Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Is Iraq’s Finance Minister Next On Maliki’s Hit List?

Since the middle of December 2011, Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has targeted leading members of the rival list, the Iraqi National Movement (INM). This has included an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, and a move to hold a no confidence vote against Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq. Now there are reports that Finance Minister Rafi Issawi may be Maliki’s next target.
Finance Minister Rafi Issawi may be the next leading member of the Iraqi National Movement threatened by Premier Maliki (Iraq Business News)
Finance Minister Rafi Issawi was signaled out right from the beginning of Prime Minister Maliki’s crackdown. On December 15, Issawi’s and Vice President’s Hashemi’s residences in Baghdad’s Green Zone were surrounded by the security forces, with the former placed under temporary house arrest. Three days later, the Finance Minister along with Deputy Premier Mutlaq attempted to board a plane heading for Irbil to meet with the Kurdistan Regional Government’s President Massoud Barzani, when they were temporarily detained. They were eventually authorized to leave. The next day, the confessions of three officers in the Fallujah police department were released as part of the arrest warrant against Hashemi. They claimed that the Iraqi Islamic Party created a militia in the city under the leadership of Khalid Alwani, the party boss for Anbar province, which was used to take out their opponents. Alwani allegedly regularly met with Hashemi and then Deputy Premier Rafi Issawi, who were two of the leading members of the Islamic Party. Finally, on December 22, government officials told the press that it would investigate Issawi based upon these allegations. There were reports that Issawi’s bodyguards had been arrested as well. A political adviser to Maliki said that a case could be brought against any politician who was involved in violence, while a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which is run by the premier, claimed that more confessions were forthcoming. This could bode ill for Issawi. The prime minister has already gone after two of his compatriots in the Iraqi National Movement (INM). Hashemi fled to Kurdistan as a result to escape an arrest warrant, while Maliki claimed he fired Mutlaq, and asked the National Movement to nominate a replacement for him. Issawi could face charges as well, and be driven off. This comes at a critical moment, because not only is his party already under fire, but the government is trying to put together the new 2012 budget, and as Finance Minister, Issawi obviously plays a major role in that matter.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has thrown the entire Iraqi government into disarray. Whether he felt that the Iraqi National Movement was posing a real threat to his power or he just wanted to take out his opponents is not known. Either way, he has united his friends and foes alike. Before, the premier was able to effectively divide and conquer the other parties, because they were either convinced to work with him or facing internal divisions. Now, the Iraqi National Movement has united, because of Maliki’s attacks, the Kurds are protecting one of the list’s leaders, Hashemi, and the Supreme Council, the Renewal List, and White Iraqiya have all offered to negotiate between the warring sides. Everyone but the prime minister’s State of Law list is calling for calm, but he seems intent on escalating the situation even more by threatening Finance Minister Issawi with a possible arrest warrant based upon confessions of three Fallujah policemen whose veracity is impossible to determine. It appears that Maliki is willing to push this matter as far as he can, even if it means his government coming apart in the process.


Aswat al-Iraq, “Arbil will not hand over Hashimi, Kurdish Diwan,” 12/21/11
- “White Bloc to mediate between Maliki and Alawi, MP,” 12/23/11

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

Knights, Michael, “Iraq’s Political Crisis: Challenges for U.S. Policy,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 12/21/11

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

National Iraqi News Agency, “BREAKING NEWS Jafari meets with Iraqiya to convey its demands to State of Law,” 12/24/11
- “BREAKING NEWS…Maliki asks the IS to nominate two MPs for the Deputy Pm, Vice President posts,” 12/21/11
- “Mulla: the IS studies submitting a request to Parliament to vote for a no-confidence in Maliki,” 12/21/11

Al-Tayyeb, Mouhammed, “Government to investigate Issawi’s alleged support for terrorism,” AK News, 12/22/11

Van Wilgenburg, Wladimir, “Iraqi Government Will Possible Arrest More Sunni Leaders,” Transnational Middle-East Observer, 12/22/11

Wanan, Jaafar, “Maliki sacked his deputy Mutlag,” AK News, 12/20/11


Anonymous said...

Any news about Biden next visit to Iraq? Some media is reporting Biden will be in Iraq soon.
During last days also I read some news about a terrorist Shia gruop involved in kidnapping and killings Americans (Kerbala)is dealing with Maliki to join him in th egovernment. So what is the position of Biden/Obama?

Joel Wing said...

