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

More of the Same in Samawa

New political parties are repeating old habits by hiring cronies and family members.
By Muhammad Fawzi

For many inhabitants of the southern town of Samawa, the fall of Saddam Hussein has not brought any obvious change in the way things are run.

While once they chafed under the tyranny of the Baath party, now they are protesting against the patronage games played by its successors on the Iraqi political scene.

"We got rid of one party, then a hundred parties appeared!" shouts Abbas Rahma, an unemployed man in his twenties.

Tempers in this provincial capital in the predominantly Shia south remain high after a January 3 demonstration against the parties' practice of filling government posts with their own supporters.

In the demonstration, at least one marcher was shot and killed.

Witnesses say the fatal shots were fired by a guard from the Shaaban 15 Movement – a group named, ironically, after the date on the Islamic calendar of the 1991 Shia uprising against the Baath.

In the job-starved south, some Samawis say that access to jobs as police, municipal council employees, watchmen and others is controlled by half a dozen locally powerful groups.

Such groups include religious movements like Shaaban 15, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the Dawa party, or more secular-leaning parties like the Iraqi National Congress and Iraqi National Accord.

Many inhabitants acknowledge that the parties do play a positive role in keeping order, manning checkpoints, or supervising the long queues outside petrol stations.

The parties also mediate in disputes between Samawa's powerful tribes.

"The parties try to help people with the authority given to them," said Captain Ali Ajil, who runs a local police station.

The problems come when the parties extend that authority over government hiring.

In summer 2003, the US-run Coalition Provisional Authority organised a series of town meetings and other carefully supervised processes to choose local and provincial councils.

In the south, posts largely were filled by officials from anti-Saddam opposition parties, which had fostered ties with the coalition during the war.

Now those local councils control the hiring process and, some Samawis say, they give preference to their relatives and friends.

Ahmed al-Huchamy says he applied directly to the local government for a job as a security guard.

When his application was rejected, he turned to the Dawa party, although he was not a member. The party members interviewed him, examined his credentials, and successfully lobbied the local government on his behalf.

The coalition says it does not interfere in the hiring process.

"We don't know the relations between the parties and the people of Samawa, because we do not have any relation with them," said a public information officer at coalition headquarters in the town.

Meanwhile, some unemployed Samawis are growing bitter.

Rahim Jumaa, 32, says he applied for a job at the municipal council, but was told that there were no vacancies. Yet shortly afterward, he says, the council hired the director's cousin as a watchman.

"Deposed president Saddam Hussein couldn't give a job to every citizen," says Rahim, "and now I can't find an opening in any kind of work so that I and my family can eat."

"I don't see any difference between the old regime and the new," Rahim says. "It's the same old routine, unfortunately."

Muhammad Fawzi is a trainee journalist with IWPR in Iraq.

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