The row between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi has grown. Maliki issued a warrant for Hashemi’s arrest on terrorism charges, accusing him of operating pro-Sunni death squads. Hashemi denied the charges, and supporters of him and his party compared Maliki’s actions to that of Saddam Hussein. Maliki is now ordering a handover of Hashemi, who has fled to the Kurdistan region. In addition, there’s an overlapping crisis, where Hashemi’s Iraqiya party, the largest in Parliament, boycotted the proceedings, protesting Maliki’s heavy head and their being shut out of key ministries. Maliki has an answer to that as well:
Speaking at news conference on Iraqi national television, Maliki said that if leaders in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region do not hand over the vice president – who is accused of enlisting personal bodyguards to run a hit squad– “it will stir up problems.”
In a sign that Iraq’s political crisis is worsening, Maliki struck a defiant tone against political opponents who have boycotted parliament and are accusing him of rushing to consolidate power in the wake of U.S. troops leaving the country.
He said he doesn’t want to be weighed down by the opinions of various political factions, and insisted the government has the right to replace ministers who boycott their jobs over differences with him.
So this move would eliminate Iraqiya members presiding over all the major ministries, and disable the power-sharing agreement that took many months to forge after the most recent elections. In fact, Maliki put the power-sharing agreement at grave risk:
The crisis was triggered when the Shiite-dominated government issued its arrest warrant for Mr. Hashemi, the top Sunni politician, on terrorism charges. Mr. Maliki did offer a small attempt to defuse tensions by calling for a conference of Iraq’s political elite to discuss the matter. If the issue cannot be resolved, he said he would “move toward forming a majority government.” [...]
Iraq now faces myriad political problems that in sum could derail the national unity government, which American diplomats helped craft last year and which is supposed to include meaningful roles for Iraq’s three major factions — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. This, in turn, raises fears of a return to rampant sectarian and factional violence — although so far it appears that the infighting has remained confined to the arena of politics.
There has been no recent spike in attacks. But the latest problems have laid bare the sectarian fissures still pervasive in society despite ongoing reconciliation efforts, encouraged by American diplomats, in the years since a sectarian civil war nearly tore apart the country.
Maliki seems to be mainly concerned with consolidating power, not sectarian concerns. But almost all of his targets have been Sunni. And the threat of a majority government is obviously a Shiite one. That government would have to include Sadrists at the highest levels.
I think this all speaks to the inevitable lack of durability in a unity government coalition in a society so stirred by sectarianism after the invasion. You just cannot expect the wounds between Sunnis and Shiites to immediately heal. The country was basically in a state of civil war just a couple years ago. No trust has built up between the two sides. And whether or not 10,000 or 50,000 or 100,000 US troops sat in barracks in Baghdad and Mosul and Najaf, this was fated to happen sooner or later.