By Faisal J. Abbas
23 June 2014
Many American Iraq war veterans must be disappointed; after all, they didn’t risk their lives for all those years so that the country they believed they were helping liberate can fall into the hands of extremists.
However, what most of them failed to realize is that Iraq had already been lost to an extremist, even before the rise of the current ISIS insurgency.
Indeed, while the United States may have liberated the Iraqi people from one dictator, Saddam Hussein, it ended up only handing them over to another: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Throughout two disgraceful terms, Maliki’s only agenda was to consolidate power for himself. By sacking, arresting or limiting the authority of a number of key Iraqi ministers and officials, the PM has been and continues to be in total control of the country’s defense, interior and finance ministries as well as the judiciary, security and intelligence services.
With such a vast power grab, Maliki plotted to extend his tenure for an illegitimate third term and managed to secure a federal Supreme Court order to enable him to do so. But who would have opposed him anyway, had he not?
He remains aided by Iranian agents who he left Iraq’s doors wide-open for, and has benefited from a dysfunctional president (Jalal Talabani, whose health has been in decline for more than two years and is still receiving treatment in Germany) and most importantly, a shameless, ill-advised and hesitant U.S. government that seems to think that the region’s problems will solve themselves if one simply looks the other way.
Now, while being equated with Saddam Hussein is bad enough for any world leader, Maliki has more than surpassed the late Iraqi dictator in terms of damage he has caused to his country, its people and any prospect of national unity.
This is because as bad as he was, Saddam Hussein (a Sunni) was a secular who had top Christian aides and Shiites forming a significantly large portion of the Baath party. Furthermore, Saddam never claimed to be democratic nor did he arrive to the throne promising to turn Iraq to a beacon of democracy and a model for a new Middle East.
Yes, Saddam was brutal but, as a number of Iraqis are now putting it, “at least, he was just with his injustice,” having slaughtered Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis alike (including his own son-in-law).
Maliki (a Shiite) on the other hand, played on increasing the rift between Sunnis and Shiites when he could have easily benefited from a golden opportunity throughout his two terms to create a true and lasting national reconciliation. Instead, he marginalized Sunnis and favored Shiites and openly served Tehran, which frustrated not only many neighboring countries, but a large number of his own people: Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds alike.
Indeed, many people tend to forget that Maliki DOESN’T have the support of the top Shiite clerics in his country. Just a few days ago, Iraq’s highest Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, joined the list of disapprovers as he called for the formation of a new and “effective” government (a process Maliki has taken hostage in order to safeguard his illegitimate third term).
Such wise statements from such senior Shiite figures are certainly helpful, as contrary to what Maliki is trying to portray, many people in Iraq realize that HE is the problem and the current crisis is not a sudden burst of extremism or a conspiracy that was being brewed abroad, but a result of years of systematic, unfair and deliberate targeting of the country’s Sunni population.
Furthermore, Maliki can speak of conspiracies and plots all he wants, but at the end of the day, he is the Prime Minister (not to mention that Minister of Defense and Interior as well) and this happened on his watch; as such, he MUST take responsibility.
ISIS is Maliki’s Fault
Before dwelling further into the details, it is important to state that ISIS doesn’t only threaten the safety and security of Syria and Iraq, but the whole region, and especially Saudi Arabia which has labeled the group a terrorist organization.
On that note, it is the duty of all Arabs and Muslims (Sunnis and Shiites alike) to join in exposing ISIS for what it really is: a terrorist group of thugs and a cult of opportunists with no moral code, who are taking advantage of people’s legitimate grievances and needs to claim land and resources, cement their authority and freely rape and decapitate under the name of religion.
Yet, one has to wonder how this extremist group is gaining support among Iraqi Sunnis? And how did it manage to conquer cities which were supposed to be guarded by the official Iraqi army?
It is believed that most of the anti-Maliki militants are not ISIS fighters, but are Sunni tribesmen, former Baath party members and people who have genuinely had enough of the Prime Minister’s long-standing marginalization policy which left many of them without a say, with extremely poor living conditions and no prospects of a better life.
If you think this rings a bell, it is because this has all happened before and it is truly despicable that Maliki and the White House have allowed the same scenario to re-occur.
When Saddam’s regime collapsed in 2003, Paul Bremer stupidly oversaw the complete dissolve of the Baath party and the Iraqi army, possibly the only two institutions which could have kept the country intact had they been properly managed or restructured. As such, a large number of trained soldiers, experienced politicians and security forces members were suddenly left without a role or income.
Seizing the moment, many Shiites scrambled to fill in the vacuum with Maliki’s blessing. Left hopeless, some Sunnis embraced al-Qaeda, which was beginning to converge in Iraq at the time. And it wasn’t until 2006 when the Americans helped broker a deal with Sunni tribal leaders that al-Qaeda’s threat was eliminated at the hands of what became known as the “Sahawat.”
Unsurprisingly, once the threat was gone, neither the Americans nor Maliki kept their word to the tribal leaders; And Iraqi Sunnis were left once again to rot. Without much challenge to his rule, Maliki grew even more arrogant, arresting key Sunni figures or overseeing them being sentenced to death in absentia, such as the case was with Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi (the position remains vacant as Hashimi now resides in Turkey).
Maliki also denied Sunnis the right to self-govern themselves (a la the Kurds) and when they began organizing peaceful protests to demand their rights, Maliki sought to crush them (using American weapons, I may add!). The situation in Iraq continued to deteriorate and Iraqis are now trapped between two evils: an illegitimate Prime Minister and an evil terrorist organization.
‘If You Break It, You Own It’
What is most shocking that all of this occurred under the nose of the U.S. administration, which begs a question of how U.S. security analysts didn’t see this coming? And if they did, why did President Obama continue to support such a disgraceful Prime Minister?
Indeed, Maliki didn’t only commit crimes against Iraq, but also betrayed the sacrifice of thousands of U.S. soldiers which enabled him to reach the premiership position to start with. One of his many crimes is the release of the notorious Qais al-Khazali from prison, who is not only a free man today, but a free man with a political career thanks to PM Maliki.
For those who don’t know who he is, Khazali is the leader of the Iranian-backed paramilitary group “Asaib Ahl Al-Haq” (AAH), a group said to be operating under direct patronage of the infamous Iranian General Qassim Suleimani and the Revolutionary Guard. AAH have reportedly been involved in around 6000 attacks on American, coalition and Iraqi forces. He is directly responsible for the killing and kidnapping of U.S. soldiers and British civilians.
Furthermore, Khazali remains controversial today, as he is said to have a direct connection with Iraqi warlord, Abu Deraa, better known as the “Zarqawi of the Shiites” who is said to have returned to Iraq from Iran recently.
One can’t help but question why Maliki would want to be connected to such men, yet, everything this illegitimate PM does stinks of promoting sectarianism to serve his own self-interests (ironically, the same can be said of ISIS!).
Is the U.S. to blame for this one? Well, the rule is: “you break it, you own it”. As such, not only should Maliki leave, but you perhaps President Obama should consider Senator John McCain’s call for the White House’s National Security team to resign for failing to keep Iraq safe.
Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English; he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist who is working on an upcoming book on Arab Media. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society.