As nominations for Iraq’s defence and interior ministries arouse greater political disquiet, the leaders of 14 of Iraq’s 22 ministries have been approved and seated. However, Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s ascent to head of the new government may not herald a new age of democracy as commentators have entertained.
The cabinet and ministerial appointments have shown that unwavering political allegiance pays more handsomely in the new Iraq than loyalty towards the country. Keeping in tradition with previous years, choices have been drawn along political party lines — parties that have staffed government institutions since 2003.
The newest ministerial class, contrary to claims of “relative independence,” reflects the current power plays and the dominant actors. Favouritism and nepotism have sullied the country’s appointment system by inserting into the fold a new crop of corrupt politicos, not merely impeding democratic growth but stunting its development altogether.
Whether by blood or by creed, newly appointed ministers are either affiliated with unreckonable militia factions including Asa’ib Ahl al Haq (AAH), Babylon Brigades, Popular Mobilisation Forces, Badr Corps or large political blocs — among them Sairoon and the State of Law.
AAH member Hassan Kazan was awarded the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The Ministry of Oil initially seated Jabar Ali al-Luaibi but replaced him with Sairoon-affiliated Thamer Ghadban to punish Luaibi for aligning himself to the wrong list.
Kurdish Gorran leaning former parliamentarian Srwa Abdulwahid expressed her dismay over the post awarded to Kazan. “What the ministry of culture needs is a candidate who breathes arts, literature. Someone able to restore our picture houses and theatres. In other words, a man who loves life,” she wrote on her official Twitter page.
In absence of effective parliamentary scrutiny, the selected portfolios raise concerns about government formation in Iraq, not just in speed but the practices underpinning it. In addition to setting off on the wrong foot, these practices cut straight through Abdul-Mahdi’s promise of ministerial reform.
To modernise appointment methods, Abdul-Mahdi introduced a system in which Iraqis eyeing cabinet posts could submit applications online. The fact that mechanisms used to sort, filter and narrow down the pool of qualified candidates were never disclosed has aroused greater suspicion against a measure viewed by many as another failed trick.
Despite the outsized role political parties play, the new technocratic head of state promises to rewrite Iraqi history but such practices have done little to build public confidence and trust. The rehabilitation of corruption-racked ministries needs more than a new ministerial head or the elimination of senior positions as the prime minister has proposed.
It needs esteemed leaders and men of integrity who can centralise commands and ministerial functions and override the commandments Iraq receives from its allies in Tehran and Washington.
Though it is arguable, Abdul-Mahdi has resigned himself to the status quo as the easier choice, allowing representatives of the existing system to usher themselves to government seats, instead of convincing those repelled by corrosive levels of corruption and cronyism to join Iraq’s political process.
As more analysts rush to label the new prime minister as the compromise upon which Washington and Tehran could find mutual ground, corruption continues to feed on Iraq’s political structures and anti-graft bodies. The system cannot fix itself, especially not by rewarding security actors and representatives from the parties responsible for siphoning Iraq’s resource wealth with ministerial seats.
Nazli Tarzi is an independent journalist, whose writings and films focus on Iraq’s ancient history and contemporary political scene.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.