Nouri Maliki in the shadow of Saddam Hussein
Kurdishaspect.com - By Kirmanj Gundi
In the wake of the US invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s despotic regime in spring 2003, many new faces in the Iraqi Arab politics were front-walled. Some of these faces, to a large extent, were not known to the Iraqi people. Among them was Nouri Maliki, current Iraqi Prime Minister, who at the time was a leadership member of the Dawa Party.
Maliki assumed premiership after Ibrahim Jaafari lost confidence amongst the Kurds and Arab political factions. Maliki was perceived by many to be a more practical politician with a better understanding of the complex Iraqi society. Nonetheless, he soon began practicing realpolitik (politics premised primarily on power and material factors and considerations, rather than pragmatic notions or moralistic or ethical elements). He literally breached every promise he made to the people of Kurdistan with regard to implementing the Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution that calls for normalizing the Kurdistani arabized and sequestered lands, and he deepened the culture of distrust and cynicism vis-à-vis the Sunni/secular Arabs.
Maliki, instead of ameliorating the fragile Iraqi politics and strengthening the culture of democracy and federalism in his first term, he become an elusive and evasive Prime Minister and evaded the responsibility of having an all-out approach to all political factions and create an inclusive national government abide by the rule of law.
Harnessing a dual policy, Maliki has been advocating Shiite sectarianism and promoting centralism policy to centralize power in Baghdad, which is against certain provisions of the Iraqi Constitution. This flagrant political mischief soon diluted the nascent “trust” that was so pivotal and needed to be strengthened in order to build the culture of “unity.” Before long, he practiced Machiavellian politics (a political perception that is synonymous with deception and duplicity in management and statecraft) with the Kurds and Sunni Arabs. The cynical hybrid state of politics played by Maliki further deteriorated the Iraqi political culture after the post-Saddam Iraq rampage. Kidnapping and arbitrary arrests of Sunni Arabs in secret prisons such as Al-Muthana Air Base exponentially augmented. Instead of practicing a more practical vision for the post-Saddam Iraq and lead inclusive and shared governance, Maliki started revenging the past, and the Sunni Arabs were his main target. His opponents, in his secret prisons, were tortured and accused of being “terrorists.”
Although, the head of the so-called State of Law Party (Dawlat Al-qanoon), he violated any and every constitutional law he deemed unnecessary or a threat to his throne. As an inexperienced statesman with a lack of a renewable national vision, he advocated a mono-style of leadership and promoted an all-out autocratic approach to run the governmental affairs, instead of paving the path of integration and strengthening national unity.
In the March 2010 national election, when Ayad Allawi’s Iraqia bloc won the total of 91 seats in the Iraqi Parliament, Maliki’s Sate of Law won 89 seats. Nonetheless, Maliki refused to recognize the election outcomes. He out-maneuvered Allawi’s Iraqia by forging political alliances with other political factions, mainly the Shiites. Also, to win the support of Kurdistan Alliance, Maliki renewed his promises to the Kurdish leadership with regard to implementing Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution to end the decades old brutal legacy of Saddam Hussein against the people of Kurdistan. Maliki also visited Iran; and as it was reported in the Los Angeles Times and the Guardian, Iran was directly involved in bringing the Shiite factions together against Allawi’s Iraqia. Iran was the major force behind convincing Muqtada Sadr to back Maliki’s bet for forming a new government. However, it is worth mentioning that in the late March 2008, Maliki gave free rein to the Iraqi Army against Sadr’s militia. He flew to Basra (South of Iraq) to personally command the military operations to suppress Sadr’s militia activities. Nonetheless, when Maliki found out that his chance was diminishing to win the second term as Prime Minister, he sought mediation from Iran in order to win Muqtada Sadr’s backing in his bet to out-run Allawi’s bloc. For Iran to help Maliki against Allawi’s faction (that consisted of secular Sunnis and former Ba’athists) was in Iran’s strategic interests. This, however, revealed Maliki’s hypocritical nature that he would not mind to say or do anything to get what he wanted. Maliki’s Iranian involvement certainly increased Iranian influence in the Iraqi politics—a move that might have disappointed the US administration.
