Omar Al Mashadani, a former spokesman for the Iraqi parliament, political activist, and a Woodrow Wilson Public Policy scholar, spoke June 8 at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. Among the topics he discussed was Iraq’s current political structure, the role–or absence–of the military, and the long-standing issue of corruption.
Right now, Al Mashadani said, post-Saddam Iraq is not a model for democracy. Nor did he anticipate any progress on the issue of cabinet reform, despite Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s promise to complete such reform within 100 days.
In addition to the promised reforms, mass protests and demonstrations have also been on the agenda. Al Mashadani cited the Facebook event scheduled for Feb. 25, Iraq’s “Day of Rage.” People have the right to say what they want and demand it until they get it, he stated. In response to an audience member’s question as to whether mass peaceful protests were the only way to achieve change, Al Mashadani replied that it was one of the shortest ways to send a message to the cabinet. It also showed that these protests were related to what was going on in other Arab countries, he pointed out. Even though these protests are peaceful, however, those in power respond to them with violence, including arrests, beatings and torture. Many face certain death, he noted, or already have died. The demonstrations give those in power the opportunities to react in such a way, he said.
More recently, Human Rights Watch has reported that there have been more beatings, kidnappings, and arrests in comparison to before. Al Mashadani cited four students who recently had been arrested and who, upon their release, spoke about their experiences to the wider public. Yet one of the points of the protests has been achieved, he said, and it is that the officials did indeed get the message from the people.
Another important issue is the fact that at the moment Iraq does not have a real army, but instead a collection of militia members with the feeling that “you’ll be awarded this and that position because you served in the war against Iran, or are a member of this or that party.” There is no real understanding of what it takes to be in the army, Al Mashadani said, or any real concept of physical and mental training or discipline that is a part of the military process. As a result it lacks professionalism. Thus, in Al Mashadani’s opinion, in Iraq one can’t depend on the military for change. Yet the army was one of the main factors in the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, he pointed out.
Another important issue in Iraq is corruption, which exists on a massive scale within the government itself, Al Mashadani said. Even though there has been a multi-billion dollar increase in the Iraqi state budget over the last decade, there still exist many structures and services that have not been achieved or expanded. For example, no new power plants have been built. So the issue is, who is stealing from whom? Moreover, because of the prevalence of bribes, it has become difficult for U.S. and British companies to sign contracts with their Iraqi counterparts. According to Al Mashadani, corruption affects everything.
The cost of the many challenges facing Iraq has been borne most heavily by its population, Al Mashadani noted. In response to an audience member’s question about who Iraqi youths blame, Al Mashadani replied that they blame all those above them–Iraqi officials, for the most part. Al Mashadani himself just wants “a normal, safe environment for his kids,” he said. And for himself? A normal type of life.
By Layla Gama
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