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Musa A Keilani: Dirty politics come to fore
February 14, 2012
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The Iraqi people are now grappling with the realities left behind by the US, whose military withdrew from the country in December after a disastrous eight-year occupation following an invasion that was based on deceptive arguments.

Today, the country is deeply divided along sectarian lines. The government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki remains hostage to its own ambition to reign unchallenged. Maliki, a Shiite, has centralised decisive power in himself and is now pursuing a campaign to stamp out all Sunni challenges to his reign. His orders that saw hundreds of Sunnis belonging to the now defunct Baathist party being detained and his push to have the vice-president, Tareq Al Hashimi, tried on “terrorism” charges and Saleh Al Mutlaq, the deputy prime minister, expelled from the cabinet for criticising him are all part of that campaign.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Hashimi, and 16 of his bodyguards have been arrested. Hashimi himself has been forced to flee Baghdad and remains holed up in the Kurdish-ruled north.

Political manoeuvrings are indeed part of any democratic process. However, what is happening in Iraq is not democratic at all. The majority Shiites, who surged to power when Saddam was overthrown by the US, are now seeking to impose their will on the country, and their push started with marginalising the minority Sunnis who had ruled them for most of the country’s modern history.

Fears are high that Iraq is falling apart after the US withdrawal. Not that the country remained stable during the US occupation, but politicians like Maliki had to restrain themselves from actions that undermined stability.

Today, the Americans are gone and dirty politics has come to the front. Maliki, who is now labelled as a “Shiite Saddam Hussein,” has proved himself to be an autocrat who routinely suppresses dissent and freedom of expression. His regime is so much plagued with corruption that it is tough to figure out which government agency is the most venal.

It is difficult to see how Iraq will end up in the short- and medium-term. Maliki is bent upon sidelining the Sunnis once and for all, while the Sunnis are determined to resist him. Maliki holds an edge because he is in control of the key interior and defence ministries which in turn control the police force and military.

He also has at his disposal Shiite death squads which he could use whenever necessary. Violent attacks that kill dozens are a feature of daily life in Iraq, where Al Qaeda remains active despite American claims to have had decimated the group. We hear only positive things about the Iraqi economy but there are obvious signs that things are not going well despite the country’s oil wealth.

The ordinary Iraqi is not really benefitting from the country’s hydro-carbon resources. More than two million Iraqis are in exile, fearful of going back to the chaotic country. Iraq’s once 1.3-million strong Christian community has dwindled to around half a million and those who remain in the country live in constant fear of attacks.

Another two million Iraqis have been displaced as part of an “ethnic cleansing” campaign waged by both Shiites and Sunnis. There are many important issues facing the Maliki government. However, Maliki does not seem to give any attention to the problems that face the ordinary Iraqi. Instead, he is giving priority to his political career.

Even at that, he has to take care of Iran’s interests in post-Saddam Iraq. Maliki is seeking to ride two horses at the same time. He wants a strong alliance with the US but is bound by his imperatives of the Iranian influence in his country.

There is no compatibility between the two and he is on a delicate rope-trick trying to balance his relations with Washington and Tehran. The administration of US President Barack Obama is heaving a sigh of relief that it has ended its military engagement in Iraq and has no appetite to remain too close to Iraqi affairs because he knows that it could burn his fingers further in view of the Iranian clout in the country.

At the same time, it also wants to contain Iran, something that is increasingly becoming diplomatically impossible. There is an air of expectation in Iraq that something is about to burst. Something has to yield, but no one seems to know exactly what.
The author a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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