A year after Iraq’s national elections, the UN warned on Monday that the prolonged political stalemate put the stability of the country at risk while Iraqis said they were not optimistic about their future.
Bitter political feuding, mainly among Shiite factions, has left the country without an active and fully empowered government that can face the mounting challenges and meet the needs of Iraqis.
“A year ago, Iraqis went to the polls with the hope of charting a new future for their country,” the UN said. "Today, Iraq is running out of time.
“The protracted crisis is breeding further instability and recent events are a testament to that. In addition, it threatens people’s livelihoods."
The political divisions are “generating bitter public disillusion", it said.
Public confidence dwindles as government formation drags
Satirical cartoonist Adel Sabri echoes that disillusionment in his work. In one of his drawings, a smiling politician milks a chair that symbolises power to collect US dollars into a pot.
“It shows how some cling to power and use politics as business instead of serving the people,” he said. “Unfortunately, this exists in the current political elite and all post-2003 governments,” he tells The National at the Annual Caricature Exhibition in Baghdad, where many of the works on show reflect Iraq's declining prospects.
The impasse has no clear end and that affects ordinary Iraqis, Sabri says.
“The current situation remains extremely foggy ... Iraq is heading to unknown,” he said.
“Are we going to war or peace? No one can tell what happens tomorrow. Every second there is a development, you can’t read the future."
The early elections, the fifth parliamentary vote for a full-term government since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, were among the key demands of pro-reform protests that spread in central and southern Iraq in 2019.
At least 560 Iraqis and members of the security forces were killed during the demonstrations, while tens of thousands were wounded, many with live ammunition.
That dispute has led to mounting violence between Shiite militias in Baghdad and other cities in the south.
The two largest Shiite groups are at odds over who will form a new government and how critical posts, including ministerial positions, will be divided.
Kurdish groups are also at loggerheads over a nominee for president.
The process ground to a halt when a political group endorsed by Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr resigned from Parliament, seeking to dissolve the legislative body and hold snap elections.
Although his bloc emerged as a clear winner in October's elections, winning 73 of 329 seats, it failed to form a majority government.
Mr Al Sadr's Iran-backed rivals within the Co-ordination Framework, a political group with representatives of influential militias, want the leading role in forming a government.
The crisis culminated at the end of August with Mr Al Sadr's supporters clashing with the army and Iran-backed factions after weeks of protests around Parliament in the Green Zone in Baghdad.
More than 30 of the cleric's supporters were killed and hundreds wounded in nearly 24 hours of violence that ended when he called on his supporters to withdraw.
"It is now time for the political class to assume responsibility and match words with action,” the UN said.
It urged political rivals to “engage in dialogue without preconditions”.
“Through compromise, they must collectively agree on key outcomes that reaffirm their publicly stated objective, which is to service the needs of the Iraqi people and establish a fully empowered and effective government. The time to act is now," it said.
Near Sabri's work, cartoonist Ali Allawi portrays Iraq as a car being driven by a politician who is laughing while the car descends a steep cliff.
Another caricature shows an Iraqi man with patches on his clothes, sitting on the ground and begging, while it is raining US dollars in a gesture to soaring poverty in the oil-rich country.
Other Iraqis mocked their politicians over their failure to form a government.
The political elite should celebrate the anniversary and declare it a national day, novelist Ahmed Saadawi mocked.
“It’s a historic event,” he wrote on Twitter.
“This is the first time in Iraq when a full year passed following elections without forming a government."
It has been proved that “ballots alone are not enough and that all participating political parties must believe in the principles of democracy,” Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi said on Monday.
Mr Al Kadhimi renewed his calls for “constructive dialogue to resolve the current political crisis through comprehensive national solutions that strengthen our young democracy and support the pillars of stability and prosperity for Iraq and our great people.”
Iraqi President Barham Salih said the anniversary is a “cruel reminder of the opportunities we have lost for our country.”
Mr Salih appealed for ending the “cycle of crisis”, saying the anniversary also serves as a “motive to close the ranks and for a national dialogue.”
The French embassy in Baghdad echoed the calls for dialogue "with true willingness for compromise".
In its statement, the diplomatic mission said "it is of the utmost importance that the voices of women and men of the civil society be heard, especially the youth who constitute the vast majority of the country and hope for a better future".
The British embassy stressed that political rivals must not rely to violence to solve differences.
"The violence that Iraq has seen in recent weeks is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to recur," ambassador Mark Bryson-Richardson said in a statement.
The political deadlock continues as the country is gripped by mounting challenges from climate change to rebuilding after conflict.
Parliament was not able to approve this year's budget, leaving the government with limited access to funds despite generating huge revenue from oil exports.