Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Is it time for PM Maliki to Go or shall Iraq fall into pit of sectarian division?
There are no good guys in the Middle East, even their so called friends are of questionable character and would not clear a background check of their past, present or future behavior. For sure, so called friends such as the US is simply not an honest broker. Whoever wins the present battles, it is not likely the masses shall enjoy an iota of peace. And with America now returning to the fray ( as if she ever left, especially with 16,000 at the US Embassy) the fires can only get hotter, but in the near future do not look for a political solution. They (and you know who they are) are clearly setting the stage for the removal of PM Maliki, and bring in the long time favorite boy Ahmad Chalabi, a double agent at best, much like Maliki, caught between the West (US) and East (Iran).
BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has presented himself as the man who could bring Iraqis together, but with the collapse of his army before a Sunni militant assault, he has taken on only one role — that of commander in chief of Iraq.
He is spending much of his time on the military side of the presidential compound, while some of his close civilian aides have taken to wearing starched military fatigues. He spends the better part of his day running the war.
He meets with military commanders, travels to the front lines, makes speeches at recruiting drives rallying young Shiite men and, not infrequently, falls into fits of anger, according to members of his inner circle.
What he does not do, by all accounts, is spend much time on the political reconciliation with the Sunni Arabs and Kurds that his international allies in Washington and Tehran have insisted is his country’s only possible salvation. Even his top aide in charge of reconciliation said Monday that he thinks it is all but hopeless at this point.
“Now there’s a war, there’s not reconciliation,” said Amir al-Khuzai, a longtime friend of Mr. Maliki’s.
“With whom do we reconcile?” he said.
President Obama has made it clear that the United States will not provide military support unless Mr. Maliki engineers a drastic change in policy, reaching out to Sunnis and Kurds in a show of national unity against the Sunni militants, whose shock troops are the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Without that, analysts say, the country is at risk of a renewed sectarian war in which Baghdad could lose control over nearly a third of the country for the foreseeable future.
But Mr. Maliki is showing few signs of changing his ways. Just as he did in a similar, though not nearly as threatening, crisis in 2008 in Basra, he is pinning his hopes on the military option. He is determined to use the Shiite fighters he trusts to stabilize the country and, he hopes, rout the Sunni insurgents and reimpose the government’s control over its territory.
In a rare show of concord, Mr. Obama has been joined by President Hassan Rouhani of Iran in pleading with Mr. Maliki to work with the Sunni Arabs and Kurds. As the Iraqi leader continues to resist those calls, though, the outside powers and prominent Iraqi politicians are increasingly questioning whether he will ever take such steps and, if not, whether to jettison him in favor of someone who will.
One of those waiting in the wings should Mr. Maliki falter, Shiite politicians say, is the one-time darling but longtime nemesis of the United States, the mercurial Ahmad Chalabi.
For now, Mr. Maliki’s public message to Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani is that it is just not possible to work with the Kurds and Sunnis right now, that the army first needs to retake lost ground.
Mr. Maliki, 63, has long shown a stubborn streak, an unwillingness to bend his principles. He spent much of his life as a dissident, working to oust the former president, Saddam Hussein. He came from a modest Shiite family, but as a young man joined the anti-Baathist Dawa Party and was one of the few who escaped in 1979 when Mr. Hussein ordered the arrest of all its members.
He lived in exile for 24 years, and secrecy became a way of life, in order to avoid arrest. The experience left him wary of all but his closest associates. He did not appear destined for higher office but was encouraged to run for prime minister in 2006 by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, in part because he was viewed as incorruptible.
Mr. Maliki surprised the United States and other Western governments by sending his army forces in 2008 against Shiite militias loyal to the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr, which at the time were destabilizing the country. But in more recent years he has not appeared willing to repeat that step and has hewed more to sectarian policies.
At times it has looked almost as though Mr. Maliki was going out of his way to alienate the Sunnis. After the Sunni tribes helped to defeat Al Qaeda in 2008, he cut off much of their funding.
In search of insurgents, Mr. Maliki has authorized mass arrests of Sunnis and held many of them in prisons outside the law. He has also accused a prominent Sunni politician, Tariq al-Hashimi, of running a death squad, driving him into exile in Kurdistan, and has similarly gone after other prominent Sunnis.
