Monday, December 26, 2011

Charges Against Iraq’s Vice President, And Why They Matter


An Iraqi paper announcing arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi (AFP)
Part of Iraq’s current political crisis is due to an arrest warrant that was issued for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. The warrant was based upon the confessions of not only several of his bodyguards, but members of the security forces in the city of Fallujah in Anbar province. Baghdad claimed that these were legitimate testimonies that implicated Hashemi’s involvement in murders, bombings, and assassinations dating back several years. The Vice President on the other hand claimed that the men all talked due to torture, and therefore could not be believed. If either explanation proves true, it does not bode well for Iraq’s current government and political system.

Two groups of men were behind the warrant for Vice President Hashemi. First, were three policemen from Fallujah. They were Lieutenant Mohammed Ghanni Olaiwi al-Issawi, Lieutenant Colonel Faisal Ismail Hussein al-Zubaie, and Colonel Issa Sayer Mouthin al-Issawi. All three said they carried out kidnappings, murders, and attacks on behalf of the Iraqi Islamic Party. From 2005-2009 the party was in control of Anbar province, and Hashemi was one of its leaders. The three main claimed that the Islamic Party formed a militia in the city of Fallujah in late 2006 called Hamas of Iraq. Publicly, the group was said to be an Awakening movement that was to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq, but in reality, it was the armed wing of the Iraqi Islamic Party in Anbar. It was controlled by three men, Khalid Alwani, the party boss in the province, Saad Awad Rashid, the mayor of Fallujah from 2006-2009, and Abdul al-Sattar el-Waas Issawi, the director of Fallujah’s New Hospital. The officers went on to say that Alwani and Colonel Issawi had regular contact with Hashemi and Rafi Issawi who was the Deputy Prime Minister from 2006-2010, and is currently the Finance Minister; and the two senior members ordered attacks upon opponents of the Islamic Party. Two specific cases were cited that involved taking prisoners from police stations, and executing them. The other group behind the warrant was three of his bodyguards who were shown on state-run Iraqiya television on December 19, 2011 talking about their involvement in attacks ordered by the Vice President. They were picked up when the police got a tip that one of them was building a bomb in his home in Baghdad. The first one to talk was Abdul al-Karim Mohammed al-Jabouri. (1) He said he started working for Hashemi in 2005 as a driver and bodyguard. In 2009, he was called by Hashemi’s secretary, who was also his son-in-law Ahmad Qahtan, who gave him orders to meet with two police officers to plant a roadside bomb targeting the Director-General of the Rusafa Health Department in Baghdad. For this operation Jabouri received $3,000 from the Vice President to be split between him, and the two policemen. The next time, Jabouri was to assassinate a member of the Foreign Ministry with a gun and a silencer in the capital. Again, he carried out the mission, and received $3,000. His third job was assassinating a lieutenant colonel on a highway, which occurred on January 1, 2011. The second bodyguard to speak was Lieutenant Ghasan Umran Jasim Hamid, who said he worked for Hashemi since 2007. He started carrying out attacks beginning in 2009. The first time was planting a bomb next to a restaurant in the capital, which was used against an army patrol that was passing by. Afterward, he, along with two other policemen met with Hashemi who thanked them. Another time, a general contacted Hamid, and told him to set off a roadside bomb against the Health Minister’s motorcade. Finally, Hamid confessed to assassinating a lieutenant from the Baghdad Traffic Department with a silenced pistol. The third bodyguard was Marwan Ahmed Rashdan who said he carried out an attack upon the Iraqi army, and participated in one of the assassinations Abdul al-Karim Mohammed al-Jabouri mentioned. All together, these six men laid out a damning list of accusations against Hashemi dating back to 2006. The question was could they be believed?
Former Culture Minister Asad al-Hashemi was convicted in abstentia of trying to assassinate the head of the Iraqi Nation Party in 2007 (AFP)
Members of the Iraqi Islamic Party have been involved in violence in the past. In Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s first administration, Culture Minister Asad al-Hashemi, Tariq al-Hashemi’s nephewwas accused of using his office to torture and murder opponents. In June 2007, a warrant was issued for the minister’s arrest for attempting to assassinate the head of the Iraqi Nation Party Mithal al-Alusi. Alusi escaped the plot, but his two sons were killed. A court later said that the Culture Minister was hidden by the Iraqi Islamic Party, and then smuggled out of Iraq using a false passport that he used to travel to Saudi Arabia and then Egypt to escape prosecution. He was eventually convicted, and sentenced to death in absentia. In December 2011, the Iraqi Nation Party said that it was suing the Vice President for assisting in his nephew’s escape. Here was a case that also directly implicated the Islamic Party in violence, and involved Hashemi, and his family. That makes the stories of the six men at least plausible since Hashemi’s party was known to conduct similar operations.
Maliki (left) and Hashemi (right) (Getty Images)

