x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Paralysis endemic in post-war Iraq

Eliminating one of Iraq's Most Wanted won't bring the democratic reform Iraqis want, and need, most.

Those who despised Tariq Aziz will no doubt delight in the death sentence he was handed this week. Once the face of Saddam Hussein's despotic regime, the former Iraqi foreign minister had a front row seat to some of Saddam's bloodiest acts. But as with the execution of his former paymaster, Aziz's sentence is not a substitute for political progress in Iraq. Paralysis remains endemic in post-war Iraq, and its leaders must recognise that purging the past is not sufficient to reform the present.

A stench of sectarianism hangs over the court's decision. The presiding judge Mahmoud Saleh al Hassan made an unsuccessful bid for parliament as a member of the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al Maliki's coalition. Among his other crimes, Aziz was charged for complicity in the killing of members of Shia Muslim parties, including members of Mr Maliki's own Dawa Party. Some consider the judge's decision as an effort to strengthen Iraq's current governing coalition, or at least a bid to divert attention away from the political stalemate.

Seeking an end to that impasse has not become any less contentious. Seven months after parliamentary elections, lawmakers have been unable to form a new government, with key parties battling behind closed doors. In the months since the March election, parliament has met only once, for a total of 18 minutes. The Federal Supreme Court has ordered the body to reconvene, but formation of a coalition government appears to remain a distant goal. Meddling by Iran and Iraq's other neighbours doesn't help.

Legal scholars will debate the evidence against Aziz, and the court's decision to send a sick, 74-year-old man to the gallows. There are also legitimate concerns surrounding the Iraqi justice system's ability to hand out fair punishment. Aziz's defence, that he was just following orders, didn't excuse those tried at Nuremberg and nor did it excuse him.

But the Iraqi public deserves resolution to societal problems more than it needs the execution of an ill septuagenarian. While it may feel like progress to some, eliminating one of Iraq's Most Wanted won't bring the democratic reform Iraqis want, and need, most.