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Iraq’s Covid-19 — a catalyst for unity?

Just weeks after Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s government announcing new measures to combat Covid-19, Iraq’s official number of confirmed cases is fast approaching the dreaded 50,000 mark. In a country torn apart by conflict often underpinned by aggressive sectarianism, Iraq’s volatile political landscape has struggled to find unity in being able to tackle intranational issues, evidenced most recently by the public protests fuelled by discontent towards the government of the time. Now with Iraq in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the country’s plethora of the diverse political parties must find homogeny in order to defeat, or at least contain, this invisible killer. However, since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2013, aggressive sectarianism has resonated not only through the political echelons of Iraq but has also infiltrated all levels of Iraqi society including the nation’s expat communities around the world. Now with the emergence of this invisible killer in Iraq, can Covid-19 be the catalyst for unity that mainstream Iraqis have been longing for or will it be another tragedy that Iraqis have to persevere through?

It is no secret that aggressive sectarianism has torn through the fabric of Iraqi society. This pandemic could be one of Iraq’s more unique crisis in that it could be the catalyst to propel all segments of Iraq’s society to work together in order to overcome this invisible killer. Under the stewardship of Al-Kadhimi, the government has recently announced measures to combat the spread of the virus including additional funding to the already fragile healthcare system through inter-governmental fiscal transfer arrangements, disinfecting cultural and religious sites regularly as well as setting up heavily funded governmental committees to co-ordinate with international aid agencies in the fight against Covid-19. Whilst these measures have been largely been welcomed by Iraq’s political scene, how these efforts manifest into practical terms is another story. Adulameer Mohsin Hussein, President of the Iraqi Medical Society, best illustrates this sentiment through highlighting his concerns that the healthcare system is turning into a breeding ground for the coronavirus rather than being the main weapon needed to fight this invisible killer. The lack of healthcare funding, understaffed medical institutions and inadequacy of personal protective equipment are just some of the reasons cited by Iraqi medical professions when asked what has exacerbated the number of confirmed cases. Even in the midst of what may look like an uphill battle against the invisible killer, there appears to be a silver lining and that is Covid-19 has had a somewhat counteracting effect against aggressive sectarianism. The invisible killer does not discriminate when choosing its victims and this fatal characteristic of the virus can potentially sow the seeds of unity amongst Iraqis by pushing them to come together in the fight against Covid-19.

Iraq’s response to the coronavirus might not be up there with the internationally recognised medical standards however, Iraqis and the international community at large need to be cognisant of the fact that the country’s infrastructure has been ravaged by years of war and conflict. Nevertheless, the recent government initiatives, the front liners and the relentless will of the Iraqi people are all factors that will turn the tide against Covid-19 in Iraq. The fundamental takeaway from this challenging time is to ensure that the political players in Iraq minimise the politicisation of Covid-19. It is only through consistent and effective cooperation at both local and national level can Iraq look to combat Covid-19 expeditiously. This invisible killer does not see creed, race or religion and the outbreak has changed the social contract between the individual and political institutions around the world as well as Iraq. Whilst there has been many unfortunate deaths as a result of this invisible killer, this has been one of very few times in Iraq’s recent history where there is a common enemy that all can unite against — a sentiment that can apply to the world over.

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