When Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was asked about demonstrations against him in Baghdad last year, he replied that it was Iraq that started the Arab Spring. This reminds us of Bashar al-Assad’s statement to the Wall Street Journal, a few weeks after the Syrian revolution had started, that he was not concerned about the protests because Syria constitutes a resistance front against Israel.
The Arab Spring did not start in Iraq, nor is Syria a resistance front. Even if either statement is right, what matters is what people in both countries believe.
Alienation and power grab
Maliki’s only concern is staying in power, but he is facing several challenges, one of which is that this is his second and last term in office. He tried, and failed, to modify the constitution to get a third term. He might not even stay until the end of this term. That is why he is now trying to look for other ways out, such as dissolving the parliament before it votes against him, and holding early elections.
Today, Sunday, could be the beginning of the first battle. Maliki, who failed to secure enough votes in the elections, came to power as part of a coalition of Shiites and Sunni Kurds. However, those alliances have changed, and he is now willing to ally with his enemies, whether Shiite Sadrists or the Sunni Arabs. The latter are already demonstrating against him, especially following the accusations he leveled at Sunni Finance Minister Rafea al-Eissawi. Maliki had alienated almost all Sunni leaders, and is on the verge of a confrontation with the Kurds in the north, apparently relating to Iran’s wish to open a way to Syria to rescue Assad’s besieged regime. Maliki marginalized Shiite leaders such as Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who had more right to the premiership, and sensible politicians such as Adel Abdul Mahdi. He is getting closer to Iran, and willing to do anything it demands to stay in power.
It is important to note that Maliki’s position is unmatched by any president or king, possibly across the globe, for he has authority over all key ministries and entities such as security, intelligence, the armed forces, finance, the central bank, the media, the judiciary, and 'de-Baathification.' Meanwhile, he is trying to seize control of the authority in charge of combating corruption, and the list goes on.
When the deputy prime minister told CNN that Maliki is a dictator, he was immediately dismissed. When Maliki fell out with Vice President Tarek al-Hashimi, he accused him of terrorism and conspiracy, and jailed his personal guards.
It will be very hard to uproot Maliki from his position, whether by constitutional means - through the parliament - or by demonstrations and civil disobedience. Iraqis are at the beginning of another bumpy road that will lead back to square one, when Saddam Hussein was in power and when the United States paid with a trillion dollars and 4,000 of its soldiers to get rid of him and his legacy. Maliki will be out after he destroys Iraq, as Assad is doing to Syria.
*This article first appeared in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 6, 2013. Link: http://www.aawsat.com/leader.asp?section=3&article=711834&issueno=12458
(Abdulrahman al-Rashed is general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla.
Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.)