Of­fi­cial blames U.S., al-Ma­liki for vi­o­lence

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY GUY TAY­LOR

One of Iraq’s top Sunni politi­cians on Tues­day ac­cused Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki of fo­ment­ing sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence to limit the voices of Sun­nis in up­com­ing elec­tions, and he crit­i­cized the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for fail­ing to do more for a coun­try “de­stroyed” by the United States.

With­out more deeply en­gaged guid­ance and pres­sure from Wash­ing­ton, Iraqi Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Saleh Mut­laq said, Iraq’s slate of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers — in­clud­ing Shi­ites, Sun­nis and Kurds — are at risk of lead­ing the na­tion’s fledg­ling democ­racy to­ward an all-out sec­tar­ian melt­down and civil war.

Mr. Mut­laq said Iraq be­gan veer­ing to­ward dan­ger­ously di­vi­sive po­lit­i­cal ter­ri­tory dur­ing and af­ter its par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in 2010, when the Shi­ite-dom­i­nated coali­tion rose to power in Bagh­dad “be­cause of pres­sure from Iran” and “be­cause the U.S. did not act in a strong way.”

“I think you have a le­gal and moral re­spon­si­bil­ity to Iraq,” Deputy Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Saleh Mut­laq told an au­di­ence in Wash­ing­ton at the U.S. In­sti­tute of Peace. “You came to re­move the Sad­dam regime and in fact, in­stead of do­ing that, you de­stroyed a coun­try, not only the regime.”

The re­marks by Mr. Mut­laq, who spoke both pub­licly and in a pri­vate in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Times — and who is likely to be the top Sunni chal­lenger to Mr. al-Ma­liki in Iraq’s April elec­tions — pre­sented some sober­ing insight into the com­plex­i­ties of Iraq’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape.

His re­marks also dove­tailed with as­sess­ments by a range of for­eign pol­icy an­a­lysts in Wash­ing­ton, sev­eral of whom ar­gue that the al-Ma­liki gov­ern­ment’s bare-knuckle pos­ture to­ward Sunni po­lit­i­cal lead­ers has ramped up sec­tar­ian ten­sions.

Hu­man rights groups for years have crit­i­cized harsh se­cu­rity tac­tics em­ployed by the Iraqi prime min­is­ter. Sunni po­lit­i­cal lead­ers ac­cused him of act­ing as a dic­ta­tor in 2011 when a war­rant was is­sued sud­denly for the ar­rest of the Sunni vice pres­i­dent, Tariq al-Hashemi.

Mr. al-Hashemi, who was ac­cused of run­ning se­cret ex­e­cu­tion squads, fled Bagh­dad and was sen­tenced to death in ab­sen­tia by an Iraqi court in 2012.

Some an­a­lysts say sim­mer­ing Sunni anger to­ward Mr. al-Ma­liki over that case and oth­ers has fos­tered the resur­gence of Sunni Mus­lim groups linked to al Qaeda. One such group re­cently seized con­trol of key por­tions of Fal­lu­jah, a city in the na­tion’s western An­bar prov­ince.

Writ­ing for the web­site of the Center for Strate­gic In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies this week, vet­eran re­gional an­a­lyst An­thony Cordes­man said it “is the Ma­liki threat that ac­tu­ally rein­vig­o­rated al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and gave the ex­trem­ist group a toe­hold among some alien­ated and dis­en­fran­chised Iraqi Sun­nis.”

Oth­ers say Mr. al-Ma­liki is act­ing as a kind of pup­pet for the neigh­bor­ing Shi­ite Is­lamic Repub­lic of Iran, whose strate­gic op­er­a­tives seek to gain as much power as pos­si­ble over Sunni pop­u­la­tions in the re­gion. Long­time in­tel­li­gence and na­tional se­cu­rity colum­nist David Ig­natius ar­gued last week in The Wash­ing­ton Post that “Iran has waged a bril­liant cover­tac­tion cam­paign that turned Ma­liki and Iraq into vir­tual clients of Tehran — and in the process alien­ated Sun­nis and pushed them to­ward ex­trem­ism.”

