2018-07-13 14:46:00

At the very moment that Iraq needed to be as strong as possible, to cope with the destabilising impact of the US-Iran confrontation, an indecisive election two months ago weakened the government.


Prime minister Haider al-Abadi was expected to do better in the parliamentary election on 12 May because of the credit he gained when the Iraqi army recaptured Mosul, the de facto capital of Isis, in July last year.


A few months later, Mr Abadi had a further success when Iraqi security forces responded to an ill-advised Kurdish referendum on independence by reoccupying the oil province of Kirkuk. Iraq appeared to be at last emerging from 40 years of crisis and war.


But improved security – there is less violence in Iraq than at any time since the US invasion of 2003 – has had the paradoxical consequence of allowing Iraqis to focus less on the day-to-day business of staying alive and more on the chronic failings of their corrupt and dysfunctional government.


They ask what happened to the hundreds of billions of oil revenue dollars that have been spent, yet they still lack water, electricity, job and houses.


Mr Abadi’s political grouping came in third in the election with 42 seats in the 329 seat parliament, while the surprise winner was the Sairoun Alliance of the populist nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr with 54 seats.


He was closely followed by the movement led by Hadi al-Ameri drawn from the Shia paramilitary Hashd al-Shaabi which won 47 seats. Nobody came close to winning a majority.


Mr Abadi is still in office, but political experts in Baghdad estimate his chances of staying on as prime minister at only about 30 per cent, though they add that he has no obvious successor.


He is happy to stay where he is while political parties haggle over who gets what top job and control of ministries, though even this process is being delayed as votes are recounted in much of the country, following widespread allegations of ballot rigging.


Unsurprisingly, public confidence that a new government will ultimately be created that is much better or different from the old one is fading away.


Disillusionment with the predatory political class that has ruled Iraq for the last 15 years was already high, with only 44.5 per cent of voters going to the polls in the election. 


Iraqis easily get nervous about the political situation, which is scarcely surprising given the extreme violence with which they have lived for so long.


They worry, among many other things, that the defeat of Isis may not be as permanent as the government claims.


When Isis kidnapped and murdered eight security men on the Baghdad-Kirkuk road last month, there was an angry popular reaction. The government tried to calm the situation by immediately executing 13 Isis prisoners on death row, but fear is only just below the surface. 


The legacy of terror left by Isis is not the only destabilising factor.