Yes, the Iraqi press said that Biden was supposed to arrive in the next few days. The Obama administration's stance seems to be to return back to the status quo. Even though the government wasn't really working, they wanted all the major parties and groups to be included even though that was the cause of its dysfunction.

The Shiite group you're talking about is the League of the Righteous. It and Hezbollah Brigades allegedly have both decided to join the political process according to the National Reconciliation Minister.

bb said...

Goodness me, if this keeps up Barzani is going to be busy finding secure accommodation for them all in Kurdistan.

Joel Wing said...

Issawi is on a totally different category than Hashemi or Mutlaq. Hashemi has no real power at all, and Mutlaq has hardly any either. Plus, Maliki can't replace him even though he's claimed he has. Issawi on the other hand is a minister over a very important asset, the country's money.

AndrewSshi said...

How hard would it be at this point to force a no confidence vote for Maliki? If the Supreme Council and Sadrists stood by him, would there be enough numbers with the other parties?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the information. Then go back to square one and Erbil agreement. Some days ago (and no is the first time) Maliki was talking to include those groups you mentioned (Hizbollah and the League of the Righteous) to the government! As far as I know both groups have killed Americans and a lot of Iraqis (mostly Shiia) on the South and Baghdad. I knew some of the Iraqis killed and their families have been threatening and harassed constantly since Maliki protect them after gave back Missan to the Saddrist and open the police to them (recruitment). Do you have any idea what could be the opinion of American embassy or DOD or Department of State if Maliki would finally give them positions inside the government?

bb said...

Is this the same Dr Rafi Issawi, also once of the IIP, who was head of the Fallujah hospital in 2004 when the town was run by Abu Musab al Zarqawi? Such impeccable salafi insurgency credentials now running the Finance ministry?

Joel Wing said...

Andrew, you need a majority of parliament 163 seats to pass a no confidence vote.

The Iraqi National Movement has 86 seats I believe after White Iraqiya Left, along with another group, but then the Centrist Alliance joined.

All the Kurdish parites together have 47 seats. Remember that the Change List, with 8 seats, left the Kurdish Coalition.

That's a total of 133 seats.

Maliki's State of Law has 89 seats.

The National Alliance 70 seats.

That's a total of 159.

White Iraqiya with 8 seats, broke from the National Movement, but has been standing by Maliki on most things, so that would give the premier 167 seats, and basically kill any no confidence vote.

There are also several seats reserved for minorities, but not enough to overcome Maliki's supporters.

Joel Wing said...

Maliki has been talking to the League of the Righteous since 2009. He was hoping to bring them into the political process and get them to run together with his State of Law. That obviously failed.

The U.S. Embassy would probably welcome any reconciliation move publicly, but be very wary of these two groups because they have carried out endless attacks upon American forces, plus are very close to Iran. From what I've read, Hezbollah Brigades takes direct orders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The League is also obviously under Tehran's influence as well, but Qais Khazali its leader, has his own base, because he was one of the early supporters of the Sadr movement before Moqtada took over.

Joel Wing said...


Yes, same man. But hey, he's keeping up an Iraqi tradition, because the post was previously held by Bayan Jabr, who might have an officers rank in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard because he was a Badr Brigade commander, and helped run death squads and torture rooms out of the Interior Ministry when he was in charge of that ministry.

bb said...

Aw Joel, I know you Americans love moral equivalence but 2004 was when good doctor Issawi's salafi insurgency was blowing up and beheading shiite police recruits by the thousands and Mr Zarqawi was issuing video beheadings of US and other foreign cits from his TV studio in Fallujah.

Am going to be v interested to see how many buckets of tears are shed by the Iraqiyya honchos if these three spend the rest of their days in Kurdistan.

Joel Wing said...

bb, there will probably be a political settlement to this whole thing and nothing will happen to any of the Iraqiya politicians.

bb said...

Agree with you that political settlement is the more likely outcome, since that has been the Iraqi way for some years - in no small part thanks to the Kurds - and has been good for stability.

But on other hand it may not be a bad thing if PM Maliki/SOL does clear out the remnants of that insurgency particularly in light of fact the salafis are still kicking. If govt can get on top of it, may open the way in the future for an SOL/ clean Iraqiyya majority govt, or an equivalent, imo. But I am ever the optimist about this country, Joel!

bb said...

ps - haven't seen any commentary about this but the Iraqi political classes of most persuasions must have been quite impressed with themselves as they watched the Arab Spring unfold.

