After travelling to Washington D.C. to meet with President Barak Obama to mark the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promptly returned home to take on his main rivals in the Iraqi National Movement led by Iyad Allawi. First, he asked parliament to have a no confidence vote against Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq, and then charged Vice President Tariq Hashemi’s bodyguards, and then the man himself, with involvement in terrorist attacks. This came just after Allawi said he was ready to reconcile with the prime minister. From what’s known now, some of Maliki’s moves are purely political payback, while others may have legal standing.
|In early Dec. 2011, Allawi offered a fig leaf to Premier Maliki (AFP)|
In early December 2011, Iraq’s political parties appeared to be positioning themselves for post-U.S. Iraq. On December 8, Iyad Allawi, the head of the Iraqi National Movement (INM) gave an interview with Alsumaria TV where he said he was ready to make peace with Prime Minister Maliki. Allawi stated that if Maliki was willing to renounce his earlier attacks upon the INM, the two sides could hold reconciliation talks. Allawi continued by inviting Maliki and President Jalal Talabani to a conference to be held in mid-January with other leaders to talk about the future of the government. The next day a member of the premier’s State of Law list told the press that it was open to Allawi’s suggestion. The Sadrists, who are aligned with Maliki, then offered to be a middleman between the two sides. Before anything happened however, the prime minister left for Washington to meet with President Obama over the end of the U.S. military presence in Iraq. It appeared that Allawi was ready to give up his constant attacks upon Maliki after losing the premiership to him in the 2010 parliamentary elections. Even though Allawi’s National Movement received the most seats in the legislature, Maliki was able to outmaneuver him, and remain in office. Since then, Allawi has continually accused the prime minister of failing to follow through with his promises made to form the new government. These include his refusal to create a National Council for Strategic Policies that Allawi was supposed to head, and naming ministers to the Interior, Defense, and National Security Ministries. With the American troops on their way out, which Allawi might have thought was a restraint on Maliki’s actions, Allawi decided to launch a trial balloon about coming to terms with the prime minister. He and his party quickly changed their mind though.
|Deputy Premier Mutlaq leveled a series of personal attacks upon Maliki in a CNN interivew (Reuters)|
While Maliki was in the United States, and upon his return, members of the National Movement launched a series of attacks and challenges to him. First, Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq gave an interview with CNN where he called Maliki the worst dictator in Iraqi history. He accused Maliki of running a one party state, and consolidating power in his hands. That was followed by National Movement leaders meeting at the residence of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi in Baghdad’s Green Zone. They emerged declaring that the list would boycott parliament until Maliki included them in decision-making, implemented the power sharing promises he made after the 2010 election, and stopped carrying out arbitrary arrests. These have been common accusations against the prime minister, although saying that Maliki was the worst autocrat in Iraq, ignoring Saddam Hussein, was obviously hyperbole. Even before the 2010 elections, many critics claimed Maliki was attempting to dominate the state apparatus, and was mistrustful of others. Those trends have continued since he gained his second term at the expense of the INM. The difference this time was that most of the leaders of the National Movement were finally agreeing upon a common stance. Before, it was mostly Allawi acting unilaterally, complaining about Maliki’s centralizing of power in his own hands. Now, the whole list was joining in.
|An Iraqi paper announcing arres warrant for VP Hashemi (AFP)|
Premier Maliki was quick to retaliate. First he asked parliament to hold a no confidence vote against Deputy Premier Mutlaq. Two days later, he issued orders to bar Mutlaq from entering the parliament building. The prime minister first made the proposal at a meeting of the National Alliance on December 15, but the rest of the list rejected the idea. That didn’t stop Maliki. Then it was leaked to the press that there was an arrest warrant pending against Vice President Hashemi. At the beginning of December, the police received a tip that one of the vice president’s bodyguards was building a car bomb in his home. The residence was raided, explosives were found, and the guard was taken away. According to sources, he confessed, which led to another arrest. Three more bodyguards, along with the manager of Hashemi’s office were all later detained. The Baghdad Operations Command was supposed to hold a press conference explaining the arrests, and the charges against Hashemi, but Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court said that nothing should be aired until the investigation was completed. On December 19, parts of the guards’ confessions were released to the press, implicating their role in attacks for the last two years, with Hashemi funding and directing them. Finally, Army units were placed outside of the residences of Hashemi, Mutlaq, and Finance Minister Rafi Issawi, and Allawi claimed that several members of his staff were arrested as well. The next day, a source close to Maliki claimed that he had given Hashemi two days to prove his innocence against the terrorism charges; otherwise he would be arrested as well. This came after more leaks to the press about the Vice President’s bodyguards taking part in terrorist attacks. Some implied that they were behind a November 2011 bombing outside of the parliament building, which Maliki claimed targeted him. That same day, Hashemi, Mutlaq, and Issawi attempted to fly to Sulaymaniya to meet with Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, when the security forces held their plane. This was due to Maliki issuing a order that Hashemi could not fly. The National Movement delegation was eventually allowed to depart. In retaliation for all the charges against it, the INM said it would pull its ministers from cabinet meetings, and they all threatened to resign. The move against Mutlaq was obviously political payback by Maliki for the deputy premier’s comments to CNN. There’s little chance that parliament would pass the no confidence vote, so it was all just for show. The charges against Vice President Hashemi are much more serious. The Iraqi justice system is based upon confessions, and with members of his security detail allegedly talking to the police, a serious case could be made against him. Parliament would need to strip him of his immunity before he could be brought to court. Since Iraq’s political class likes to protect its own privileges that may not happen. There have been several members of parliament and the cabinet, both past and present that have been connected to militias and crimes, and little was done about them.
