Iraq’s new political class – Abdul Hussein Abtan wants a new political narrative

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SHAFAQNA – On 28 January 2007 Iraq security forces foiled a sinister plot in a surrounding village to the sacred city of Najaf. The plotters belonged to a messianic cult: the Soldiers of Heaven, a group hell-bent on seeing through its members’ aspirations to hasten the apocalyptic events promised in the Islamic religious scriptures. Temptation to bracket the cultists as rabble-rousers should be resisted. Messianism is a powerful force capable of wreaking societal in unimaginable proportions. Iraq, after all, is the historic ground that witness a great many militant messianic factions in history. Aware of the danger, Iraqis have the former deputy-mayor of Najaf, Abdul Hussein Abtan, to thank for averting the danger and preventing a recalcitrant strife that would have been difficult to contain.

Security of the city of Najaf fell under the purview of Abtan during his deputy-mayorship between 2005-2009. The task was not an easy one. Abtan had to contend against two very different but equally lethal militant forces: al-Qaeda in Iraq and Shi’a messianic cultists. Security became his top priority, and in doing so, Abtan is perhaps single handedly responsible for keeping the security ship afloat at times when other Iraqi cities were close to being overcome by militant groups.

Eager to act proactively as well reactively, Abtan went to great lengths to bring economic and social prosperity to the city of Najaf. Among his major achievements is the founding of pilgrim road to cater for the millions of visitors who undertake the annual walk of hundreds of miles from the city of Najaf to the mausoleum of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, in the city of Karbala.

More inwardly, Abtan lead efforts starting in 2007 to expand the mausoleum of Imam Ali, regarded by Shi’a Muslims as the first successor (Imam) to Prophet Muhammad, whose golden-domed shrine and soaring minaret attracts millions of Muslim faithful from around the world. Aware of the economic potential visitors could bring to the local economy, Abtan invited investors to help transform Najaf into an international hub of profound religious significance. Key bridges were built to facility the flow of heavy traffic and growing mobility. Congestion, a vexing problem in many Iraqi cities, became manageable and residents of Najaf could go about their daily lives unimpeded.

In 2014 the terrorist group ISIS seized larger swathes of land in the mother territories of Iraq. As a result, the Iraqi security forces suffered a demoralising blow. Among the first to respond, Abtan, then Member of National Parliament for Najaf, rallied his support behind the Iraqi armed forces by inviting Iraqis of all stripes to support the sovereignty of the state.

Invigorated perhaps by the Iraqi youth with whom he worked for years during his tenure as Minister of Sports and Youth, Abdul Hussein Abtan holds unique vision for the future of Iraq: he believes national reconciliation to be multifaceted, one that requires dialogue among Iraqi youth, who constitute more than half of the population. To combat corruption, Abtan promises to create a culture of transparency and accountability, to bring power back to the people, and to institute reforms with the active participation of of the youth and experienced minds.

The future of Iraq rests with the young and savvy young adults who yearn for a political class that can cater for their aspirations, understands their frustration, and respond sincerely to their dreams of building a united, pluralistic, peaceful, and prosperous country. As it is, the time is ripe for young and ambitious politicians to lead the charge of change. Abtan is as good as any to take up the mantle.

A Shafaqna Exclusive

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