With some successes in his portfolio, Maliki was still walking on shaky ground. The formation of Iraqi government was still in limbo. However, when Maliki, through Iran, won Sadr’s support against Allawi’s Iraqia, he boosted his chance to maintain his premiership for another term. Nevertheless, it was not until the President of Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani’s initiative in Hewlêr (Erbil) in November 2010 could Maliki form a new government.
When all the Iraqi political factions gathered in Hewlêr to form the new government, it was obvious that the main option consisted of Maliki or Allawi. Perhaps, the Kurdish leadership had very limited choices. For them it was similar to a game of choosing between two “Devils," and between these two devils, Maliki and Allawi, they had to choose the devil that was less evil. For the people of Kurdistan to support Allawi’s bloc was like biting the “bullet.” Allawi as a former figure in the Ba’ath party surrounded himself by many die-hard Ba’athists and Arab chauvinists such Saleh Mutlaq, who not too long ago, stated, “The Ba’ath leadership holds high honor compare to any leadership that rules Iraq now.” Maliki had opposed Saddam’s regime and fought against it. Ipso facto, the people of Kurdistan reluctantly supported Maliki for the second time. They were reluctant in their support of Maliki, because they had negative experiences with him. He had breached all the promises he had made to the Kurdish leadership.
Nevertheless, in Hewlêr, through Kurdish mediation, the new Iraqi government was formed. Maliki agreed to form a democratic and inclusive government of all Iraqi sectarian/secular/ethnic factions. He agreed to form a Council of National Security that should be headed by Allawi and grant ministries of Interior and Defense to the Allawi bloc. He also accepted the Kurdish 19-point list to normalize the shattered demography of Kurdistan. After his return to Baghdad, he dragged his feet again, and did not create the National Security Council for Allawi’s Iraqia. Further, Maliki said “Allawi is a partner with whom partnership cannot be forged.” He rejected Allawi’s candidates to head the ministries of Defense and Interior. Furthermore, in addition to his premiership, Maliki began acting as the Defense and Interior Minister. He has been using these two ministries to go after those whom he sees as his “enemies,” and to consolidate his power base.
Maliki’s behavior surpasses and goes against any and every democratic principle and human right. His political compass is to return Iraq to its dark days. In the past, Iraq was ruled by a Sunni’s “iron fist” that suppressed the Shiites’ and the Kurds’ rights. Maliki, adhering to Shiite sectarianism, has been trying to exclude the Sunnis from having viable posts in the post-Saddam Iraqi government. Additionally, all signs under the Shiite majority rule indicate that Sunnis would not have a fair share in the Iraqi national government whether under Maliki or any other Shiite government. Thus, there is no such a thing as “New Iraq.” Iraq under Sunni Arab chauvinism fell under majority Shiite rule and was replaced by a narcissistic Shiite sectarianism with no new “vision” for a complex Iraqi society. Iraq under the Shiite majority is no better than the Iraq under the Sunni rule. Maliki is against every concept of federalism and has, often times, shown his ill intention to change provisions of the Iraqi Constitution that recognized the historic Kurdish rights.
Since Iraqi political culture lacks an understanding of democracy and respect for a written Constitution duly voted upon by more than 80 percent of Iraqi people, Maliki (or perhaps others who come after him) will continue to ignore the Constitution and not implement some of its articles such as Article 140 that ends Arabization of Kurdistan. Under Maliki, all Saddam Hussein’s cruel and inhumane policies that changed the demography of Kurdistan have remained intact. Further, the Arab political culture, since the inception of Iraq, has proven that there is no future for the people of Kurdistan in Iraq. Kurds and Arabs have “nothing” in common. Thus, the sooner this “forced marriage” ends, the better for both nations.
