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Maliki Accused of “Acting Like Saddam” in Iraq

Sunni lawmakers criticized Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for seeking the arrest of one of the country’s Vice Presidents on terrorism charges. And that VP, Tareq al-Hashemi, escalated the dispute by asking the Arab League to intervene:

In dismissing the charges against him as fabricated and part of machinations by premier Nuri al-Maliki, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi evoked wider regional tensions by appealing to the Arab League, a body dominated by his fellow Sunni Muslims, and denouncing “foreign agendas” in Iraq – code for Shi’ite Iran.

As Hashemi declared his willingness to face judges in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region – where he travelled after an arrest warrant was issued for him in Baghdad – one of his allies was lambasting Maliki, leader of the majority Shi’ite bloc, for acting like Saddam Hussein and risking renewed sectarian strife.

Holding a news conference in the Iraqi Kurdish capital Arbil a day after supposed bodyguards to Hashemi confessed on television to a campaign of shootings and bombings, the vice president said: “I swear, Hashemi did not commit any sin against Iraqi blood and will not commit any, either today or tomorrow.”

“The whole issue is Maliki’s fault,” he added.

“I am demanding the case be transferred to Kurdistan … and that representatives of the Arab League or Arab Lawyers Union have access, to ensure the integrity of the investigation.
“On that basis, I am ready to be judged.”

Iyad Allawi, the head of the Iraqiya party, which recently bolted Parliament despite having the most members, sided with Hashemi in the dispute. He was the one comparing Maliki to Saddam Hussein, which I’m thinking is no small charge in Iraq.

Hashemi made these comments despite an active warrant out for his arrest on terrorism charges. The alleged confessions came from people claiming to be members of his security detail (members of his security detail were arrested on Monday). Iraqi security forces have already raided Hashemi’s office in Baghdad and seized some of his belongings. A high court in Iraq has forbidden Hashemi from leaving the country.

Given the sectarian violence in Iraq, you could probably find bodyguards who were paid to kill the enemy working for figures throughout the Iraqi government. This dispute, however, threatens to fracture the politics of the country, and is an example of Maliki muscling out his competition, as he has chronically done. Juan Cole writes:

If it happens, the total withdrawal of the Iraqi National Movement from the government will not cause it to fall. First, al-Maliki still has a majority in parliament as long as the Kurds continue to stand with him (and they probably will). Second, the Iraqi system doesn’t seem to envision governments falling and snap elections being held, as happens in the UK and other parliamentary systems. The prime minister can lose majority of support, but continue till the next election as head of a minority government. In summer of 2007, al-Maliki lost the support of all the major parties but his own, but his government did not fall.

On the other hand, al-Maliki is in danger of provoking very bad relations between Shiites and Sunni Arabs. He not only is dragging the Sunni vice president before the courts as a common terrorist, but he is trying to strong-arm vice premier Saleh Mutlak out of office for complaining that al-Maliki has begun acting dictatorially and is becoming worse than Saddam.

Kurdish lawmakers tried to play peacemaker in the dispute, asking for a national political conference to settle differences. But Maliki isn’t really exhibiting new behavior here, and I expect the issue to continue to play out in the early days after the end of the US military presence.

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David Dayen

David Dayen