An email from Baghdad

I was reminded of the following email by a friend of mine who suggested I should post it here. It is an update sent to friends in August 2016 about the situation in Iraq as I saw and witnessed it there. Its depressing and sad, and the situation there has yet to change for the better:


hi everyone,

Its been very difficult here in Baghdad, to say the least. Baghdad looks largely deserted and compared to my last stay here, in November/December 2015, it has become a much bleaker city. The US imposed sectarian system of governance has caused so much damage that it should be considered a war crime of a sort. The provision of state services are next to nil, and people across the country continue to suffer in ways that are unimaginable to the outsider. I still do not think that the everyday lives of ordinary Iraqis has been captured well in the West. The country is on the verge of major albeit detrimental transformations – all of which will make the current situation, as it has been the case before, viewed ironically in a positive light.

A weakening and faltering economy, the lack of security and the situation in the North especially are leading to the prospect of a real civil war which unfortunately the largely Shia based political class treat as just another day in Iraq. Ive had meetings with a handful of important people here and Ive understood, quite painfully, that there is simply no strategy or plan for the country’s future whatsoever, whether about post – ISIS Iraq / Mosul or Anbar for example, or more broadly about the future of this country’s economy and failed political system.

Those at the helm of the Iraq state do not feel or experience the pain and anguish of suffering Iraqis – there is a complete disconnect, whether it be in Baghdad or Mosul or anywhere else between formal politics and the people of Iraq. State institutions are simply unresponsive; indeed, they are not even designed to be accountable to the people – those systems simply do not exist.

In sum, Iraqis are treated like animals by their Government and the institutions of the state. Unfortunately citizens do not know how to air or express their opinions in any meaningful way, other than of course in the form of open criticism. The good news is that there is complete and utter contempt for political Islam, men of religion who are involved in usurping the resources of the institutions of the state, and more broadly sectarian politics. If theres hope for this country it starts with those utterances for change.

There seems to be an unfounded fear that any changes or reforms the GOI makes here, which inevitably means the Shia political class relinquishing some power, will fundamentally change politics and the ability of some groups to assert a dominate position in the country. It is fundamentally an issue of power and resources rather than anything else. It is for this reason that we will not see any real reforms in the foreseeable future. Even the new changes made in Government, in the form of ‘technocratic’ Ministers which is in motion and was enacted recently, will not remedy what is a largely institutionalized sectarian system of governance. It suits many, especially the Shia political class, to continue with this system as it ensures those in power continue to rape the institutions of the state of its manpower, resources and legitimacy. In the absence of any reform of real changes to formal politics, the political class in Baghdad is sleep walking Iraq into a regional war that pales compared to the current situation evolving in the Middle East.

Now, all those things above have been previously spoken about and analysed; what is different here are the ways in which they evolve and become manifested in different aspects of everyday life and society. An evolving politics based on sectarian governance – of Mu’hassa – is producing a fundamentally new status quo that will have profound consequences for Iraqis and Iraq.

Best regards, Mehiyar


About Mehiyar

Dr Mehiyar Kathem is a researcher at University College London (UCL). Mehiyar completed a PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) where he researched peacebuilding interventions and the formation of Iraq’s domestic NGO sector after the 2003 War. During this research, he looked at the gradual evolution of Iraq from totalitarian dictatorship through the country’s emerging domestic organisations. His research interests include statebuilding, civil society peacebuilding and the ways in which development, politics and money interact at a local level. In 2012 and 2013, Mehiyar conducted field research in Iraq for his PhD programme, spending a year meeting with and interviewing domestic NGO actors, political parties, government officials and international donors. Previously, Mehiyar worked on a number of grassroots programmes geared to build the capacity of civil society organisations and continues to advise international donors on the effective design and delivery of projects in Iraq. He tweets at @mehiyar

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