Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tale of two cities

Here are the main themes in the three top original stories in the Iraqi paper Al-Mashriq this weekend:

Parliament reduced to a rubber-stamp for the executive

(1) A Fadhila deputy on the parliamentary Committee on Services said the supervisory function of his committee and the others operating in Parliament have seen their roles "weakened and become practically non-existent in the face of the efforts of political parties that are trying to weaken Parliament and turn it into a part of the executive power as opposed to having a supervisory function over that executive power". (In the context of dissatisfaction with answers by the Minister of Electricity in the committee last week and a decision to call him back in the coming week).

Political opponents threatened with prosecution; global firms to the rescue

(2) Prime Minister Maliki said during a visit to the Baghdad governate offices that anyone who obstructs the progress of services "will be considered to have a political agenda that is destructive and supported by terror, and will be referred to the courts." (Naturally it isn't explained who he is talking about, but it is worth remembering that Maliki wasn't shy about threatened members of parliament with criminal prosecution, in this same semi-veiled way, when they staged a sit-in in Sadr City during the US bombings there last summer). Maliki added that "there are corporations and states that are requesting [permission to] operate in Iraq, and after Ramadan there will be entry of giant global firms into Iraq." In the same vein, a provincial-council official said there are plans jointly with the ministries of health and education to build four hospitals and 100 schools in Baghdad.

Alleged corruption in basic services

(3) There was an uproar in parliament when the head of the Parliamentary anti-corruption committee said he wanted to question the Minister of Trade (the minister responsible for the ration-card system) and accused him of theft and administrative corruption. This doesn't say what if anything happened as a result.


I don't know about you, reader, but when I read this sort of news day after day, I get the picture of a Parliament that is mostly dysfunctional; a central government that is not adequately carrying out even its basic civil functions (in this case electricity supply and the distribution of the ration-card items); and a Prime Minister prone to threatening his critics with criminal prosecution, and who promises that help will arrive soon in the form of global corporations.

It is not exactly the same as what goes down in Washington, but it is not entirely dissimilar either. Scrape off a few layers of the slick stuff, and here's what you find:

Moribund congressional role

(1) We have yet to hear the screams of protest from Congress on a proposal that would give the Treasury Secretary $700 billion to pay out to financial-services corporations, with only the most vague directions, and an express ban on any kind of judicial or administrative review of what he does with the money.

Basic central government role already trashed

(2) The central government has showed itself dysfunctional in failing to carry out its basic duty of protecting the value of 401k and other retirement assets from the disastrous excesses of Wall Street.

Corporatism up, dissent down

(3) PATRIOT Act and other measures have gone a long way to chill dissent. Corporate media and the government continue to focus on the global corporations.

This is just my own idea, but what would be the reaction if an "Iraq Institute of Peace", or some Iraqi Sam Parker, issued a report that said America risks instability because of its dangerous underlying racial divide, with a largely white financial elite getting bailed out at the expense of the struggling homeowner and taxpayer class, which is much more heavily black. Ludicrous, of course, and completely irresponsible! Obviously the problem is much more simple: How to get rid of that elite which is between incompetent and corrupt.


Anonymous Alex said...

Nice comparison, badger.

I find it interesting, though, that in spite of the Fadhila member's complaint about the weakening power of parliament - an eternal complaint everywhere in democracies - in fact the parliament has played a pivotal role in defending Iraqi rights recently. It is the refusal of parliament which has stopped the oil law, and their prospective refusal over the SOFA (even if we are not supposed to call it a SOFA) which has stiffened the resistance, and brought the negotiations to a halt.

In fact, the parliament has been more effective than in many Western democracies.

The local election law, the one that was vetoed by Maliki and the Kurds, was not bad too.

9:15 AM  
Blogger badger said...

It's good to be reminded of that. And the lesson we can take from it is that it's easier to stampede the US congress than the Iraqi parliament when it comes to proposed legislation not in the country's interest (thinking Iraq war authorization; current bail-out proposal; etc)... Of course what the Fadhila person was complaining about was that parliamentary oversight over existing executive functions is being eviscerated by an absolutist executive. In that I guess we're about neck-and-neck.

9:59 AM  

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