Look closer at some of the stories dominating Iraqi political news and a similar picture of a democracy that is just muddling through emerges. For example, in an interesting move, Qutayba al-Jibburi – a deputy who broke away from the secular and Sunni-dominated Iraqiyya to pursue dialogue with Maliki in 2012 – recently reported the full reinstatement of de-Baathified workers at the Bayji refinery thanks to his own personal efforts. Whereas the announcement was a positive indication that dialogue between Maliki and secular and Sunni leaders still remain possible, it was also a reminder about the extent to which processes that are supposed to be legal are subject to political pressures and horsetrading in the “new, democratic Iraq”.
Similarly, this week, the Iraqi cabinet agreed on proposed revisions to the de-Baathification law, which in theory could provide a more enduring framework for national reconciliation. But the law, agreed by a cabinet full of acting ministers and with key blocs not represented, remains hostage to parliamentary approval. For the moment, the main problem in parliament is to get deputies to actually attend, with a series of cancelled meetings recently due to a lack of quorum.
What are we supposed to make of this? Factions that squabble but ultimately muddle through? Or just the same authoritarian politics of the past, with a higher number of Saddams in control?
The answer is, the question is still not settled. It is impossible to paint a truthful picture of Iraq today in black and white.
Perhaps the best way of illustrating this is to look at the latest developments regarding the proposed changes to Iraq’s de-Baathification legislation. The reported changes to the existing bill from 2008, if adopted by parliament, would mean a somewhat more liberal approach to the question of what to do with high officials of the Saddam Hussein regime. Specifically, it is being proposed that members of the firqa level, who have hitherto been considered disqualified for continued state service if they held positions as director generals o worked in the security, finance or foreign ministries, will be able to continue to serve in government.