BAGHDAD – The national unity government led by Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has failed to deliver its promises to improve life for Iraqis. Five months after the government took over, the country still faces a rising tide of sectarian violence and inadequate public services.
There is little sign of government in Baghdad other than a heavy deployment of security forces. And that deployment has not brought security.
Dilapidated and ruined buildings line the streets of the city. The streets themselves are clogged with messy traffic. Checkpoints have been set up by private bodyguards. The government is not in control even in the capital city.
Shia taxi drivers are afraid to enter Sunni neighborhoods for fear of Sunni insurgents. Sunni drivers likewise do not drive to Shia areas, where they fear that anyone whose identity papers suggest he is a Sunni may be killed at Shia militia checkpoints.
The government is now considering introducing a "militia disarmament bill" in parliament next month.
"Militias are a big problem and a threat to the government and people of Iraq," deputy prime minister Barham Salih said. "The political forces must drop their arms and take part in the country’s political process. Otherwise, we will not accept this."
The government has set security and sectarian reconciliation as its priorities, but little, if anything, has been achieved to those ends so far. The latest figures suggest that the casualty toll in sectarian violence dropped to 1,485 in August from 1,859 in July. Despite this 14 percent decrease in killings, fear is still widespread that the country is gradually sliding into civil war.
Iraqis say any plans for a better Iraq ought to address the key issues of security and also the presence of foreign forces.
"As one of its major priorities, al-Maliki’s government has to do its best to control the security situation that has become very dangerous," Nabeel Mohammed Salim, senior lecturer in political science at Baghdad University, told IPS. He said, however, that no other government can do better than al-Maliki’s under the current circumstances.
And a change in circumstances must mean a departure of foreign troops, he said. "A timetable has to be set for ending occupation and the withdrawal of occupation forces."
The Iraqi government is at present too heavily reliant on foreign forces, Salim said. "The government does not have the ability to run the government without any interference of Americans."
If the situation continues as at present, the consequences of failure to curtail violence can be severe, Salim said. There is now a "civil war only between militias," but if it is not curbed, it can expand to include "civilians and people from other groups and parties in the country as well."
As the Sunni-driven insurgency in Iraq’s central and northwestern regions soars, officials in Washington have admitted to miscalculations about the postwar situation in the country.
"There is no question that we didn’t expect the insurgency [in Iraq] to last for all this long time," U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney told NBC last week. He had said last year that the insurgency was in its "last throes."
Some believe that the very composition of the government in Baghdad has been a hindrance to the government’s success.
During Iraq’s two previous elections, Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds all voted for the sectarian and ethnic agenda of the parties representing their communities. That ultimately resulted in division of the government along sectarian lines, leading some to call for the replacement of the current government by another one.
"We have to form another government on a national basis," said Salim. "It must be a government that works for the national interest of all Iraqis, and not the interests of a particular sect or party."