Iraqi President: our political system is broken

Barham Salih said Iraq needs a new political contract that lays the foundation for a capable state with full sovereignty

In this image made from UNTV video, Barham Salih, President of Iraq, speaks in a pre-recorded message which was played during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, at U.N. headquarters in New York. (UNTV via AP)

The political system in Iraq that has been in place since the US invasion removed Saddam Hussein in 2003 is broken and cannot serve the Iraqi people, President Barham Salih said on Thursday.

"The consecutive crises and challenges underline the magnitude and the fact of the structural defect in the current system and the way of governance," Mr Salih said.

To end the spiral of crises in the country, “we need to acknowledge that the governance system that was established after 2003 has broken and can’t serve the citizen who derives legitimate rights [from it]”, Mr Salih said.

“We badly need a new political contract that lays the foundation for a capable state with full sovereignty,” he said.

Before 2003, the government power was concentrated in the hands of Saddam and his Baath Party. Government posts, especially key ones, were given to Baath Party members.

But since 2003, the Americans introduced a new political system in the country based on national elections to be held every four years to select a parliament, from which the government is formed.

Under an unofficial agreement, Iraq’s presidency – a largely ceremonial role – is held by a Kurd, while the prime minister post is for a Shiite and the parliament speaker a Sunni. Other government posts are divided among the country’s political parties based on their religious and ethnic background.

Under this system, the country suffered from widespread corruption, mismanagement and bad public services, while loyalties are now to political parties rather than the state.

Since October last year, Iraq has been reeling from social unrest when anti-political system protests broke out followed by acute economic crisis caused by plummeting oil prices.

As tension between the US and Iran escalated, the Iran-backed militias grew more defiant towards the government, threatening the country's sovereignty.

One of the promises of Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi when he took office in May was to hold early elections in 2021.

Mr Al Kadhimi has suggested June 6 as the date for the elections, but that date has yet to be approved by the political parties.