Over two decades after the fall of Saddam Hussain following a US-led invasion, Iraqi society and governance system deals with challenges hardly predictable for the people who had been under oppression for long decades. The bricks of the current governance system had been set before the takeover of power by an Iraqi Governing Council few months after the US invasion in Iraq back in 2003. Iraqi opposition groups, comprised of the main sectarian and religious factions including the Shias, the Sunnis, and the Kurds, whose activities were mostly centered abroad, reached an agreement according to which the power and governance institutions were meant to be fairly distributed among all groups.
The US invasion set the scene for these groups to return to Baghdad and start their career based on former agreements, signing an informal primary pact called “muhasasa ta’ifa” in 2003. It was followed by another agreement with more details next year, muhasasa, that clarified the structure of the power distribution, allocating top posts and ministries for various sectarian and religious factions based on their parties’ seats in a general election. The vacant spots of the constitution, passed few years later by the same inexperienced elite group, made the room for more exploitation of the muhasasa by the governing body of the country.
Muhasasa, literally meaning apportionment, held that the prime minister would be a Shia, while the House Speaker would be one of the Sunnis and Kurds take their share in presidency. According to this quota system, Shia factions have a 54% share of all posts, while the Sunni groups enjoy a 24% share and Kurds are left with a 18% of the posts. The remaining 4% goes to minority parties, mostly the Christians.
The system of proportionality was meant to provide the nation with stability as inclusion of all factions was thought to forbid national challenges and sectarian violence. Ironically, a two-decade test of time has proved that the fruit of such a closed-circle governance would be more authoritarianism in a structure in which the elite group find themselves in no proficiency and meritocratic assessment. As such, Muhasasa served the interests of a minority and left the major public with little access to the governance and decision-making processes.
Iraq’s consociational system is not unprecedented with Lebanese system of governance representing the most recent similar example of distribution of power between military and religious factions. Lebanese example, by the way, has not been a successful experience with the country experiencing one of the most poignant corruptions in governing and an ensuing economic downfall in recent decades. The practice, not unexpectedly, bore similar outputs in Iraq.
The agreement that was expected to bring unity and forgo the years of oppression and mismanagement turned to the utmost Achillis heel of the country. The elite cartel conspired to overrule the constitution, set aside the democratic competition, and block any obstacles on the way to serve their interests. The political parties consolidated their hold onto power by renting the companies and institutions to receive political patronage in return. The process generated a new class of economic entrepreneurs that enjoyed good ties with the government officials winning big and major contracts. Clientelism turned into a common practice through which both sides, the government officials and their affiliate corporations narrowed down the private sector.
A Hybrid Regime
The implementation of Muhasasa system exacerbated the economic and societal scars in the body of Iraqi nation. Iraqi people demonstrated their discontent through multiple rounds of protests during 2010s, culminating in 2019 protests leading to the resignation of Abdul-Mahdi government. It occurred despite Abdul-Mahdi’s failed bid to part the governing structure with the Muhasasa system. As a researcher suggested a year after Abdul-Mahdi’ resignation, “such elite pacts are notoriously resistant to reform, particularly if any proposed change is perceived to undermine elite interests.”
The elite cartel, who were enjoying uncontested share of power and resources, would not contend to the expansion of power circle, getting recycled ignoring their merits and performance. That entailed the lowest level of accountability in governing system, finding the public demands and diversification of economic and political structures at odds with their personal and sectarian interests. The bargaining power made the utmost role in assuming power, while the private sector who faced an extra annual 0.5-million young people looking for job opportunities having little chance to compete privileged sects.
Sectarianism undermined, or relaced, meritocracy and identity preceded proficiency. Partisan loyalty decided the future of figures and groups, while the majority of people were deprived of the basic chances of development. Besides, the system’s malfunction and corruption led the nation into a place where basic needs like the development of electricity networks were neglected leading to massive blackouts across the country. Transportation sector inflicted serious damages while the energy infrastructures froze for multiple years. Above all, the elite cartel found no necessity to respond to the public demands and delivering the services as one of the main and inherent duties of the governing system.
Partisan apportionment of ministries, administrative offices, and institutions has led to the collapse of service delivery in Iraq. The elite cartel and parties limited the chance of any reforms using their paramilitary wings, media campaigns, and suppressive forces. The downfall of former government which raised the hopes for a government based on popularity and merit failed to achieve its goals. Sadr movement, with high ambitions for a “political majority government” ended up with mass resignation of parliamentarians, replaced by Coordination Framework that didn’t prefer to risk its being through highly-resisted reforms among the elites.
The future of Iraq is entangled with ‘meta-rules’ that replaced the tenets of constitution through muhasasa agreement. Iraqi society has explicitly displayed its discontents with the meta-rules, having seen its devastating impact on the societal, political, and economic fate of the nation. Two decades after the fall of Saddam Hussain, the country faces a new image of authoritarianism that is intermingled with democratic tenets, leading to a hybrid regime from which the county may have an even harder time to survive.