But Maliki's heavy-handed style of governing hasn't led to the stability that US President Obama said the country had attained.
There were more than 4,000 Iraqi victims of violent crime last year and about 800 in the first three months of 2012, including 44 who died in a series of attacks on Tuesday of last week. These are more people than were killed in the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain. In 2011, the number of dead rose slightly in comparison to the previous year for the first time since 2006.
As dramatic as the numbers are, they are still well below the figures for the 2005-2008 period, and the current security situation cannot be compared with the all-out civil war that shook the country at the time. But just as Iraq cannot be characterized as sovereign and stable, it also cannot be described as self-reliant, or as a country whose government can even come close to providing the provinces with the jobs and services they need.
On Monday of last week, almost a million people took to the streets in the port city of Basra, symbolically waving electric cables, empty water canisters and shovels to draw attention to the devastating infrastructure problems. Nine years after the invasion, no region in the country, other than autonomous Kurdistan, has more than a few hours of electricity a day. The drinking water supply in the south is as precarious as it was before the war, and it is only being maintained with the help of the United Nations and foreign non-governmental organizations. Experts estimate that the unemployment level is significantly higher than the official rate of 15.3 percent. Objectively speaking, the situation in Iraq is significantly worse than in the North African countries where poor conditions led to the outbreak of revolutions early last year.
Risk of a Break-Up
The impression that the central government is corrupt has led to the reemergence of a trend that almost caused the country to break apart in the years of civil war. At the time, politicians in the Shiite southern provinces toyed with the idea of secession. Today, the Sunni provincial governments in central and western Iraq want to follow the example of the autonomous Kurds. The Arab Sunnis, who were given preferential treatment by Saddam for decades, make up a minority of about 25 percent in Iraq, while 60 to 65 percent of Iraqis are Shiites.
Following a wave of arrests of Sunni politicians, the government in Salah al-Din province, north of Baghdad, voted for extensive autonomy. Nineveh and Anbar provinces, which suffered the largest numbers of casualties before being pacified in the civil war, threatened to hold a similar vote. When Diyala province declared its autonomy in December, troops from the central government, as well as thousands of Shiite demonstrators, stormed the provincial council building in Baqubah.
This development will only intensify in the coming weeks and months, warns an ambassador from one of Iraq's neighboring countries who did not want to be identified. "No matter how long it takes, the regime in Damascus will finally fall, and the next Syrian government will inevitably be run by Sunnis," he says. According to the ambassador, unless the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad manages to do something about the alienation of Iraqi Sunnis, it will have to prepare for a secession movement in its western provinces.
As diplomatic as the communiqué from Baghdad will sound, at its core the summit meeting in the Iraqi capital will revolve around the question of whether Iraq, the Arab country with the largest Shiite population, can come to terms with its Sunni neighbors -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey -- or whether its increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Maliki will ultimately be steered by the Shiite regional power Iran.
As an Iraqi, says Maliki's ousted deputy Mutlaq, he ought to be proud of the fact that his country, after more than 20 years, is now returning to the fold of the Arab League and is being allowed to host its summit meeting. But that isn't the way he feels, he adds.
For Mutlaq, the pageantry of the summit lends legitimacy to a regime that only appears to be democratic. Maliki's diplomatic bows to his Arab brothers, he says, are as cosmetic as the landscaped lawn that he ordered to be put in along the road from the airport to downtown Baghdad last week.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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