Paul Ryan just gave up his, ah, dream job to become Speaker of the House today, ending a long national nightmare of media hand-wringing over the fate of the Speakership in the post-John Boehner era. Throughout that hand-wringing, we were treated to the oft-repeated observation that Speaker of the House is the “worst job in Washington,” at least when Republicans control the House. Now obviously this isn’t literally true; there’s got to be somebody manning a fry station somewhere in the DC area whose level of job satisfaction is even lower than Boehner’s was. But it feels true, to copy Stephen Colbert, and nowadays that’s enough.
Along those same lines, then, I would like to submit the theory that “Prime Minister of Iraq” could be the worst job in Baghdad (at least, if not the whole country). The current occupant of that job, Haider al-Abadi, inherited a war with ISIS, one that had left ISIS controlling a third or more of the country, that his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, and his most powerful ally, the United States, did a lot to cause. He’s faced with the knowledge that even if he ends the war, he’s probably going to be torn to pieces in the aftermath by the ongoing tensions between Iraq’s Sunni Arab, Shiʿa Arab, and Kurdish communities. He’s got Shiʿa Iraqis protesting the fact that the Iraqi government, again in no small thanks to Maliki and the US, is built on a foundation of corruption and incompetence. And even his modest attempts to reform that government are being blocked and/or just ignored by most of the people around him, including (wait for it) Maliki. Joel Wing at “Musings on Iraq” explains:
At the start of August 2015 Prime Minister Haider Abadi announced his reform program in response to the public protests sweeping the country. He said he would cut the number of bodyguards that officials received, end provision for top politicians, end the sectarian and partisan quotas, cut the number of ministries and agencies, and dismiss the deputy premiers and vice presidents. 1st Vice President Nouri al-Maliki came out in support of Abadi’s vision, but others immediately began criticizing the prime minister’s ideas. President of Iraq Fuad Masum for example, said that Abadi’s reforms violated the constitution because it calls for a vice president so the office can’t be ended, and that the VPs had the right to appeal the premier’s decision. Vice President Iyadl Allawi criticized the prime minister for acting unilaterally, and Abadi’s own State of Law list warned that one vice president had to be kept. Later, Maliki and Vice President Osama Nujafi protested their removals and started court cases to remain in office. That led Abadi to go to parliament to request a bill to end the vice presidencies, which would give him legal backing for his move.
More importantly while all the politicians were going back and forth the vice presidents all remained on their jobs. By October Al Arabiya reported that Abadi gave Maliki an ultimatum to leave his office within 48 hours. Whether true or not Maliki and the others were still there by the end of the month and collecting their salaries.
As Wing says, you’re not hearing much about Abadi’s reform agenda these days, and the reason is that it’s dead in the water. Those vice presidencies have literally no responsibilities apart from boosting the profiles of sectarian political networks and creating more cushy patronage gigs for the well-connected. If Abadi can’t even get rid of them, how is he going to be able to reform anything of real substance?
While we’re on this subject, what the hell is it going to take for the Iraqi people to be free of Nouri al-Maliki? Even leeches eventually get full and drop off the host at some point, but Maliki just keeps feeding off of the system. This guy is like the anti-George Washington; he refuses to go away and his every action seems intended to screw up the creation of a stable, free Iraq. Maybe what Iraq really needs is the creation of a high-paying lecture circuit, like we have here in the US, so that guys like Maliki can make their big bucks that way instead of in a position where they can still do real harm to the political system.
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