Iraq is drifting back toward disaster. The latest wave of bombings and shootings, mostly targeting security forces, but including many civilians among the more than 100 dead and over 200 injured, is clearly designed to demonstrate that Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki cannot provide the peace and stability he has promised.
The anguished cry heard again and again from the bereaved and traumatized survivors of these Al-Qaeda attacks is: “Where is the security?”
Maliki himself is largely responsible for the country’s now alarming slide back into widespread violence and anarchy. The decision in December 2011 to charge one of the leading Sunni politicians in his coalition government, Vice President Tariq Al-Hashemi, with running death squads, has effectively brought normal political life to a halt. Sunni legislators and ministers have boycotted parliament and withdrawn from the cabinet. Hashemi is now in Turkey, whose government has refused to act on an Interpol warrant for his arrest. His trial began in his absence in May.
It is inconceivable that Maliki did not anticipate the political chaos the charges against Hashemi would bring about. It is also clear that there are others who led or encouraged death squads, such as radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, who are not faced with any threat of prosecution. Therefore by acting against Hashemi, Maliki showed a partiality bound to alienate many of the country’s Sunnis.
It is hard to credit the foolishness of this move. After the US-led ouster of Saddam Hussein, die-hard loyalists, along with Sunnis, fearful of their future in a Shia-dominated Iraq, provided the cover and indeed recruits for Al-Qaeda as its bigots moved into the political vacuum. The Americans finally recognized their error, in so far as they came round to backing negotiations with Sunni chiefs, persuaded them to abandon the terrorists and even set them up and armed them as militiamen.
In 2005 when Iraqis voted for a federal constitution and then a new government, it seemed that, despite the continuing violence and the doleful presence of foreign troops, the country was slowly on its way to stability, based on political compromises and negotiation. Seven years on and little of that original consensus, that early determination to build a new country in which all communities were united, now survives.
Everything that Maliki has done has appeared calculated to undermine a cohesive Iraq. As a result Iraqis are paying a terrible price. Al-Qaeda has focused its bloody crimes on Shias, in the expectation that they will retaliate against Sunnis and the death squads will be back on the streets. Its terror assaults on Kurds in the north are designed to encourage separatists. The aim is an Iraqi disintegration, in the ruins of which the terrorists can plant and grow wider operations, like maggots in a corpse.
Maliki’s only way out is to abandon the Hashemi trial, ask parliament to approve a blanket pardon for all sectarian crimes and then seek to restore effective government, in which every Iraqi can have some confidence.