December 21, 2012

Al-Maliki Fires New Shots At Iraq's Finance Minister

Buffered by fears of a snap election and renewed politico-religious strife, Nouri al-Maliki appears to consider himself beyond the reach of Iraqi law. The Premier managed to dodge a vote of no-confidence throughout 2012 after pushing his opponents to the brink of desperation, and clearly has no plans to cede power before his term ends in 2014. Over the summer al-Maliki's political opponents - Iraqiya, Muqtada al-Sadr and the Kurds - tried to collect enough signatures to lobby President Jalal Talabini into motioning for a parliamentary vote. This effort failed partly due to their own political shortfalls and party due to al-Maliki's capitalization on Iraqi fears of sectarianism.

His office repeatedly issued statements to the effect that, "When the other side refuses to sit at the table of dialogue and insists on the policy of provoking successive crises in a way that causes severe damages to the supreme interests of Iraqi people, the prime minister found himself obliged to call for early elections."

Most Iraqis, including Talabani himself, don't wish to go through this process so soon after March 2010's divisive election.

Yet al-Maliki's autocratic style assures a persistent opposition to his rule, and 2012's heated debate is rising again following a suspicious raid on one of his opponents. Shortly after the peace-brokering Talabani was flown to Germany for emergency medical treatment, Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi announced that a "militia" stormed his offices and kidnapped 150 people (his house was also raided). Al-Issawi didn't think twice when naming the culprit.

"My message to the prime minister, you are a man who does not respect partnership at all, a man who does not respect the law and the constitution, and I personally hold you fully responsible for the safety of the kidnapped people," he said during a televised address. "I demand the release of all detainees and I demand an apology of this illegal shameful act. I demand from the Iraqi Parliament to activate a no-confidence vote against a government that does not respect its institutions and its sovereignty."

al-Maliki makes for a natural suspect, having retained control of Iraq's Defense and Interior Ministries in violation of the 2010 Irbil Agreement that secured his second term. Iraq's armed forces have become personalized around al-Maliki's agenda as a result, opening the door for all types of political injustices, and a large-scale roundup inside Baghdad is beyond al-Qaeda's capabilities. Al-Issawi also makes for a natural target of al-Maliki's wrath; last December, al-Issawi teamed up with Iraqiya chief Ayad Allawi and parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi to author a vicious New York Times op-ed on al-Maliki's misrule.

This article was, amongst grander political objectives, a direct response to al-Maliki's harassment campaign against them. Throughout December 2011, as Iraqiya escalated its boycott of al-Maliki's government, the Premier busied himself of accusing al-Issawi, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq of supporting political assassination squads. On December 15, two weeks before the NYT posted his op-ed, al-Issawi was briefly placed under house arrest and later delayed from flying to Irbil, where he planned to meet with Kurdistan regional president Massoud Barzani. Barzani has generally supported Iraqiya's drive to limit al-Maliki's authority.

He recently explained his position in a wide-ranging interview with Al-Monitor: "I want to be fair, and in fact, I don't blame Maliki alone for what has happened. I blame the council of ministers, the council of representatives, the president and other political leaders. Why did they allow him to behave in such a way, where it has reached the point that he actually considers himself the absolute ruler of Iraq."

As for al-Issawi, he escaped an IED blast soon after The New York Times op-ed and received the same lack of cooperation as now.

Interestingly, Barzani mentions that al-Maliki "immediately escalated the situation" upon his return from Washington, a trip that shocked Iraq's political equation. Agitated by President Barack Obama's hearty welcome of al-Maliki, al-Mutlaq quickly responded on CNN by infamously calling al-Maliki "a dictator." Allawi later issued a direct statement to the White House: “President Obama said very clearly that the United States have left Iraq as a stable and democratic country. It’s neither stable nor democratic, frankly speaking."

Barzani, like many others, also considered the warrant on al-Hashemi to be a pivotal step towards marginalizing the Sunnis, and believes the Kurds are next.

Kurdish developments usually yield vigorous action from Washington, but the power struggle between al-Maliki and Iraq's opposition has failed to do the same. No reaction or a meek response to al-Issawi's kidnapped staff would be the latest of many strikes against U.S. policy in Iraq.

No comments:

Post a Comment