After communism and capitalism, there is asterism.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The clowns have taken over the circus

Anyone who thought that I exagerated when I predicted that the Iraqi government will fail would do well to read the Financial Times of 8th February .

The Iraqi Oil Ministry has a nice kettle of fish to deal with. Oil production is lagging miserably, the finance minstry does not have money to pay for refining abroad, and millions of barrels of oil are being lost every day due to smuggling. On top of all this Iraq needs to strike a delicate balance between raising petrol prices (to reduce smuggling and get loans) and keeping it possible for people to live on their incomes. The problems are tough but not completely hopeless.

Now, who would you choose to head-up the oil ministry in these troubled times? A seasoned technocrat from within the oil ministry maybe? Or the clown who was only tourism minister to keep up his party's numbers in government?

No prizes for guessing which one got the job. And we are now looking forward to more of the same in the coming government. To quote the FT article:

Seven weeks after elections, the main factions are engaged in intense horse-trading in which different ministries will be parcelled out among rival ethnic-based political parties - a practice that Iraqis agree yields bad government, yet one they continue to back.

The FT gives some examples of this kind of bad government:

some ministries - such as the Dawa-run health ministry of 2003-2004, for example - were notorious for requiring job applicants to bring a letter of recommendation from their local party office before they could be considered for a post. Bayan Jaber, the interior minister, of Sciri, meanwhile has been accused of filling government posts with his party's Badr militia.

Others are reported to have brought an ideological agenda to technocratic posts, such as Salam al-Maliki, transportation minister and a member of the radical Sadrist group, who once tried to mobilise a paramilitary force to seize control of the airport during a pay dispute with the contractor handling its security.

Even though other UIA members were said to be furious at Mr Maliki, his confrontational style plays well to his fellow Sadrists, who praise him as a man of "integrity" and say he should stay in his post.

The Shia are not the only players of the patronage game. Baghdad residents refer to the Kurdish-run foreign ministry as "little Irbil" - a town in the north - where Kurdish is heard more often than Arabic.

This all adds up to ministries that act only to the agenda of its controlling party and leaves no overall control of the govenment to the Prime Minister or parliament. At a time when the state is collapsing through debt, corruption and war, this can only accelerate that failure.

This is not the fault of inidividual people but of the whole system created and encouraged by America from the rewarding of parties who supported the occupation government with ministries to a constitution that allows a minority to hold the whole government to ransom. The aim is to choke any chance for a strong government to take hold in Iraq. Unfortunately weak government just does not work in Iraq and its failure will affect the whole region.


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