Iraq’s new government must take “courageous decisions” to change the system to curb corruption and implement much-needed reforms, former politicians said on Monday.
The country is struggling to recover from decades of conflict and yet no government has been able to bring about changes needed to provide adequate public services and employment opportunities. Corruption is seen as major factor in this failure.
“We have to be clear, we have to be honest: without changing the system from the inside nothing will change,” Dhia Al Assadi, an Iraqi academic and politician, said during an event at London's Chatham House.
“We have to change the principles and change the basis on which the system has been built.”
Mr Al Assadi, who headed the Al Ahrar bloc in the Iraqi parliament between 2014 and 2018, said Iraq must “take courageous decisions, and this government has not taken any bold moves just yet”.
Iraq is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world, ranking 157 out of 180 in Transparency International's corruption perceptions index.
An informal power-sharing system, known as Muhasasa, was established after the overthrow of former dictator Saddam Hussein during the 2003 US-led invasion.
It is an agreement that distributes ministries based on an ethnic and religious background of parties and politicians. Shiites are entitled to 12 ministries, Sunnis six, Kurds four and the rest distributed among other religious and ethnic groups, regardless of election results.
“Nothing really has changed, even if qualified ministers belong to certain parties or are part of the political parties. Everyone knows the system has not changed, this is not hidden,” Mr Al Assadi said.
Since 2019, anti-government demonstrators have demanded the removal of parties that have been in power since the 2003 US-led invasion ended the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, accusing them of rampant corruption that has stopped Iraq moving forward.
Security forces and militiamen killed hundreds of protesters and the protests fizzled out after the Covid-19 pandemic began in early 2020.
“We are paying blood, money, efforts that have been done, without gaining any change,” Mr Al Assadi said.
Abbas Al Ameri, secretary general of the Co-ordination Framework parliamentary bloc that was the main driver behind forming the new government under Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani, said reforms come “after assuming power”.
“This requires practical steps and taking power is the main enabler of reform,” Mr Al Ameri said.
“Reform starts on the focal point of corruption, when people see that there is a challenge,” he said.
Mr Al Ameri said he believed Mr Al Sudani's government would gain the support of Iraqis and the country's allies to tackle corruption.