April 01, 2011
Text and photo by Ted Regencia
CHICAGO — Addressing a crowd of foreign policy experts, former Iraqi finance minister Ali Allawi warned corruption and overt meddling by neighboring countries threaten his Iraq’s young democracy.
Allawi told members of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that “the continuous involvement of foreign powers in the internal affairs” of Iraq “is a very dangerous phenomenon,” pointing to Turkey, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States as the culprits.
He said the “weakness” of Iraq’s political leaders created a vacuum for foreign interference.
“Everybody, in one way or another, got involved in the Iraqi political scene mainly because, I think, of the weakness, to some extent cowardice, of the Iraqi politicians,” said Allawi, who now serves as a fellow at Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.
During the 2010 parliamentary election, for example, political parties took “large sums of money” from foreign enablers, thus seriously weakening the credibility of political parties “as the main engine of democratic change,” he said.
Turkey, for instance, was involved in a “very direct way” in organizing the Sunni and Turk parties in the north, while Iran “played a huge part” in putting together the majority Shiite blocks, “directing, organizing, and advising” their campaigns, Allawi said.
The United States also financed a number of candidates, but many of them lost in the election, Allawi added.
During that election, the Iraqiya Coalition of Iyad Allawi (cousin of Ali Allawi), prime minister during the transition period, received plurality of the votes. However, the rival party of Nouri al-Maliki managed to organize their own coalition to form a new government.
Foreign involvement goes beyond the electoral process, extending to the arming of extremist elements within Iraq, he said.
For instance, Syria continues to support armed groups “with extreme jihadi links” in Iraq, even as Saudi Arabia plays, “indirectly” in financing suicide bombers, said Allawi, who also served as defense minister following the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
“Nearly 40 percent of suicide bombers up to 2008 came from Saudi Arabia, and these people were moved in one way or another through deniable channels,” Allawi said.
Allawi urged Iraqi leaders must stand up against foreign pressure.
“The role of the Iraqi state is not to buckle under these pressures, to stand up to them, and to maintain with confidence relationships with our neighbors, without it deteriorating into this kind of subservience,” he said.
Other challenges Iraq faces include lack of a unified economic strategy, flight of the educated class and the continuous threat of secession in the Kurdistan region, which now exists as a “practically autonomous state” within Iraq.
Despite all of these, Allawi said there are also signs of progress foremost of which is the “overall decline in violence” throughout the country.
He pointed out that the “fading away” of the American military force removed a rallying point by extremists elements, who are against the occupation.
At its peak, there were 170,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Following withdrawal from combat last year, an estimated 50,000 military personnel remain.
Also, more and more people have accepted the current Iraqi constitution as basis of order and stability. And because stability exists at the moment, the country is becoming “flushed with cash” with increase in oil production, which Allawi estimated would reach four million barrels a day in 2014.
Those progress will only continue if the current weak political structure will continue to improve, Allawi said, adding that the next five years is crucial in determining whether Iraq will become a failed state, or a successful democracy.
“By 2020, this more of the same business cannot continue. After which, I think there will be a major break in the way that politics in Iraq is defined structurally. If this regime does not deliver the goods in the next five years, it will be possibly the last hurrah of this political class,” he said, his subdued voice cloaking the seriousness of his message.