Shiite politicians have said there are some immediate gestures Mr. Maliki could make that would help ease the tensions. He could release the thousands of Sunni prisoners detained by his security forces and being held without trial. He could make common cause with Sunnis and Kurds with statements against the Sunni militants, and he could work with them to bolster the military instead of turning to Shiite militias.
Convinced that there is a conspiracy to undermine him, Mr. Maliki speaks often of “failed politicians” who are working with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, while his associates describe “dirty deals” between the Kurds, ISIS and the Sunnis. The accusations are then answered in kind by Sunnis who have lost patience and now simply want the prime minister to resign.
Many Shiite politicians are deeply uncomfortable with Mr. Maliki’s more indiscriminate condemnations. “To say the Kurds are supporting ISIS is not a useful narrative,” said a former member of Mr. Maliki’s government. “We need the Kurds. Even the Iranians are telling him that.”
Mr. Maliki’s most recent general condemnations of non-Shiites came Sunday at a recruiting drive for volunteer fighters in Mahmudiya on the outskirts of Baghdad. Wearing a white shirt and dark jacket, he spoke with determination. “Politicians that have failed are standing next to ISIS," he said. “We will fight you with free men.”
The worry is that, barring reconciliation, Iraq will split into a Sunnistan and a Shiastan, said a former ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker. Preventing that, he said, will take a heavy American diplomatic hand.
“Either we intervene at the White House and the secretary of state level or this is going to devolve into a bloody stalemate,” he said, “a line of demarcation between north and south, to be determined, but probably just north of Baghdad and the establishment of a de facto Al Qaeda state, and that’s completely terrifying.”
The suggestion of many is that Mr. Maliki has lost so much credibility that the best thing that could happen would be to form a new government with a different leader who might inspire more trust. But for now Mr. Maliki is not stepping down, and it seems unlikely that there would be enough unity to anoint a successor anytime soon.
Many Shiite politicians, worried about the fate of the country, have begun offering alternatives to Mr. Maliki’s approach. Mr. Chalabi, a Shiite with ties to many groups, wants to change the narrative so that instead of accusing the army (Mr. Maliki has been threatening to arrest officers who left their posts in Mosul) he is reaching out to Kurds, thanking them for receiving refugees and recommending a national reconciliation.
“The collapse in Mosul is not the fault of the soldiers and officers,” said Mr. Chalabi. “It’s the fault of a corrupt and incompetent command structure.”
He added: “We need a plan, but it must be drawn by a leadership that’s not tainted by incompetence and corruption. We need a plan to defend Baghdad and continue operations with the Kurds.”
For now the government’s dominant view is that the most recent security deterioration is the result of a conspiracy of Sunnis and Kurds, and because of that there is no point in appealing to them at the senior level. That does not mean that Mr. Maliki has lost faith in all Sunnis. He still has words of praise for the Sunni tribes with whom he has long worked, and who have fought and lost large numbers in battling Qaeda-type extremists in western Iraq.
But Mr. Maliki has little faith in the Sunni political leaders, said Mr. Khuzai and other Shiite colleagues.
As recently as last week in the wake of the fall of Mosul, Mr. Maliki appeared to have a chance to create a unified multisectarian, multiethnic block to fight ISIS and those who support it. In a long late-night meeting with Sunni and Kurdish leaders, it appeared they might emerge with a unified stand. Hours passed, and when they emerged there was no agreement.
It turned out the Sunnis proposed raising in effect a Sunni army, a sort of new version of the tribal Awakening Councils that fought Al Qaeda in 2007 and 2008. But that idea was rejected by Mr. Maliki, even as the Shiite militias were beginning to organize.
While the idea of separate Sunni and Shiite armies is an indication of the depths of the sectarian divide, Mr. Maliki’s inability to use the moment to try to build trust is telling, and his outright rejection left the Sunni leaders with nothing to deliver to their supporters.
So the speaker of Parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni, delivered a scathing assessment of Mr. Maliki, further deepening the divide.
“We don’t want this prime minister; we reject him,” Mr. Nujaifi said. “We tried to take him down on more than one occasion."