Iraq needs free institutions not polls

As we now find ourselves yet again facing Iraqi elections, the charade of shifting faces and alliances is causing excitement among many political analysts in the West. 

Yet, objectively speaking, nothing has changed in Iraq. So long as more attention is paid to the names and lists of elections than the nameless and faceless underlying institutions that run the country, the path of Iraq will continue along the same course. 

As pressure continues to build on George Bush to pull out of Iraq, emphasis has been placed on rebuilding the Iraqi army to help secure the country’s future. 

The fact remains that Iraqis may vote as often as three times a year if that is deemed enjoyable, but as long as the rebuilding of the Iraqi army remains corrupt nothing will change.

There is no doubt that security and stability are intimately tied to the state of a nation’s economy and general political vitality. 

Since the US-led invasion, Iraq has simply ceased to be a political-economic entity in any real sense. Since the disbanding of the Iraqi army, nearly all of Iraq’s security has been dependent on American security forces; these forces are sometimes members of the military and other times private security firms hired by contract.


The disbanding of the Iraqi army provided a convenient economic opportunity for supporters of the invasion; a complete security vacuum was created in the country necessitating American firms to fill the void. 

Scores of weapons, urban security technologies and services were now being needed to fit a job that the American military was neither equipped nor trained to do and that the Iraqi army and police used to do. 

“Thankfully we can still read some independent news without any influence. Thanks to internet”

Jose Vitoria, Spain/England

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The FOSE trade show, the largest government technologies trade show in the United States, was presenting such products as early as April of 2003, one month after the invasion of Iraq.  

Because security in Iraq has been largely an American affair, it has been developed according to American interests, inevitably insuring the corruption, mismanagement and deceit that have characterised the US occupation thus far.

As Bush continues to discuss reconstruction, the actual course of Iraq’s redevelopment has not changed. 

Iraqis, or other Arabs and Muslims in general, continue to have little to do with the reconstruction “effort”. As we now come upon new elections in Iraq, the participating parties have not discussed how they will change course. 

The American military continues to be in charge of security and thus the future of the country and none of the parties in Iraq vying for power has addressed this problem.

Beyond the presence of occupying troops, reconstruction is the next most important issue on the minds of most Iraqis; a reconstructed Iraq means one of prosperity, normality and, significantly, an active and healthy member of the Arab and Muslim world.

‘How could the security of Iraq ever be placed in the hands of Americans, when the American presence is the cause of insecurity?’

None the less, the American military remains in charge of security, the precondition of any reconstruction, and as a result most reconstruction funds are being pumped back into the American and American-backed security forces, leaving Iraq in a shambles. 

This cyclical process is destructive in a variety of interrelated ways. First, how could the security of Iraq ever be placed in the hands of the Americans when the American presence is the cause of insecurity? 

It had to be known that US forces would be resisted, thus their role as facilitators of reconstruction would be minimal at best. 

American forces have never been able to make the reconstruction a central feature of Iraqi life in the past years; rather, as an invading power, the United States has logically been exhausting more effort in attempting to put down the resistance. 

Ironically, of course, the US presence perpetuates the resistance and by extension the instability of the country. 

‘The Americans cannot provide security and without security there will be no reconstruction’

According to recent reports the amount taken out of Iraqi reconstruction funds and appropriated for security purposes has been three times higher than commissioned. 

Simply put, the Americans cannot provide security and without security there will be no reconstruction. Are any of the current political parties providing new solutions to this dilemma?

In addition, little has been said about the state of corruption surrounding the armed forces in Iraq. At the recent Cairo conference, members of the current regime and the opposition met and discussed the future of the country. 

One of the agreements made at the conference was in regards to investigating many of the corrupt ministries and allegations of torture attached to them. 

None the less, many of the ministers and public officials implicated in corruption and torture charges over the past few years remain respected figures within their parties. 

US plans for securing Iraq have always involved bringing in many of these expatriates who have not been in the country for decades. 

Corrupt ministers who came in with American forces and rose to power under the occupation have looted millions; Zayad Cattan, the former defence minister, alone is accused of embezzling a billion dollars. Much of this was a by-product of disbanding the Iraqi army. 

As we said, a security vacuum was created and proven American loyalists were preferred over Iraqis whose old Iraqi credentials caused suspicion. 

The disbanded army is being replaced by forces whose loyalty to Iraq – especially in the case of the Iraqi military – is dubious.


‘The discovery of torture chambers and secret prisons in the basements of government ministries should be of little surprise’

Many of the militiamen now in the army are loyal to figures that have not shown much care for Iraq and have strong ties to other countries. 

The discovery of torture chambers and secret prisons in the basements of government ministries should be of little surprise. 

What is important for us to note is that rather than rely on the expertise and training of members of the old army, the US has preferred to work with new and unproven individuals so as to ensure compliance and dependence, and those running for office in Iraq have offered no alternative or different visions.


In light of the recent Cairo conference it has been determined that US forces will leave as soon as Iraqi forces are able to maintain security. 

Recalling the Iraqi army would go a long way to achieve this effort. In Iraq, as we speak, there are hundreds of thousands of qualified individuals who have been intentionally marginalised by the current regime. 

The process of completely replacing the army is slow, tedious and simply irrational. In attempting to re-establish security in the country, recalling an independent body like the old Iraqi army could help facilitate an American withdrawal and ensure a unified Iraq. 

The disbanding of the army is not an irreversible act, some of the more respected generals could be put back in charge; any of them accused of crimes against the Iraqi people could be charged and tried appropriately.


The practice of tearing down well-established institutions and building up new ones made in the image of the occupier is an old colonial practice. The Bush administration has been adamant in pursuing this programme in Iraq as well.  In disbanding the Iraqi army, Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defence secretary, wanted to eradicate any remaining threat of Arab or Iraqi nationalism in the defence forces. 

‘Nothing will change in the country as long as the underlying institutions are themselves not reformed and replaced’

The “new” army would not only be newly trained in terms of martial skills but ideologically and systemically as well. The general Iraqi army, it must be remembered, was made up of both Sunni and Shia. 

Instead of conceiving of Iraq as a unified whole, as the past army had, the new army will be concerned with the same sort of sectarianism and ethnic chauvinism that has characterised Bush’s “new Iraq”. 

As we now approach a new parliament in Iraq it must be remembered that nothing will change in the country as long as the underlying institutions are themselves not reformed and replaced. 

So far, all the institutions that can be traced to American administration have failed utterly. Only the establishment or re-establishment of independent institutions can ensure the future that Iraqis hope and wish for.

Laith Saud is an Iraqi academic researcher and lecturer in the United States. 

The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position or have the endorsement of Aljazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera

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