Last Updated: Thu Dec 22, 2011 17:36 pm (KSA) 14:36 pm (GMT)

How is al-Maliki exploiting the pullout?

Abdullah Iskandar

A few days prior to the full withdrawal of the American combat troops from Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki’s government carried out a wide scale campaign of arrests which affected hundreds of people in the various regions, under the pretext that the latter were Baathists planning on staging a coup to change the regime.

Regardless of the implications and credibility of this campaign, and regardless of the official blackout imposed on these detainees, the way they are being treated and their transfer to an honest judiciary which would have the final say in regard to their involvement, Al-Maliki and his government should have drawn the conclusions of such an action, if it is indeed true. The main conclusion is that only more participation by all the Iraqi factions in the political process, the government and the administration, can block the way before those who are nostalgic about the former regime and are trying to revive it, or at the very least, limit their ability to carry out mobilization and instigation.

But this is exactly what Al-Maliki did not do. Quite the contrary, he resorted to escalation against the Iraqi side involved in the political process – namely the figures of the Iraqi List – and even addressed direct accusations at Vice President Tarek al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq.

Indeed, Al-Maliki intentionally cast accusations of terrorism and conspiracy against power, not against part of a sectarian group which might actually be involved in such actions that ought to be confirmed by an honest judiciary, but against leaders in this group. This constitutes a blow to the political process as agreed on by the Iraqis in the new constitution.

But why address such a blow at this point in time? The timing aims at separating the political process which was supervised by the Americans during the occupation phase and the political process wanted by Al-Maliki, along with the other Shiite blocs, following the American pullout and the alleged retreat of Washington’s influence on the Iraqi domestic arena.

In other words, the Iraqi prime minister wanted to exploit the withdrawal of the American combat troops from Iraq to introduce drastic amendments affecting the political process and its components. By doing so, he aims at distancing the Iraqi List’s political influence despite its parliamentary strength – that is its popularity – while accusing its supporters through wide-scale arrests of conspiracy and terrorism. Consequently, the facets of the new political process will be purely sectarian.

The third partner in the Iraqi equation, i.e. the Kurds, picked up on the seriousness of Al-Maliki’s new approach, thus warning via President Jalal al-Talabani against monopolization, especially since Al-Maliki did not bother to inform Al-Talabani about the serious accusations cast against the vice president. The third partner also warned – through President of the Kurdistan province Massoud al-Barzani – against the collapse of the entire political process.

Wise men in Iraq might be able to convince Al-Maliki he went too far in striking a key component in the country, and that he should amend this direction through a new conference or meeting among the political leaders to discuss the ways to exit this dangerous situation. However, all the previous experiences have shown that the man maneuvered in all directions to maintain his grip over all the powers and consequently proceed with the political process he wants. This was revealed by the outcome of the Erbil accord, especially in regard to the security ministers whose portfolios he is still handling by proxy, which allowed him to do what he did.

Al-Maliki’s regional relations, especially with Tehran, might be behind his attempt to change the direction of the political process upon the withdrawal of the American troops, a withdrawal which is perceived by Iran as being a victory it should quickly exploit in Iraq to create new facts. It also believes that this should be done before these facts change, especially in Syria with whose Baathist regime Al-Maliki’s government sided, despite the fact that he is always reiterating his hatred toward the Baath Party and the Baathist conspiracy in Iraq.

The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in the London-based al-Hayat on Dec. 22, 2011.

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