terrorists to implement their plans in Iraq."

Abbas al-Bayati, a United Iraqi Alliance member, expressed the view of many that a stable government was critical “to put an end to the violence that exists in most parts of Iraq”.

But some Shia believe that while a political vacuum is bad for Iraq, their leaders shouldn’t be rushed into making compromises that undercut the gains they’ve achieved.

"We don't want our leaders in the United Iraqi Alliance to compromise any benefit they have achieved for us over the past two years," said Qasim Shnaishl, a 44-year-old taxi driver from Baghdad. "We [Shias] suffered for many years because we were neglected by former governments."

Zaineb Naji is an IWPR trainee journalist in Baghdad.