Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki is seen at a rally in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq's prime minister says he will return half of his annual salary to the government's treasury in a symbolic effort to balance the standard of living between the nation's rich and poor. Image Credit: AP

It has no doubt crossed the minds of both the Iraqi and US administrations that some form of change has to take place in Iraq before the ship hits rock bottom.

It has been a year since the March 2010 elections in Iraq when hopes for change were high. The elected government, however, has turned out to be a complete disappointment. Services are non-existent, poverty is rampant and corruption is on the rise.

This is the state of affairs at a time when statements are made about Iraq having the second largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia with most of the oil still waiting to be explored. On the ground, there is nothing to show for this ‘wealth'.

Political blocs are aware that things could take a dangerous turn if the government does not remedy the situation quickly.

That is why Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki was summoned by parliament last week and questioned about how he intended to deal with the protests erupting all over Iraq.

The Al Maliki government itself took a very long time to form. If it were not for the Kurdish Erbil initiative in bringing everyone on board to form a national partnership government, Iraq would still be without a government. Even a year on, Iraq is without a minister of defence. The ministers of interior and national security were approved only a week ago!

The country is simmering with anger while Al Maliki and his bloc are playing politics on a two way street. On the one hand, Al Maliki is assuming all the authority, and on the other, he is pressing all the other blocs' representatives to come up with solutions related to corruption and ill-management, a task which he alone controls.

Regulatory authorities, the central bank and other vital bodies, which are supposed to hold the prime minister and his government accountable for its deeds (or misdeeds if you please) are all under Al Maliki, which seems very odd in a democracy which has come after 35 years of blood, sweat and tears.

There are also stories of Iraqi prisoners telling human rights' groups about the existence of secret jails — something that runs against Iraq's Constitution.

Subverting the law

Members of Iraqi Parliament no longer have the power to propose legislation. Instead, all new laws have to be proposed by the cabinet or the country's president and then passed on to parliament for a vote.

Michael Corbin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq, has told a Washington think-tank that Iraqis are not protesting for regime change, but against poor services and corruption. They want the government to respond to their needs.

In fact this is what sets Iraq's demonstrations apart from protests in other Arab countries. This Iraqi government was elected democratically, but it needs to change its course in many areas.

Muqtada Al Sadr, who has returned to Iraq from Iran after a three-year absence, has spoken freely about the poor governance. He has given the government a 180-day ultimatum to start getting its act together.

The unified Sadrist leadership is the reason Al Maliki responded to public discontent by giving his cabinet 100 days to come up with ways to improve services and cut corruption.

Jason Gluck, a rule of law adviser at the US Institute of Peace and an adviser to the Iraqi Parliament in 2007 stated recently that the developments in Iraq have provoked real concern across the Iraqi political spectrum, and the responsibility now rests largely with parliament to check the prime minister's powers.

The ability of the diverse political parties in parliament to effectively do so will be a critical test of Iraq's budding democracy. So will Al Maliki's willingness to reform his ways and start acting responsibly towards the people's needs by ridding the government of much detested corruption.

The stakes are high and corruption runs deep. And given the performance of his last term in government, Al Maliki will need much more than 100 days to eradicate corruption and provide better services to the people, apart from focusing on ruling the country democratically.