At the end of 2011, several Sunni majority provinces were discussing whether to become autonomous regions. The move was started by a deBaathifcation drive by Baghdad that included firings and arrests. There were also longstanding complaints about neglect by the central government over budgets and local power. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki quickly moved to quash these moves. In May 2012 however, after the autonomy drives were dead, the premier tried to appease those provinces by offering to reinstate former soldiers from Saddam’s era back into the security forces. This was a long time demand of many of the governorates, and was also aimed at drawing them away from supporting the Iraqi National Movement (INM), which has been Maliki’s main rival.
At the end of May 2012, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved to split his opponents. He held a cabinet meeting in Mosul the provincial capital of Ninewa on May 29. As part of the event, Maliki announced that former Saddam era soldiers from Ninewa, Tamim, Salahaddin, Diyala, and Anbar would be reinstated into the security forces. The whole trip was meant to highlight the differences between the Iraqi National Movement and the Kurdish Coalition who had been working together on a no confidence vote to remove the prime minister, but who also had a longstanding dispute over the local government in Ninewa. Maliki had two other goals in mind as well. First, all the provinces where he was going to bring back former soldiers had been contemplating becoming autonomous regions, because they were upset with the central government. That began at the end of 2011, when the Higher Education Minister ordered the firing of dozens of staff and teachers at Tikrit University in Salahaddin for alleged Baathists ties. The prime minister took this as a challenge to his base since the Minister was a rival of his within the Dawa Party, and responded with a wave of arrests of former regime members so that he was not outdone. That led Salahaddin, Diyala, Ninewa, and Anbar to all start the process of becoming a federal region or to at least discuss the option, which the premier than suppressed. With that dispute having passed, Maliki was willing to throw them a bone with the offer of bringing back hundreds of ex-soldiers. This was also meant to woo the local population and politicians away from the INM. All of those provinces were the base for the National Movement in the 2010 election. It received 50% of more of the seats in each one. If Maliki could sway some of them his way that would be a major blow the Iraqi National Movement that has already been fracturing over the last several months.
The prime minister’s tactics appeared to work in the following weeks. At the end of May, the head of the Free Iraqiya bloc Qutaiba Jabouri said that Maliki agreed to reinstate all former soldiers from Salahaddin below the rank of Lieutenant General, which the list had been calling for. The party broke away from the National Movement and has been pro-Maliki since then, so this was a reward for their support. In July, the Anbar Operations Command and a parliamentarian from Diyala announced that the process of bringing back soldiers had begun in those two provinces. At the same time, another lawmaker from Ninewa claimed that 1,040 former security members had been brought back already. On July 10, a tribal council in Salahaddin held a meeting that included provincial officials that welcomed the return of the former troops. This was just the type of responses the prime minister was hoping for when he made his announcement in Mosul in May. Many politicians in those provinces had been calling for reinstating Saddam era soldiers, and now the government was doing it. His tactics appeared to be working once again. His opponents have many differences between them and within. The prime minister has constantly been able to play upon and increases those divisions, and this was just the latest example.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was able to fend off the Iraqi National Movement’s no confidence vote against him, and then went on the offensive. When he went to Mosul at the end of May, he played upon the INM’s longstanding arguments with the Kurds. He then offered to bring back soldiers from the old regime, which drew some support away from the National Movement at the provincial level. It also provided a concession to provinces that had previously thought about becoming federal regions. Maliki has consistently been able to identify the cracks in the alliances arrayed against him, and used them to his advantage. Here, he attacked his opponents at the provincial level to undermine their support. It also showed that the prime minister was perfectly willing to work with Sunnis, and even allow former regime members back into the government as long as it was on his terms. Some have said that this policy of co-option and patronage harkens back to Saddam Hussein’s time, but it has actually been a staple of governing Iraq since the Ottomans. The question is whether this tactic is simply part of the on-going process of building a new Iraqi state after years of dictatorship based upon democracy or will it become more autocratic with Maliki at the center?
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- “Tribal council appreciate Maliki’s decision to re-army officers,” 7/10/12
Sabri, Abdulla “Decision to reinstate former officers does not include high ranks,” AK News, 5/30/12
Sotaliraq, “to the service provided there is no criminal cases against them,” 6/2/12
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