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Hichem Karoui: Big manoeuvres for Maliki
December 24, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki stands today at a crossover: history will recall him as either the man who unified and appeased the country after the end of the occupation or the man who installed sectarian divide in the heart of the system.

Even the New York Times — which may be the last to be charged with hostility toward him and his government — wrote in its editorial on Dec.21: “He is showing a greater interest in reprisals against the Sunni minority than in encouraging inclusion.”

Following the US military withdrawal from Iraq, Maliki created a superfluous and dangerous crisis by issuing an arrest warrant against Vice President Tariq Al Hashimi, charging him with running a death squad. Hashimi took refuge in Kurdistan while denying the accusation. A few weeks prior to the completion of the US withdrawal, 600 Iraqis have been arrested and charged with preparing a “Baathist” conspiracy against the government. As it happens, most of those accused (the vice-president included) are Sunnis.

In the new atmosphere of tense coexistence between the different ethnic and confessional components of the Iraqi population, it is easy and normal for people to raise doubts and question the intentions of the prime minister. In threatening to put an end to power-sharing and resorting to his own majority to form a new government if the Kurds do not comply with the request of Baghdad and turn over Al Hashimi, he actually jeopardise the bases of the frail consensus upon which his own rule stands. Kurds, Arab Sunnites and Shiites, Arab Christians, Turkmen, and other Iraqis have coexisted in this country since centuries under different autocratic rulers.

They shared more or less the same pains, suffered the same roughness from governments they seldom chose. Since the fall of Saddam, the Iraqis, whatever their reserve and doubts regarding the new power elite, have all the same started thinking that, after all, they are free, since they may express their minds, vote and elect their representatives, etc. It was a dream which they shared with the citizens of all the Arab countries, as the Arab Spring showed us. Yet, in Iraq, the dream was short-lived, before turning into a nightmare. What kind of freedom is this when one cannot walk on the street without being exposed to a bullet or a bomb? What kind of free country is this when people are afraid to go to their jobs in the morning and never see their kids again?

Although one has to acknowledge that Maliki cannot be held responsible for all the missteps of the Iraqi power elite — the responsibility is shared — he is all the same the man towards whom people turn their eyes in these difficult times seeking appeasement and reassurance. Even those who did not vote for him. In a democracy, he is accountable to all of them. They have rights while he, as prime minister, has only obligations. He is at their service, not the other way round.

The American withdrawal might have been the opportunity to hold the country together, turn the page of blood and sectarian violence, extend a hand to all the Iraqi competencies, encourage the return of the politically excluded and the exiles, launch a national call for tolerance, reinstate confidence between the population and its elite, promote a new line of thought based on the high values of democracy, citizenship, and faithful secularism, cement the state of law by the bond of national belonging, etc.

Instead of this what happened? An atmosphere of hate and mean political manoeuvres settled down on the sad background of blind violence and sinister mass-murders.

Again, the prime minister is not accused. However, he cannot deny that whatever happens, it happens in his era and under his rule. To history, he is responsible. To his people too, he has to give accounts.

What are the steps and the measures Maliki has taken in order to unify and appease his fellow-citizens since he took office?

Today, even his Arab neighbours have grown suspicious about his intentions.

Let’s not turn around the bush. Iraq is an Arab country and will stay as it is whatever the government. When Maliki says, “The Arab League has nothing to do with the case of Al Hashimi,” he reminds us of other cases and other rulers: “If they agree with me they are good, if they don’t agree they are bad even if they are the majority.” As it happens, the Arab League represents all the Arab countries. Maliki represents only his government — a very shaky one, as it seems. This is not a matter of sovereignty, but of common sense.

The Arabs did not interfere in Iraqi affairs even if they watched Tehran becoming significantly more active, more involved and more influential in Iraq since 2003. The Arabs worried without urging their US allies to pressure the Iraqi governments. They kept an eye on Iranian efforts involving diplomacy, economic investment, covert action, cultivating clients within the Iraqi political system including the leaders of armed militias. While Maliki does not acknowledge a role for the Arab League in Iraq, he has always been reluctant to offend Tehran. In 2008, he hosted Ahmadinejad on an official visit to Baghdad. The Arabs watched silently this first visit of the kind. They watched silently Tehran brokering a deal between rival Iraqi Shiite factions and helping to establish a 2010 working relationship between Muqtada Al Sadr and Maliki. They also watched Iran funding and arming the Mahdi Army, the Promised Day Brigade, the Asaib Al Haq, the Kataib Hizbollah and other radical militias. Yet, if the Arab League kept a low profile, the silence was often eloquent. In May 2007, at an international conference in Sharm Al Sheikh, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz refused to meet Maliki, whom he reportedly described as “embodying sectarian divisions.”

However, the Gulf country has never involved itself in Iraq like Iran. As far as we know, the GCC countries that launched a call to Morocco and Jordan to join them, could as well have issued such a call to Iraq, their close neighbour. However, for a reason, that did not happen. The US is not against such a move, though. In 2009, addressing the Arab military officers in Washington, Defence Secretary Gates stated: “The embrace of Iraq by its fellow Gulf States will help to contain the ambitions of Iran.”

Now, the question left without answer is: if they have to choose between an alliance with Iran and joining the GCC, which option the Iraqi power elite would choose?
The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)


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