Iraqi academic: reforms are needed, not a vote. Pope's visit 'wasted' opportunity
by Dario Salvi

Saad Salloum says the political system "does not work" because diverse factions pursue "their own interest" with the support of "militias, banks, televisions". A 'mafia' paralyses the country and fuels the spiral of violence that follows every election. The Sadrist bloc is also boycotting the second round of talks promoted by the premier to overcome the institutional stalemate. 


Milan (AsiaNews) - The Iraqi political system "does not work and must be reformed", because each party follows "its own interest" with the support of "militias, private banks, television and members of parliament.

A State within a State, a mafia, not a political landscape'. Interviewed by AsiaNews, Saad Salloum, journalist and associate professor of political science at the al-Mustaná¹£iriyya University in Baghdad, one of the oldest in the world, recounts the limits and oppositions of a country that has recently been the scene of a wave of violence.

Street protests from Baghdad to Basra, triggered by the announcement of Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr's withdrawal from political life, but behind which there are rivalries and selfishness paralysing a fragile institutional system that has been unable to guarantee the necessary stability since the US invasion in 2003. Within the Shiite world 'understood as a political system, not as a people', the scholar observes, 'there is a crisis of identity and opposition'.

Even the pope's visit, which represented an "extraordinary" and unique moment in recent history "but wasted", now appears a year and a half later as a "missed opportunity". Meanwhile, the second round of talks promoted by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ended in a deadlock. Again, the Sadrist bloc boycotted the meeting, rendering the government's efforts futile. Hence the participants' renewed appeal to the Shia faction to return to the negotiating table in a climate of increasing tension. 

Professor Salloum, how do you assess the current situation in Iraq?

The problem revolves around a political system that does not work and needs to be reformed. The first step is for the Shia to accept a review of power and wealth, initiating internal restructuring and dialogue with the other parties and minorities. Within the Shia world, understood as a political system and not as a people, which is different, there is a crisis that is also one of identity and opposition [see the different alliances with the United States and Iran], so the system cannot work because it precludes the possibility of change. The political leaders must push for reforms, the internal struggle within the Shia world [the majority in the country] will be decisive for the future as more and more people, see thousands of Yazidis in recent weeks, seek to escape across the border. 

Did you expect an escalation of violence like that of the past few days? 

What we have witnessed is the circle of violence, which is the easiest and most viable way for factions and parties [to make demands], because working for peace is more difficult. We need negotiations, dialogue, but in the current landscape no one has the ability to do that. Balance of power is an art, but no one has an interest in losing their hegemony. Each party follows its own interest with the support of militias, private banks, television stations and members of parliament. A state within a state, a mafia, not a political and party landscape. That is why the violence remains, the roots are not touched, while the mafia continues to benefit from the very structure of the country. 

Many see early elections as a possible way out. Do you think they could represent a turning point against the political and institutional stalemate?

Moqtada al-Sadr, the President of the Republic, the Chaldean Patriarch to name but a few, many have spoken of early elections. However, without the participation of all leaders it is in fact pointless, it is a procrastination of the struggle with the same problems and difficulties as today. Elections are themselves one of the problems, not a possible solution since after each vote a spiral of violence is triggered that seems inherent in the system. Structural reform is needed, but all parties and factions - from within - know that this is impossible at the moment.

US invasion, interfaith violence, the Islamic State: a bloody twenty years for the country. What to expect for the future?

Since the US invasion and the subsequent fall of Saddam Hussein, the circle of violence has accompanied the electoral round because of a political system based on components and not on citizenship or national identity. After each vote, we always return to the original point, so much so that the ballot box today is not a factor in democracy. In 2006 the violence in Samarra, in 2010 the attacks on churches in Baghdad, in 2014 Isis, in 2018 the street protests with the many victims, then the vote in 2021 and again a stalemate and crisis. The same vicious circle: ballot boxes, negotiations, violence. The problem is not the vote itself, but the political system that no longer works. The country must be founded on citizenship and multiculturalism.