Newspaper article International New York Times

Iraq's Next Leader Must Be a Visionary

Newspaper article International New York Times

Iraq's Next Leader Must Be a Visionary

Article excerpt

To end the violence, Iraqis need a prime minister who can unite the country like King Faisal I did.

As the world watches Iraq's seemingly endless cycle of violence with horror, it's worth recalling that it wasn't always like this. Iraqis weren't always held hostage to megalomaniacal tyrants, strongmen or one-party rule. Nor were they led by the mostly venal and incompetent bunch that passes for our current political class.

Electoral democracy shorn of constructive leadership in an environment of degraded institutions and appalling ethical standards is a recipe for unaccountable government, unimaginable levels of corruption and the exacerbation of conflict and divisions.

Is it any wonder that the Iraqi army melted away when faced with the ISIS threat? Why would any soldier fight for a superior who pockets a portion of the soldier's pay and diverts the unit's rations for his private gain? It's a disgrace that Iraq's security forces, numbering nearly one million men, and upon which billions have been spent by both the American and Iraqi governments, cannot confront ISIS without recourse to foreign powers, including Iran, Russia and now the United States. What finally held the line against ISIS in Baghdad was the only institution with any credibility left: the Shiite clergy and its call for a defensive jihad. And even the thousands of volunteers heeding Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's call are being sent to face ISIS with inadequate training, poor supplies and purloined pay.

Iraq, thanks to its oil, has been turned into a gigantic cash cow that is robbed and pillaged by an avaricious political class and huge bureaucracy. Iraq is now facing a threat to its very existence as a state by ethno-sectarian divisions made nearly irreconcilable by gross political miscalculations and overreach.

The Iraq that was born as a consequence of the 2003 American invasion has failed. To save it, we must draw lessons from the first Iraqi state, midwifed by the British in 1921 out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. That state was also born amid violence and discord, with a fraction of the resources available to today's Iraq. But it had one precious quality that allowed it to survive and even thrive as a model for the region. It was led by one of the greatest Arab statesmen of the past century: King Faisal I.

If Iraq is ever to be reconstructed as a functioning unitary state that serves its people, then our leaders must look to Faisal's model. Faisal's moderate Arab patriotism was accommodating of various religions, sects, tribes and ethnicities and respectful to all of them. He practiced the politics of inclusiveness; his entourage included Arabs and Kurds, Muslims and Christians, Sunnis and Shiites, tribesmen and effendis. He also recognized the relative disadvantage of the majority Shiite community after centuries of marginalization and sought to redress this imbalance. …

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