It is surely no coincidence that on Sunday an Iraqi court sentenced to death Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a prominent Sunni, and on the same day Sunni militants unleashed a series of attacks across Iraq, many of them aimed at Shiites, which killed some 100 people. Not that the bombings were planned in response to Hashemi’s sentencing in absentia–such coordinated strikes have to be arranged well in advance. But the attacks are symptomatic of how Iraq is starting to unravel: Prime Minister Maliki is seen as a Shiite militant who is persecuting Sunnis and Sunni extremists are responding with their trademark terrorist attacks.
It is quite possible that Hashemi is guilty of the killings attributed to him–but then similar charges could be lodged against many senior Shiite political figures. Too many Iraqi politicos to count have blood on their hands from the dark days of Iraq’s civil war, which finally petered out in 2008–at least temporarily. The fact that the courts, which are widely viewed as beholden to Maliki and not in any credible way independent, have gone after Hashemi is widely seem as a political vendetta–not as justice being done. The evidence against Hashemi, moreover, appears to have come from the torture of his bodyguards.
On December 19, 2011, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi alleging that al-Hashemi had planned a wave of bomb attacks and had directed the assassination of Shi’ite opposition. The move unleashed a furious wave of political maneuvering, not only in Baghdad and Erbil, but also amongst Iraq’s neighbors, most notably Turkey. Interpol subsequently upheld the warrant against al-Hashemi, whose trial is ongoing even as Hashemi remains a fugitive. Almost nine months on, it’s clear that Maliki has come out the winner. Hashemi and his allies—Masud Barzani and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—miscalculated and face a growing perception respectively of weakness and fallibility among their home constituencies.
Erdoğan and Barzani’s embrace of al-Hashemi was a cynical and sectarian strategy. While Turkish diplomats still insist, despite evidence to the contrary, that Erdoğan harbors no ill-will toward Jews and Christians, Shi’ite and Shi’ite offshoot sects are another issue. Often, strict adherents to any religion exhibit more tolerance toward those of other religions than they do toward those whom they consider deviating from their own. Simply put, Erdoğan dislikes Turkey’s Alevis. Upon winning his first national elections, Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) included not a single Alevi parliamentarian. He has since unleashed a campaign of discrimination, refusing to recognize Alevi places of worship, in some cases even threatening to tear them down. Alevis complain he is imposing Sunni religious education teachers upon their children. Like his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan, Erdoğan will never accept a Shi’ite-led Iraq.
I commend Michael Rubin for challenging conventional wisdom about Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s power grab in Iraq. He argues that what we are seeing is a commendable consolidation of power rather than the alarming sings of incipient authoritarianism. While I am intrigued by his argument, I am not convinced.
It is hard to see anything but sectarian motives in the criminal charges filed against Vice President Tariq al Hashemi, a Sunni, and Maliki’s attempt to remove from office Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al Mutlaq, another Sunni, for, ironically, criticizing Maliki for his dictatorial tendencies. There are widespread reports that Hashemi’s bodyguards implicated him after having been subjected to torture by security forces. Read More