In the past few days, the health of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has captured public attention, both on the Arab and international levels. This concern was not due to the status of the Iraqi presidency, but to the status of the Iraqi president himself. Talabani is a prominent international figure. He has acquired this status as a result of his qualities of moderation, wisdom and flexibility — which have almost made him an Iraqi national symbol — as well as a result of his role as a Kurdish leader.
If Talabani is forced to step down from the Iraqi presidency, the voice of moderation in Iraqi politics will be weakened. Moreover, the role of those who are keen on the territorial integrity of the Iraqi state will likely deteriorate, and competition to replace Talabani will start among Iraqi figures aspiring to reach this position. Then, this competition will likely turn into a new crisis — just another among the many crises Iraq is witnessing today.
Other key issues have attracted Arab public interest, most notably the fate of the massive Russian-Iraqi arms deal, the escalating security tension between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the accusation made against Iraqi Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi of having links with “terrorist groups.” These issues attract attention due to their relevance to the future of Iraq as a regional Arab power and state that affects international interests in this part of the world.
What makes these events more important is the position the Iraqi government has taken on them. Supposedly, Baghdad will seek to confront these events and difficulties to reinforce cohesion in the Iraqi state and its independence, whether central or federal, and to develop national social unity, deepen the sense of democracy, and provide an appropriate framework to solve many social, economic, educational and living problems facing Iraqis. These include the high cost of living, the decline in government services and the inability of the private sector to act as a substitute.
Also, the current government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is supposed to deal with these events in a way that would help Iraq restore its regional role — including the investment of its surplus energies and capabilities in development and security projects and regional cooperation.
The Iraqi government dealt with the Russian arms deal in a hasty manner, and by doing so opened the door to an unnecessary crisis with Moscow. Maliki’s government questioned the corruption surrounding the deal before investigating the matter or affirming its existence. It created tension with the Russians — who were keen to finalize the deal with Iraq — before the corruption had even been investigated.
Moscow dealt with the position of Maliki’s government calmly and avoided making a fuss about it. It could have discussed this issue with Russian officials and agreed with them on conducting a joint investigation by them and the Iraqi authorities, so that if it was proven that corruption occurred on either side, it would be possible to take disciplinary measures against those who sought to achieve personal benefit at the expense of the two countries. It would also have allowed both sides to review the terms of the deal so they would be compatible with the standards of integrity and transparency.
The manner with which the Maliki government dealt with the arms deal caused surprise and raised questions in many circles following Russian-Arab relations, and Moscow’s relations with Baghdad in particular. Some cynically questioned the reason behind Maliki’s high sensitivity toward the — unconfirmed — “suspicions” of corruption regarding this deal in particular, while all those informed about the current situation in Iraq know that corruption is eating away most of the Iraqi state.
Numerous reports and analyses have asserted that the reason that the Maliki government has rapidly and dramatically backed away from the purchase of arms from Russia is the pressure exercised by Washington on Maliki to stop the deal.
A report published in Russian newspaper Pravda said that once Maliki returned to Baghdad from Moscow, where he had been to discuss the arms deal, a senior U.S. official arrived in the Iraqi capital specifically to discuss the deal and inform the Iraqi prime minister the position of the U.S. authorities in this regard.
One of these reports was aired on CNN, in which Ramzy Mardini, a researcher at the Iraqi Center for Strategic Studies, said that allegations about corruption surrounding the deal are no more than blinding smoke to cover up the U.S. role in disabling it. The same news bulletin said that such unconfirmed claims and accusations are not enough to lead to the cancellation of mega-deals between countries. Were they deemed sufficient, scores of arms deals signed between Arab states and foreign countries that export arms would have been cancelled in the past.
The news bulletin also said that since the U.S. invasion of Iraq until today, Washington has struck close to 70 arms deals with Baghdad, and that these deals were marred by various types of accusations and criticism, including criticism of US arms exporters over their slow implementation of the deals. This is a fact that was acknowledged by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. There is also the accusation made against Halliburton, which was headed by former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. Some accuse it of making huge profits from U.S. arms deals at the expense of both the Iraqis and the Americans.
Whether the issue is about the Russian-Iraqi arms deal, relations between Baghdad and Erbil, or accusations made against the Iraqi finance minister, it is not difficult to uncover — without too much scrutiny — the reasons why many Iraqis believe that their country is suffering a growing problem. At the center of this is Maliki’s great attachment to power and control over governance. His attachment to and insistence on remaining in power at any cost is quickly pushing public life in Iraq toward an impasse, and accelerating the collapse and fragmentation of its sandy state apparatus.