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Maliki Statement (MUST READ!!!)
2011-01-14 03:58:08
Hamid Alkifaey

One of the prominent features of Noori Almaliki’s new government is that it is based on reassuring participating political forces that what happened in the past, such as marginalization, crackdown on, and elimination of, political opponents, won’t be repeated in the future. That’s why Maliki had to increase the number of ministers from 37 in the last government, to 42 in the new one. This number is almost double the number of ministries in China, whose population is 1.2 billion people (actual number of Chinese ministries is 24). The number of vice presidents and deputy prime minsters has also been increased from two to thee each. If the last government was inflated, what can we call the new government? Expanded? Greedily covetous? Or is it necessary, in order to avoid power struggle? But, can’t also be a recipe for more conflict?

Maliki should have sought to form a government that is balanced but effective – that is, one able to govern and ditch the legacy of the past, not simply satisfy the ambitions of some of those working in politics. There are basically thousands of people in Iraq today who believe that they are qualified to become ministers, senior officials and leaders – either because they have opposed the previous regime, and thereby acquired ‘freedom fighter’s legitimacy’ (especially those incarcerated); or because they possess advanced degrees, which of course entitles them to ‘knowledge legitimacy’! Or, because they are tribal sheikhs or clergymen, which gives them ‘historical’ or ‘religious’ legitimacy. Or, because they have appointed themselves as leaders of ethnic groups, sects, orders or regions, and this ‘legitimizes’ their demands to be in government. Most important for many is to be in the government, even if it’s only in name.

What has encouraged the spread of this phenomenon in Iraq is that some unsuitable and unqualified people have made it to becoming ministers and senior officials in the last three governments. This has enticed others to let their imaginations loose and seek high office, even if they are not qualified. Secondly, the financial and moral perks which people can get when becoming ministers, officials, or even advisors or managers, are enormous: huge salaries that they draw from the state, and the high social status they acquire out of joining the government, induce many to seek, painstakingly, to secure a governmental position, using whatever means are available to them. The pension that they get afterwards is also very tempting: 80% of final salary, for everyone who reaches the grade of an advisor and above, even if they worked for a week! There are very many youthful pensioners nowadays in Iraq, many having worked briefly as members of parliament or for provincial governing councils, or as aides or advisors for this official or that official – this is in addition to those forced to retire by the De-Baathification law, who run into tens of thousands. The Iraqi Retirement Act made Iraq a country of young pensioners.

This policy will certainly inflict more and more harm on the Iraqi economy, for two reasons at least. First, it has frozen the energies and expertise of many people who are able to work. Second, it obliges the state to spend on people who could otherwise be productive taxpayers. The state also pays for the guards of some retired officials whose numbers run into hundreds, in addition paying their living, transport and office management expenses. One of those participating in the government revealed to me that one retired official had 800 guards, all paid for by the state, while he lives in the fortified Green Zone!

The other feature of the Maliki government is the shrinking representation of women – who occupied almost one fifth of ministerial positions in past governments – despite the increase in the number of ministries. Navin Dakhail Saeed, a female member of parliament, refused to take the position of Minster for Women in protest at the absence of women in the new government. Ms Dakhil Saeed deserves to be saluted for this principled position, so rare in today’s Iraq. Maliki blamed other political blocs for not fielding women candidates as minsters, but he admitted that one of the blocs did in fact do so, for one ministerial position at least – but he rejected her. It’s not a secret that the political list that fielded the woman candidate was ‘Iraqia’, the woman candidate was Maysoon Aldamluji, and the ministry was that of Culture. The question is why did Maliki reject Miss Aldamluji as minister for Culture? Was it because she had no experience? Certainly not, since she was the deputy minister for culture between 2003 and 2006. According to those who worked with her, she was one of the most able deputy ministers at the time. Was it for her lack of political skills? Of course not: Aldamluji is a well-known politician and women’s activist, who has devoted all her time to political and cultural work. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Noon Magazine which specialises in women’s issues. She is also the spokeswomen of the Iraqia List and a member of parliament for four years. Was it for her lack of academic qualifications? Impossible: She holds a BSc and MSc in architecture from the University of London. This is in addition to her membership of many prestigious professional associations. She is also from a well-known family noted for its scientific and political credentials. Her uncle is Abdulla Aldamluji, the founder of Iraqi diplomacy and the first Iraqi foreign minster. Her parents were the late Drs Salim Aldamluji and Lama’an Amin Zaki, the medical professors at the University of Baghdad, who graduated hundreds of Iraqi doctors. More important than all of this is that she is very popular in the political and cultural media. Therefore, Maliki’s refusal to appoint her as Minister of Culture has nothing to do with the lack of expertise, qualifications or suitability, which he always talks about. It’s probably because she is a secular woman who has the potential to succeed, which will be recorded in favour of his political opponents. He may have listened to advice from advisors who do not wish to see any worthy change at the Ministry of Culture. Maliki’s position against Maysoon Aldamluji has in fact harmed him politically and put him in direct conflict with the women’s movement and the cultural community. But, it seems that he is not really concerned with any critical views.

Maliki’s government’s 43-point programme didn’t contain one single specific point, but instead, talked about a ‘big decrease’ in the rate of inflation and a ‘big increase’ in the value of the Iraqi dinar! It talked about support for the economy, media, women, and improving services, living standards and security, but without mentioning any numbers or specific proposals. If the Prime Minster doesn’t know how much the rate of inflation has fallen and how much the value of the dinar has gone up, who should?

Maliki’s programme has made no mention of the restrictions on personal freedoms which members of his party in provincial governing councils have imposed on people. These restrictions are illegal and unconstitutional, and are inspired by religious persuasions which are harmful to the interests of the Iraqi people and country at large. They do not respect people’s choices in life. Will Maliki’s partners try to remedy this situation? Are they really able to? And, does the issue of personal and people’s freedoms really matter to current political forces? Questions that no one has answers for, so far.

Some of the strong points of the Maliki government is that it has important and strong personalities who will contribute to the success of the government if they are persuaded by the correctness of the government path, and believe in the sincerity of its direction. Many Iraqis wished to see more changes in faces and positions, but this has hardly happened. The prevailing culture in today’s Iraq is for incumbents to hold onto their positions at any cost, and never give up a position under any circumstances, since they are regarded as personal sinecures. But renewal will always remain a basic popular demand regarding all positions, be they political, cultural or business.

*Published in the London-based AL-HAYAT on Jan. 11, 2011.