Historically speaking, when a country is ruled by a dictator, the dictator does not follow the “rule of law.” The Constitution is looked at as a “fictional” document with no meaning to him—he rules by “decree,” and violates every aspect of human rights—and transgresses citizens’ integrity. However, when the tyrannical regime is “overthrown,” his despotic legacy disappears with him. The new Constitution as it is implemented should heal the wounds inflicted upon the nation by the former dictator. It is ironic to see that all Saddam Hussein’s legacy was repudiated except for what was pertinent to Kurdistan. To maintain Saddam’s inhuman legacy vis-à-vis Kurdistan, Maliki and his entourage have come with another illusory plot, and that is, “since Saddam Hussein was the president, his decrees were equivalent to the laws adopted by the Parliament, hence all the decrees relevant to Kurdistan have to be abolished by the Iraqi Parliament.” Well, one could ask why was everything that Saddam did invalidated except for his cruel policies towards Kurdistan, which have been maintained? How is the current Iraqi Parliament, which includes a strong bloc of Arab nationalists and former Ba’athists going to be motivated to quash Arabization policies against Kurdistan?
Under Maliki, Kurds in Xaneqîn (Khanaqin), Jelewla, and Leylan (in south of Kurdistan-Iraq), have been under constant threats of Maliki’s armed forces. Maliki arrogantly evaded his responsibility of protecting the Kurdish citizens in those areas and turned a blind eye on brutality the innocent Kurds faced—by doing so—Maliki encouraged the act of depopulating those Kurdish areas/lands. This by all means, could be seen as an act of maintaining the Arabization of Kurdistan, it was an act of finishing up something Saddam Hussein and other before him had started. Further, Maliki’s hypocritical approaches became more evident when the Kurdish leadership sent Pêşmerge forces to protect the Kurds in those areas; Maliki criticized the Kurdish decision. Nonetheless, the Kurdish leadership courageously overlooked Maliki’s double-standard. Pêşmerge’s arrival in Xaneqîn was followed by Masoud Barzani’s visit to the city.
Considering Maliki’s evasiveness and lack of moral authority, the Kurdish leadership has historic responsibility to move forward with its national agenda and unilaterally implement the Iraqi Constitution where it pertains to occupied Kurdistani lands. Especially, since the Constitution has been imprisoned in the culture of Shiite sectarianism and Arab chauvinism, the Kurdish leadership could say to Maliki and his entourage in Baghdad—since you are not going to meet your constitutional responsibilities—we will. The President of Kurdistan should continue his progress. His visit to Xaneqîn was indeed historic. Particularly, when he stated, “Xaneqîn and its inhabitants are inseparable parts of Kurdistan and the Pêşmerge forces will remain to protect them.” Barzani’s statement in Xaneqîn should equally be applied to all Arabized and sequestered Kurdistani lands. People of Kurdistan should no longer condone Maliki’s duplicity. Arabs in Baghdad are buying time to strengthen their power base. The stronger they become, the more aggressive they would be to change the Constitution and repeal the Article 140. Maliki’s government has lost legitimacy and moral base to democratically run the country. Maliki has lost the trust of majority of the political key players in Iraq, and the list of his friends (if any) from abroad is shortening. People of Kurdistan might have a better chance now than ever before to move forwards and reclaim their ancestral lands.
In conclusion, it is clear that Maliki is no “Jeffersonian Democrat.” Thomas Jefferson once famously said “We hold this truth to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” Maliki is an autocrat with deep roots in Shiite sectarianism, and believes in “no equality.” He lives in the shadow of Saddam Hussein. He is a nurtured autocrat and product of the same “closed” Iraqi Arab political culture. If he is not kept in check, he is on his way to grow into a full-fledged dictator. Maliki cannot be trusted as the Iraqi national leader. He is deceptive, posing as a statesman while ruling as an autocrat. It is difficult for the Kurdish leadership to have a working relationship with Maliki again. Therefore, it would be wise for them to reassess their options with the Iraqi government. The People of Kurdistan should no longer bet on Maliki’s pretense. He is imposter.
Kirmanj Gundi is a professor at the Department of Educational Administration and Leadership at Tennessee State University.