On the other hand, the confessions could easily be questioned because of the tense political situation currently facing Iraq, and the history of abuse used against prisoners. Iraq’s legal system is based upon confessions. The main way the security forces obtain these is by torturing suspects. Various studies by human rights groups and the Iraqi parliament have found abuse rampant throughout Iraq’s jails and prisons. Hashemi’s office claimed that his bodyguards were beaten to make them talk. Also, the Iraqi National Movement (INM), which Hashemi belongs to, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have a long history of rivalry, which has intensified since the 2010 parliamentary election when the INM won the most seats, but Maliki was able to remain in office. The charges against Hashemi are obviously politicized, and therefore could be dismissed as just the latest example of Maliki trying to intimidate and remove his opponents. Add to this the fact that the prime minister said that the government knew about Hashemi’s guards’ activities dating back three years, but did nothing about it until know, only leads to more questions about the timing of the charges against the vice president. There is also evidence that the premier might have targeted Hashemi in the past. A November 2006 State Department cable released by Wikileaks revealed an Iraqi who was detained, and then tortured by the Army for several days in Diyala who was told by his interrogators that he had to link Hashemi and the deputy governor of the province with terrorism. The premier has consistently used carrots and sticks against his opponents, and this is just the latest example of the latter. That makes it easy to dismiss the confessions by the six men as being the result of torture ordered by Maliki to smear and intimidate the National Movement.

Whether the confessions were true or not, they point to Iraq’s dysfunctional government. Since Hashemi and the Iraqi Islamic Party have been implicated in using violence in the past, the arrest warrant could be based upon fact. That would just be the latest indictment against the country’s major parties almost all of which have relied upon militias at one time or another. At the same time, the prime minister could be manipulating the security forces and justice system to carry out his latest vendetta against his rivals. He has done similar things before, using the state apparatus to further his own political agenda. The truth of this story is likely never to be revealed, but it shows why Baghdad doesn’t work. The political environment is fraught with tension, and the use of arrests and murders only makes it worse. Given all that, it’s no wonder why leaders often get caught up in rhetorical war of words, and little ever gets done. It’s because no one trusts each other, as the current crisis reveals.

FOOTNOTE

1. Al-Iraqiyah TV, “Iraqi ministry releases confessions by Al-Hashimi’s bodyguards,” BBC Monitoring Service, 12/20/11

SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraq PM tells Kurds to hand over Sunni VP,” Associated Press, 12/21/11

Fordham, Alice, “In Iraq’s prisons, a culture of abuse,” Christian Science Monitor, 9/13/09

Gutman, Roy, “As US troops exit Iraq, Maliki moves against Sunni rivals,” Christian Science Monitor, 12/19/11
- "Iraqi VP denies terror charges as sectarian dispute continues," McClatchy Newspapers, 12/20/11

Institute for the Study of War, “Warrant for Iraq VP Hashemi’s Arrest and Coerced Confessions,” 12/19/11

Al-Iraqiyah TV, “Iraqi ministry releases confessions by Al-Hashimi’s bodyguards,” BBC Monitoring Service, 12/20/11

Kadhim, Abbas, “Iraq’s Quest for Democracy amid Massive Corruption,” Arab Reform Bulletin, 3/3/10

Khallat, Khudr, “Iraqi Nation Party sues Tareq al-Hashemi,” AK News, 12/22/11

Mardini, Ramzy, “Iraq After the U.S. Withdrawal: Update #1,” Institute for the Study of War, 12/19/11

Ramzi, Kholoud, “a family tie too tight: nepotism runs deep in iraqi politics,” Niqash, 7/21/11

4 comments:

bb said...

