The Iraqi Curse

13th Oct 2019 by Ali Al-'Iqabi

The most worrying thing about being a student of political science in the Middle East today is that the region is run in a way that defies both, science and politics. It looks more and more like cartels with state-like histories.

My ability to engage seriously with my domain of study, and take my future seriously at all, is ridiculed on a daily basis by the news. Today, my country, Iraq, is witnessing an uprising, where young people like me are risking their lives, although we are aware that it is more likely to be disappointed. We have no alternative. We see none, even when we risk our lives. 

But our cartel-like government presents itself as a liberator (against ISIS) and a sovereign (in the face of the US). So, not only are we ripped off by our own government, it wants to convince us and the world that it is the exact opposite. We are humiliated and insulted. For that, we risk our lives, without any alternative.

Regardless of the outcome, the key problem, I believe, is that Iraq’s modern story has rarely, if ever, been written by Iraqis. Our identities have always been constructed outside Iraq. And, then, we either adopt these identities (Communism, Islamism, Arabism, even Ba’athism, not to mention sects), or they are forced on us by a new/old group of elite.

It is a vicious cycle that holds one truth: we, Iraqis, have never been allowed to experience politics naturally, freely, and develop our relations, alliances, even enmities, without pressure or intervention. What it means to be Iraqi is contested today as much as it has been before. And, for the cartels, of ministers, businessmen, warlords and bureaucrats, what it means to be Iraqi is irrelevant. 

What matters is the façade of sovereignty and liberation that overshadows our real-life concerns over economic and social equity.

The most dangerous cartels are those with sectarian zeal, which are, too, the most brutal against today’s protestors. National wealth is an abstract idea. For them, wealth is region-specific, sect-specific, and their own share of wealth (and that of other cartels) is continuously contested among each other. But, we Iraqis, victims of those cartels, are not supposed to play that game, the game of politics. 

We are not allowed to experience party politics that whether explicitly or implicitly questions the way in which cartels have sliced the national cake.

One key lesson we Iraqis learned from the Arab Spring is that, even if there’s no alternative, it doesn’t mean that the current status quo can be sustained. The current cartel-like Iraqi state cannot sell a noble idea about itself anymore. 

Corruption is rampant. Religion is preached in expensive mosques and betrayed in poor streets and infrastructure. The system cannot call on all my generation and say that we are mistaken. The cycle of resistance against cartels will continue, without being allowed “into history”. The cartels of today will write the history of Iraq. Like their predecessors, they, too, will become more authoritarian, and paranoid. And we, too, will continue to study science and politics, and practice neither. 

Ali Al-'Iqabi is a student of Politics at the College of Political Science, University of Baghdad. 

Photo credit: Creative Commons CC