Of leaders & institutions

April 5, 2011

As popular revolutions sweep the region, the future of Iraq and the viability of its current political system are in question.
One of the key principles that we try and uphold in the new Iraq is the democratic values of our nascent state, where citizens and institutions should come first. But the behavior of the country’s main players is suggesting that so far, it is in fact leaders and their political blocs that take priority.
To understand the reason for this, one must analyze the main examples of governance that Iraqis have observed since 2003: Western democracies, Iran and the Arab world.
Of these, Iraq seems to have opted for the Arab style of governance, where the leader comes first and the political party next.
The western democracy example, which revolves around a set of values that everyone works to uphold, does not seem to be as successful because it requires a national consensus over a set of values. The last few years proved that achieving this was nearly impossible.
The Iranian model was also difficult to implement. The ruling elite were brought together under the same goal, and they have a single purpose. Hence, the Iranian leadership is organized into an institution of governance. No need to explain here why this will not work in Iraq.
For this a number of other reasons, including paranoia about security and the need for stability, Iraq tried to copy the Arab model that puts the leader at the center of the universe and the political party as the guardian of patriotism and the nation’s security.
This was evident in various stages in the history of the new Iraq. During the formation of nearly every government, the focus has always been on finding posts for people rather than people for posts. This is mainly because the candidates come from political blocs that did not lose the election. In fact, no one lost in the last election!!!
And eight years into our democratic experiment, the leader is still a lot more important than the process or the institution. Since the government was formed, the leaders of the new Iraq have worked hard to closely imitate Arab leaders. All roads lead to the leader. All papers go to the leader. All decisions are made by the leader. If there is no one for a given job, the leader will do it. This attitude turned the role of the leaders from a shepherd to the one who knows all and can do all.
There are a few tangible examples from the new Iraq.
When the demonstrations started in Kurdistan, the KRG ignored them and the protestors were called troublemakers. When the President of the region returned to Kurdistan and announced in the airport that he supported the people’s right to demonstrate, everything changed and the government started to deal with the demands of the protestors.
In Baghdad, the person who serves as the prime minister, the commander in chief, the minister of defence, the minister of interior, the minister of state for national security, the supervisor of the independent commissions such as media and even issues badges for Green Zone for non-governmental employees is a single individual!
This culture is of course entrenched by the media and the leaders’ loyalists, who quietly stand by without ever challenging them. The culture is fuelled by the partisan media, which lives for conflicts and only understands how to be for or against an issue or individual.
Their coverage of personalized politics, while biased, accurately reflects the climate.
The weakness of institutions and the personalization of our politics are key factors and have played a big role in further complicating the situation. But there are forewarnings to this haphazard system which we cannot ignore: The fact is that regime change is occurring where politics is personalized and not institutionalized.
The onus is on the leaders to change their role: To stop running and managing most everything and instead serve as the shepherds of the democratization process. The leaders must turn the country from one of political parties and leaders, to one of individuals and institutions.

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