That's a most interesting and informative post Joel. Would like to add a few observations:

I remember from Tawafuq's appearance in the Iraqi political scene back in 2005 that it was frequently mentioned that the party was largely a political arm of the (then) infamous Association of Muslim Scholars, a salafi lot based in Jordan, I think, and a driver of the insurgency, who had made decision to take a political role in the defining elections scheduled for Dec 05.

Since a pretty clear line can be drawn from the original Muslim Brotherhood to the IIP to AOMS to the insurgency to Tawafuq/Accord, then the allegations against Hashimi are likely to carry much weight.

Hashimi and Tawafuq won a place of influence via the proportional representative system of voting; after that they were beneficiaries of the US's self interest in ensuring the Sunni arab constituency in Iraq was included in the power sharing.

In the last year we have seen plenty of evidence that the Sunni insurgency is still alive, kicking, bombing and assassinating and attacking the shia. Now with the departure of Hashimi's US benefactors, the Iraqi govt imo would be very unwise to let the status quo continue. It will be interesting to see how much support Hashimi really has from the other Sunni parties given the thrashing handed out to Tawafuq by the voters last year (Hashimi by then having read the tea leaves and scuttled into the arms of Iraqiyya).

All this, by the way, should also be seen in the context of the fascinating post from Nibras Kazimi last January after he returned from Iraq to say he had been briefed fully on the whole history of the Sunni insurgency from its beginnings :

"What I missed was that there was a supra-network of young Salafists and other assortment of young Sunni Islamists who came to age during the 1990s—many of whom spent time in Saddam’s prisons and who all know each other—whose alumnae went on to become Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Army, the Ansar al-Sunna, the Army of the Mujaheddin and the 1920 Revolt Brigades.

"This supra-network led the insurgency, and recruited the ex-regime officers and Ba’athists as sub-contractors of the jihad; the Saddamists worked for the Salafists from the very beginning, not the other way around."

And continued:

"(Note: It is interesting that their first violent act, the opening salvo of the Sunni Salafist insurgency, occurred on January 1, 2000, targeting Ba'athists congregating at a liquor store in the Waziriyeh neighborhood of Baghdad, way before any American soldiers appeared on the scene.)"

Revelatory, and so am not optimistic about Mr Hashimi's chances, or al-Mutlak's either. Methinks they might be spending a very long in Kurdistan!

Joel Wing said...

BB, I wrote a piece about the homegrown Islamists in Iraq as well. Here's a link:

http://musingsoniraq.blogspot.com/2011/09/iraqi-islamist-side-of-insurgency.html

threescoreyearsandten said...

What is your take on this?

http://inplaceoffear.blogspot.com/2011/12/power-struggle-in-iraq-may-be-more.html

Joel Wing said...

threescore,

That report seems really dated. Saying things like Sadr is a nationalist and not close to Iran is something that would have been written in 2004-2005, not today where he is very close to Tehran.

Also Sadr is the strongest supporter of Maliki in the current government, and there are no major differences as the article claims. The call for new elections was made by one politician from the Sadr bloc in parliament who then said hew as only talking for himself, not the entire list. The story is being overblown in the media.

Overall, it seems like the author was trying to fit facts to a theory rather than the other way around. The current crisis is due to decades long disputes between leading Iraqi politicians and has nothing to do with American oil or the U.S. government, whose influences has ben dropping off for years now.