Since the blow up between Maliki and the Iraqi National Movement, the other major parties and the United States have attempted to step in and mediate between the two sides. First, America’s Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey was said to be talking to both parties. Kurdistan Regional President Massoud Barzani called for a national conference to resolve the disputes between all of the country’s lists. Even Maliki’s Shiite allies the Sadrists and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council said that they would try to their hand at talking to all sides. Tensions within Iraq’s national coalition government appear to be at the breaking point. Maliki seems intent on taking on the INM, even if he has to do it alone. The question is whether this is just the latest example of political brinkmanship within the country, or is Maliki willing to follow through on his threats against INM leaders.
It’s yet to be seen how far this latest crisis amongst Iraq’s ruling parties will go. In the past, Maliki used carrots and sticks with the National Movement. He often carried out a war of words with Allawi, while isolating him from the rest of his party by offering them top slots in the government. Now all the members of Allawi’s list appear to be unified in their condemnation of Maliki. That includes not only boycotting parliament, but also threatening to resign from the cabinet. The question is whether the National Movement can maintain its unity, and whether Maliki can rule without them. The prime minister may be able to offer concessions that could end this falling out or he may decide that he has enough support amongst the other parties to go on without the National Movement. Those issues are what need to be closely watched in the coming days to see how all this plays out.
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AK News, “National Conference – route to solutions,” 12/19/11
Ali, Hussam, “Arrest warrant for Vice-President on terror charges,” AK News, 12/17/11
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Aswat al-Iraq, “Deputy State Law: We have not received any official invitation from Allawi for reconciliation,” 12/8/11
-“Iraq’s Ahrar (Liberals) Chairman to convince al-Iraqiya abandon boycott,” 12/18/11
Brosk, Raman, “Mediation won’t prevent Maliki from arresting Hashemi,” AK News, 12/19/11
- “Political pressure exerted to hide the results of the Council’s bombing,” AK News, 12/18/11
Dar Addustour, “Maliki calls for parliament to withdraw confidence from the al-Mutlaq – Government waited and proclamation of the results revealed the involvement of senior political terrorist operations,” 12/18/11
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Landler, Mark, “Obama and Iraqi Premier Signify Shift to a Postwar Partnership,” New York Times, 12/12/11
National Iraqi News Agency, “Ashur confirms contacts on high levels to resolve the current crisis,” 12/19/11
- “BREAKING NEWS Iraqiya decides to suspend attending its members Parliament’s sessions,” 12/16/11
- “Majeed: Maliki asked Parliament to withdraw confidence from Saleh al-Mutlaq,” 12/17/11
- “MP , Maliki has no right to demand withdrawal of confidence from Mutlaq, just because he made a press statement touch him personally,” 12/19/11
- “MP: the IS suspension of its participation in parliament, overdue, it should not have participated in Maliki government,” 12/17/11
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Al Ray, “A member of the protection: Hashemi, forced me to implement armed operations,” 12/19/11
- “Hashemi, a member of the protection recognized in a car bombing on Ashura visitors Bmkavih Hashemi letter of thanks and the amount of  USD,” 12/19/11
- “Protect one admits: Hashimi is one of the first terrorist attack me through his brother-Ahmad Qahtan,” 12/19/11
- “Protection Hashemi Cavani three thousand dollars compared to detonate an explosive device targeted the Director of Health Rusafa in eastern Baghdad,” 12/19/11
- “The protection of Ameri-Hashimi acknowledge and provide them with targeted by the secretary of Al Hashemi weapons and improvised explosive devices,” 12/19/
Schmidt, Michael and Adnan, Duraid, “After an Explosion in Iraq, Competing Ideas About the Target,” New York Times, 12/2/11
Sly, Liz, “Iraq political crisis erupts as last U.S. troops leave,” Washington Post, 12/17/11
Al-Tayyeb, Mouhammed, “Sadrists mediate between Iraqiya and SLC,” AK News, 12/11/11
- “SLC Welcomes Allawi’s Bid of Reconciliation,” AK News, 12/9/11