What is Really Going on in Iraq?
The Out of Towner
This week’s coordinated bombings in Baghdad are only the latest instance of growing sectarian tension in Iraq. The competition is at the very heart of Iraq’s government, between Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki on the one hand, and on the other Maliki’s deputy Salih Mutlaq and Vice-President Tariq Al-Hashimi, who are both Sunni, and is threatening to split Iraq at regional seams.
The rift is widened by regional tensions that include Iran, Turkey and how how to deal with the Syrian conflict. Al-Maliki is closely connected to Iranian leaders, a fact that is increasingly relevant considering Iraq’s stated desire to mediate between the Syrian government and anti-Assad forces. An Iraqi delegation visited Damascus this past month, ostensibly for this purpose. On the other hand, Iraqi Sunnis have strong ties with Turkey. Tariq Al-Hashimi particularly has a special relation with the leaders of Turkey’s AKP government – this year alone he has conducted several meetings with representatives of Erdogan’s government from Ankara. And recent tensions between Iran and Turkey on the Syrian issue as well as Nato missile defense are affecting co-operation between Iraqi leaders, and Iran’s efforts to shift attention from Syria to Iraq is likely to exacerbate those challenges further.
Paul Bremer once refered to Al-Maliki as the Saddam of Shiites, his autocratic approach to Iraqi politics is fueling the tensions of recent days The aspiration of the predominantly Sunni provinces of Salahadeen, Anbar, and more recently Dyala to become more autonomous, if not independent, of a central Iraqi governing authority, reportedly with Saudi-Turkish support, is another source of sectarian tension. Shi’ites accuse Sunnis of trying to divide Iraq, accusations that led Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Mahdi militia to intervene in Diyala, a province a 20 per cent Shi’ite population.
All of these developments are accelerating a situation of intense rumor and speculation. For example, following a recent trip to London by Jordan’s King Abdullah, rumors began circulating of a scenario in which closer ties are being forged between Jordan and Iraq’s restive Sunni regions in the west.
Also, rumors mill that Mosul province, currently dominated by Iraq’s Sunni speaker of parliament Osama al-Nujeifi, will become a federal region under Turkish supervision. Arabs will leave Kirkuk, only Kurds and Turkmen will remain, and both Kurdistan and Turkey will share the oil revenues. Far-fetched as these ideas may be, they are exacerbating simmering sectarianism.
Paul Bremer once refered to Al-Maliki as the Saddam of Shiites, his autocratic approach to Iraqi politics is fueling the tensions of recent days. With meager successes in reducing violence during his early years as Prime Minister, Al-Maliki has in recent years strengthened his control over government and security forces.
Anxieties are surfacing among politicians in Iraq that Al-Maliki is trying to erase his rivals
Now Al-Maliki is expanding his reach. Only one day-after United States’ official withdrawal from Iraq, he accused Tariq Al-Hashimi for being behind terrorist attacks in Iraq and officially dismissed Salih Mutlaq from his position as deputy Prime Minister over a row in which Mutlaq described Al-Maliki as a new bad dictator while Saddam was a good dictator in an interview with CNN.
A source close to Tariq Al-Hashimi told The Majalla that Al-Hashimi claims to have proof that shows that Al-Maliki is the one who has used terrorism to advance his political hold, but is holding on to that evidence for now.
Anxieties are surfacing among politicians in Iraq that Al-Maliki is trying to erase his rivals, including his Shiite allies. Al-Maliki denies the rumors saying that he supports a diverse Iraq with a wide range of parties in parliament. Time will tell if his strong hand in politics will advance a stable state or threaten it.
Kurds for now, are trying to show themselves as a neutral party but in reality, are not. Historically, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has strong ties with Iran, including frequent visits to Iran. After the accusations against Al-Hashimi surfaced, he tried to meet with Talabani, but according to a source close to Talabani, Talabani refused.
Paradoxically, the other Kurdish leader, Masoud Barzani the President of Kurdistan region met with Al-Hashimi, and refused to surrender him to the Iraqi authorities in Baghdad. Barzani has strong ties with Turkey including hosting Recep Tayyip in Barzani’s stronghold, the Kurdistan region’s de facto capital, Erbil last year. Erdogan is the highest Turkish official to have ever has visited Kurdistan creating a regional game even divides the Kurdish leaders in Iraq.
Iraq is witnessing a radical political battle that appears to be only just beginning. Whether recent events are the warning bell of a bloody internal war or simply political jockeying in the wake of the US departure remains to be seen.