If it’s the end of December or the beginning of January, it must be time for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to arrest another prominent Sunni politician.
The trend began in December 2011, just days after the departure of U.S. troops, when security forces raided the compound of Vice President Tariq al Hashemi. Hashemi was able to flee but several of his bodyguards were arrested and based on their testimony, allegedly extracted under torture, he was convicted in absentia of various terrorist offenses and sentenced to death.
A year later Maliki’s forces raided the home of Raffi el-Essawi, a former finance minister who barely managed to elude arrest.
Now it is the turn of Ahmed al-Alwani, a prominent member of Parliament who was arrested at his home a few days ago after a two-hour gun battle between his bodyguards and security forces that left his brother and five guards dead.
If Maliki wants to know why al-Qaeda in Iraq is suddenly resurgent, and why violence is returning to 2008 and even 2007 levels, all he need do is look at this trend. Sunnis certainly do. Many prominent leaders of the Anbar Awakening, who allied with American and Iraqi forces in 2007-2008 to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq, have now made common cause with AQI because of what they see–with some justification–as a campaign of persecution directed against them by Maliki and the militant Shiites who surround him.
After Alwani’s arrest, one sheikh, Ahmed al-Tamimi, was quoted as saying: “The war has begun. I call on young people to carry their weapons and prepare. We will no longer allow any army presence in Falluja.”
The threat is not to be taken lightly as the Iraqi army recently learned–it just lost 18 soldiers, including a general in command of a division, during an attempted raid on an AQI encampment in Anbar Province.
Maliki understands that the threat against him is growing, but the actions he keeps taking–one crackdown after another–simply spark more protest. Buying more Hellfire missiles and Scan Eagle drones from the U.S. will accomplish little beyond further enflaming the situation.
Maliki needs to implement a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign such as the one that General David Petraeus implemented in 2007-2008 whose central feature must be outreach to the estranged Sunnis. The tragedy of Iraq today is that Maliki lacks the acumen to do that–and the U.S. lacks the leverage to compel him, because of the ill-advised pullout of American forces at the end of 2011.