Iraq’s am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton, Luk­man Faily, has dis­missed such nar­ra­tives, as­sert­ing dur­ing an in­ter­view last week with The Wash­ing­ton Times that Mr. al-Ma­liki is sen­si­tive to the chal­lenges of grow­ing a na­tional Iraqi iden­tity that in­cludes peo­ple from across sec­tar­ian lines.

De­spite the am­bas­sador’s ef­forts, how­ever, the over­all no­tion that the al-Ma­liki gov­ern­ment is at least in part to blame for Iraq’s woes ap­peared to dom­i­nate the mes­sage brought to Wash­ing­ton this week by Mr. Mut­laq — a re­al­ity that might best be ex­plained by the fact that the deputy prime min­is­ter is ex­pected to be the top Sunni chal­lenger to Mr. al-Ma­liki when Iraq’s go to the polls in April.

“Cru­elty and abuse and iso­la­tion can cre­ate a rich en­vi­ron­ment for ex­trem­ism and al Qaeda specif­i­cally,” Mr. Mut­laq said dur­ing his pub­lic re­marks Tues­day. “That’s why we’re see­ing an al Qaeda prob­lem in Iraq right now.”

Asked what he thought of the view by some in Wash­ing­ton that the al-Ma­liki gov­ern­ment is a pup­pet of Tehran, Mr. Mut­laq pon­dered for a mo­ment be­fore re­spond­ing: “Maybe the heart of the Ira­ni­ans, not in the hands of the Ira­ni­ans.”

But the deputy prime min­is­ter did sug­gest that Mr. al-Ma­liki has spent the past sev­eral years build­ing up a se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus dan­ger­ously ca­pa­ble of con­tain­ing Iraq’s Sunni pop­u­la­tion.

“The whole se­cu­rity [ap­pa­ra­tus], the in­tel­li­gence of­fice, the In­te­rior Min­istry — you know there is in­te­rior min­is­ter, there is no de­fense min­is­ter, there is no real head of the in­tel­li­gence of­fice — all of th­ese places are be­ing run by some peo­ple who have not been voted on in the par­lia­ment,” he told The Times. “So they are be­ing run by al­most al-Ma­liki him­self.”

Mr. Mut­laq sug­gested that the ap­pa­ra­tus could be used to con­trol the move­ment of the na­tion’s Sun­nis as the elec­tion ap­proaches.

“If a cur­few is im­posed, it would be an at­tempt to marginal­ize some parts of the pop­u­la­tion so that they won’t be able to par­tic­i­pate,” he said.

The deputy prime min­is­ter called on U.S. lead­ers to take a more ac­tive role in push­ing Iraqi po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to avoid in­cit­ing sec­tar­i­an­ism as elec­tions ap­proach and said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion should send ag­gres­sive elec­tion mon­i­tors to Iraq to en­sure fair­ness in the po­lit­i­cal process.

“If there is a trans­par­ent and fair elec­tion, which un­til now I can­not see, I think there will be fair rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the peo­ple and things will go in a proper way,” he said. “But if there will be a cur­few and peo­ple are pre­vented from vot­ing, and sec­tar­ian speech con­tin­ues, the re­sults will not be promis­ing.”

De­spite his con­cerns, he sought to strike a pos­i­tive note about Iraq’s fu­ture. Asked whether there could be rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween Mr. al-Ma­liki’s gov­ern­ment and Sunni lead­ers in the na­tion, par­tic­u­larly tribal lead­ers in An­bar prov­ince, Mr. Mut­laq said: “It is pos­si­ble, but it is dif­fi­cult.”

“If he goes and de­liv­ers all the de­mands they want now through their demon­stra­tions, why not?”


Iraqi Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Saleh Mut­laq said “the U.S. did not act in a strong way” dur­ing and af­ter 2010 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.


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