On the threshold of a new year, Iraq is facing numerous challenges although declaring victory over ISIS was one of 2017's accomplishments.
The demise of the terrorist group does not mean that Iraqis' living conditions will improve and corruption cutting across in the country will be eliminated, according to observers.
Fighting corruption is one of the major challenges facing the government and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, they added. National Wisdom Movement member Fadi al-Shamri told Asharq Al-Awsat Monday: “We expect to see some results on the ground … after Abadi made several pledges over this issue.”
Fighting corruption is not restricted to holding the top officials responsible for their actions, but it should also be about tackling any flaws in the state and government, he explained.
Earlier, Abadi has launched an anti-corruption campaign, confirming that a large list of corrupt officials will be announced ahead of the upcoming elections
He also has begun a series of talks and discussions with many countries and the Interpol to help Iraq in curbing corruption.
The counter corruption operations will include experts from the UN who are specialized in investigating financial fraud.
Iraq ranks 166st out of 176 nations in Transparency International’s Corruption Index. Corruption in Iraq is tied to chronically weak accountability and murky governance.
The tense relations between Baghdad and Erbil in wake of Kurdistan Region's independence referendum, held on September 25, is another challenge that requires radical solutions.
The prospects of negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad had become bleak. However, some analysts say although Abadi has taken escalatory and punitive measures against the region, the time is still ripe for Erbil and Baghdad to engage in dialogue and resolve outstanding issues.
If the crisis persists as a result of Abadi's lack of flexibility, chaos will prevail in Kurdistan and its repercussions will spill over into Baghdad, they added.
After the September referendum, the Iraqi government responded by seizing Kurdish-held Kirkuk and other territory disputed between the Kurds and the central government. It also banned direct flights to Kurdistan and demanded control over border crossings.
Kurdish parties have sought to resolve the crisis between the KRG and the federal government but all their efforts were in vain.
KRG accuses Baghdad of procrastination as it delays engaging in dialogue with Erbil to resolve the outstanding issues between the two parties.
The reconstruction of the devastated districts, which have been recaptured from ISIS terrorists, is another challenge for the government amid a crippling financial crisis. Authorities are forecasting a budget deficit of about 19 trillion dinars this year.
That is why Iraq pins its high hopes on the international community and the upcoming international donors’ conference for rebuilding the country, which will be hosted by Kuwait in February.
"The responsibility to pay for reconstruction falls with the international community," Abdulsattar al-Habu, the director of Mosul municipality and reconstruction adviser to Nineveh province told ABC News on Thursday.
But funding is far lower than what Iraq says it needs. So far, stabilization has received some $392 million in contributions. The United States has given the lion's share, some $115 million. Germany is the second biggest donor at $64 million. The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait are also contributing.
Overall, Washington has contributed $265 million to reconstruction since 2014, on top of $1.7 billion in humanitarian assistance in Iraq.
Though the Iraqi prime minister announced on Dec. 5 that parliamentary and local elections will be held even earlier than scheduled, on May 12 instead of May 15, to avoid a conflict with Ramadan, holding the elections remains a challenge.
Sunni parties have called for postponing the election in order to have better representation.
They also called for delaying it until displaced persons return to the districts recently recaptured from ISIS while Shia parties rejected the postponement of election for fear it will cause constitutional vacuum.
In December, Mutashar al-Samarrai, a member of the parliamentary Mutahidoun bloc, told al-Monitor that millions of Sunnis are living in camps and are unable to participate in the elections. Meanwhile, the Sunni blocs will not be able to conduct their electoral campaigns in destroyed cities. We do not see a problem in delaying the elections.
The retaken Sunni cities are suffering from a lack of services, security and transport. Insisting on holding the elections under these circumstances serves the interests of specific political parties. In this case, the Sunni blocs will fail to secure parliamentary seats, like in previous elections, he added.
Arms possession is also one of the major challenges facing Iraq this year. The weapons are not only in the hands of armed factions that have fought ISIS, but the general public as well.
Armed factions, including the Iranian Militias in Iraq and Syria (IMIS), have recently rejected calls to disarm after victory over ISIS was declared.
Many Iraqi politicians have urged IMIS to disband, a request echoed internationally by some of Iraq’s allies, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in October and French President Emmanuel Macron in December.
But many Shia leaders, including IMIS spokesman Ahmad al-Assadi and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, have voiced their rejection of such calls.
Disarming IMIS is Abadi’s most difficult test as the heinous crimes, committed by the Iran-backed Shia militias, have been publically exposed, observers told The Baghdad Post.
This test will reveal whether Abadi owes allegiance to Iran or he can take decisions that the Mullah regime rejects, they added.
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