Joel Wing said...

I think the main reason why nothing will happen to any of the Iraqiya members is because Iraq's political class wants to protect their own privileges. Basically they can get away with almost antying, stealing billions, running death squads, being militia members, connections to insurgents, whatever. If one of them actually gets prosecuted that would open the door to all the rest, and they obviously do not want that to happen.

I don't have anything against a majority government, but in the current political environment it's simply not going to happen. The parties are use to these unweildy national unity governments, and I don't see that changing.

Joel Wing said...

Well seeing as how Maliki and the Kurds cracked down on their own demonstrations at the beginning of the year that don't have much to stand on.

Joel Wing said...

Also note that Maliki has stood by Syria during its current crackdown as well.

bb said...

Well its my understanding that the shiite death squads, militia and mahdi army have not been operative for some years now? That civilian deaths are at record lows but suicide bombings and attacks on the shia are still coming from the salafi insurgency. Am I wrong about this?

Joel Wing said...

Death squads? No. Mahdi Army? Many of them are being released from prison and taken into the security forces as part of the deal between Maliki and Sadr for his second term. Officially it's disbanded. Sadr's Promised Day Brigades however is still around and carried out attacks throughout the year against U.S. forces. The Badr Brigade is becoming an independent political party, and entire units are now part of the security forces. There's also the Special Groups like the League of the Righteous and Hezbollah Brigades, which are breakaways from the Mahdi Army, that are still around, and conducted the majority of attacks upon the U.S. for the last couple years. Both recently said that they will now join the political process after the U.S. withdrawal, but aren't going to give up their weapons yet.

Al Qaeda is the one still going after Shiites. The other insurgent groups mostly concentrate on attacking the security forces and government officials.

Joel Wing said...

I forgot to note that some of the more unsavory elements of both the militias and insurgents are still quite active, but now they're criminal gangs.

Joel Wing said...


thought you might be interested in this. From the New York Times' "A Moderate Official at Risk in a Fracturing Iraq":

Last year, when Mr. Essawi was serving as Mr. Maliki’s deputy, the prime minister told the American military he was worried about Mr. Essawi’s possible links to terrorists.
In August 2010, Gen. Ray Odierno, then the commander of United States forces in Iraq, took the extraordinary step of sending Mr. Maliki a letter in Arabic assuring him that American intelligence analysts had conducted a comprehensive review into the charges and determined they were groundless.
“No evidence was found of a relationship between Dr. Rafe al-Essawi and Al Qaeda,” General Odierno wrote, according to an Arabic copy of the letter that was obtained by The New York Times.

Anonymous said...

At the heart of the matter is the reality that INM was dissatisfied from the start of the coalition government when the other groups joined together to make Maleki the prime minister and it is more beneficial for them to have the government fail. They are part of the government mainly because of US insistence (IMN was US favorite and US officials tried hard to have Alawi become the prime minister but they lost to Iranian influence which united two main Shia groups to create by far largest group in parliament). Also Maleki is aware of the threat from security forces build by Americans, particularly those top officials who have too good relations with US. The third point is that GCC is wary of a rising Shiaa dominated Iraq, to counter the rise and avoid future trouble with their own Shiaa majority and minorities they want to weaken Iraq and possibly divide it as long as the Sunnis in Iraq will receive the money coming from southern oil fields. Also a Sunni region in Iraq close to Syrian border will weaken the connection among the Shiaa groups in the region and can potentially become a place to attack Assad regime across the boarder. ... In short this is more than just an Iraqi politics game, it has wide ranging regional effects.

Joel Wing said...

1) Obviously Iraqiya was going to be disappointed with the government because they won the most seats, but Maliki out maneuvered them. I think that part of that was due to Allawi's inept handling of the event and the lack of unity within the list.

2) Following that Iraqiya did not just join the government because the Americans were pushing them. Every Iraqi government put together since 2005 has been a national unity one, so parties feel like if they got a seat in parliament, they should get a ministry, etc. It's part of the spoils system that has been created with all the dysfunction, corruption, and nepotism that goes along with it.

3) That's why the government is dysfunctional, because everyone is part of it and each ministry runs like the personal fief of the minister. If Iraqiya was not part of the government it would still not work well.

4) Yes the Gulf countries and especially the Saudis do not like the Iraqi government, but really they don't have much influence. They back Iraqiya, and have supported the insurgency, but by doing so they have less say with the Shiites who hold most of the ministries and run the premiership.