<a href="http://www.mepc.org/articles-commentary/middle-east-focus">Middle East In Focus</a>
The new year in Iraq has begun much as the old one ended. The Nouri al-Maliki government appears to have once again poked its fingers in the eye of Sunni minority. Following last year’s charges against and conviction of Vice-President Tariq Al-Hashemi, a prominent Sunni, with terrorism offenses, al-Maliki has now gone after yet another member of his national unity government: the finance minister Rafia Al-Issawi. The raids of the minister’s office and the arrest of his bodyguards seems to have roiled the Sunni community, who have now taken to the streets to protest the al-Maliki government’s discrimination of the Sunni minority. And judging from the reaction of the observers in the region, there seems to be little support for al-Maliki’s actions either inside or outside Iraq.
Reacting to mass protests in the Sunni dominated Anbar Province, the Iraqi Prime Minister blamed the growing sectarian strife to ‘foreign agendas’: “Al-Maliki said in an official statement released from his office: The political process faces significant challenges which require all political blocs to pay a lot of attention and to be very careful of the foreign agendas which are trying to push the country to sectarian strife and disintegration....We should all consider the historical responsibility in this juncture and to lead the country to safety and work together to complete the process of building the state institutions on the proper grounds and do not allow the destruction of the political process that will entail disastrous consequences on Iraq and its people God forbid that.”
Maliki’s critics agree with him that much of what is happening in Iraq is a result of undue influence exercised from outside powers. However, they believe it is Maliki who is guilty of doing the bidding for the Iranians against the national interests of Iraq. In a scathing editorial, the Saudi Gazette staff accuses Maliki of being “sightless as he drives his country toward disintegration by willfully provoking its Sunni community. The resulting incipient instability only serves the cause of his Iranian backers, who do not wish to see a united and prosperous Iraq rise from the ashes of its destruction by Washington....As a result of Maliki’s dangerous policies, Al-Anbar Governorate is effectively now in revolt. The international highway between Syria and Jordan has been blocked in a protest that has snowballed in recent days. The economic impact of this obstruction is likely to be felt relatively quickly.”
Similarly, the Lebanese Daily Star, in an editorial titled “Road to hell,” is critical of al-Maliki and his supporters who the editorial asserts continue to serve the interests of Iran: “The levels of violence in Iraq over the past year are staggering, particularly considering the withdrawal of U.S. troops, and the existence of a government that is supposed to be focusing on unity among its people. Rather than fulfill that role, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has instead become an instrument of division....The government has proved that it is an Iranian-inspired, supported and cultivated government, rather than one focused on the interests of the Iraqis.”
In an op-ed for Arab News, Abdulateef Al-Mulhim laments the destructive effect that such divisive actions have for the Iraqi society and economy: “In the past, Iraq used to be one of the success stories as a homogenized country and people were living in complete harmony....The Iraqis should think about their destiny and look at the many common things among themselves. And it is unfortunate thing to see the daily car bombs claiming lives of innocent women and children and there is no end in sight. I think Iraq will continue to be a fractured country for a long time. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki who rules the most corrupt country shouldn’t ignore the demands of the people. Iran will not be there if he falls.”
Considering the detrimental effect that al-Maliki’s rule is having on the country, it is perhaps not surprising that some are calling for his resignation as a step toward healing the country. In an exclusive article for the Gulf Today, Hichem Karoui believes al-Maliki’s inability to rise beyond petty sectarian interests makes him unfit “for the job, and gives his contenders more leverage and legitimacy in their demands, the first of which is that he resigns. Media reports about the new Sunni protests describe those who probably represent at least half the population of Iraq, as ‘second rank citizens’ in this country....Iraq is still waiting for a real democratic government able to perform the task of giving the real figures of the population. This may hardly be the current government.”
However, few believe that uprooting al-Maliki is a possible task, at least not anytime soon and without doing further damage to the country: “Al-Maliki’s only concern is staying in power, but he is facing several challenges, one of which being that he is his second and final term in office. He tried to modify the constitution in order to engineer a third term but failed, and now he might not even last until the end of this term. This is why he is now trying to look for other solutions, such as dissolving the parliament before it votes against him, or holding early elections....It will be very hard to uproot Maliki from his position whether by constitutional means, i.e. through the parliament, or by demonstrations and civil disobedience....Al-Maliki will be ousted, but only after he destroys Iraq in a manner similar to al-Assad in Syria.”
Finally, there are those who wonder what would have been had al-Maliki acted differently. Al Hayat’s Ghassan Charbel laments the lack of statesmanship demonstrated by al-Maliki noting: “Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could have done differently from, or the opposite of, what he did. He could have turned his presence at the head of the government into an Iraqi and regional sine qua non. It would have been sufficient for him to carefully analyze the losses suffered by the neighboring countries, and to come to the conclusion that the time was appropriate for Iraq to mend its internal composition and external role....The opportunity came but Maliki did not seize it. Seizing it would have been much more important than retaining some cabinet portfolios. A successful national reconciliation in Iraq would have sent out a message against the climate of Sunni-Shiite conflict in the region.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.