Iraq’s former vice president Tariq al-Hashimi on Monday urged his countrymen to oppose the government of Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki a day after a Baghdad court sentences him to death in absentia for leading Sunni death squads during the war. Turkey, which has sheltered the fugitive politician, risks further deterioration in its relationship with Iraq.
Hashimi was Iraq’s senior Sunni politician before Maliki issued an arrest warrant for him in December of last year. The premier also removed his Sunni deputy Saleh al-Mutlaq at the time. Hashimi has described the accusations against him as “absurd” and “politically motivated” and fled to Iraqi Kurdistan and later Turkey to escape arrest.
Speaking to reporters in Turkey, Hashimi alleged that Maliki is stoking sectarian tensions in Iraq to consolidate his own position. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan voiced similar concerns in April.
“Oppose his conspiracies and provocation calmly,” said Hashimi. “People should not stay silent on the unprecedented oppression in Iraq.”
Since American combat forces were withdrawn from the country late last year, sectarian violence has increased. Just this weekend, some ninety attacks were orchestrated across cities from Basra to Kirkuk, killing more than ninety Iraqis, including soldiers, and injuring hundreds.
In one of the deadliest attacks, two car bombs exploded near a market and Shia shrine in the southern town of Amara, killing at least fourteen people. More car bombs exploded in predominantly Shiite areas of the capital Baghdad late Sunday. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Iraqi authorities suspect that Sunni militants carried out the attacks.
The Kurds in the north similarly regard in apprehension Maliki’s apparent power grab. “What threatens the unity of Iraq is dictatorship and authoritarian rule,” said the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, in April. He urged the United States to suspend a planned F-16 fighter jet sale to Iraqi while Maliki is prime minister for fear that they could be used against the Kurds.
Trevor Westra wrote for the Atlantic Sentinel last year, “with the country’s northern population firmly supporting the Sunni-led uprisings in neighboring Syria, the potential for a populist revolt will be increasingly dependent on the outcome of [the] renewed political stalemate” in Baghdad where Sunnis were removed from key positions. The outcome was deadlock and the Kurdish-Sunni revolt is starting to become a reality.
Iraqi Kurds are supporting their brethren across the border in their struggle against the Bashar al-Assad regime while Maliki has been the only Arab leader not to call for the Syrian strongman’s resignation.
Instead, he has deepened relations with neighboring Iran, a Shia power that competes with Sunni Saudi Arabia and Turkey for regional hegemony — a development that Jennifer Bushaw predicted at the Atlantic Sentinel in October of last year when she wrote that Iraq “would not be able to fend off Iranian advances, which could manifest in diplomatic and economic pressures, increased militant attacks by Shiite insurgents or just plain military intimidation.”
The Turks, who have vowed that they will not extradite Hashimi, worry that the sectarian violence in Iraq and Syria will lead to a wider conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims in the Middle East. Prime Minister Maliki has branded Turkey a “hostile state” and his government warned Ankara in May against importing Kurdish oil without permission from the central government. Two months later, Turkey started buying petroleum from the Kurdistan Regional Government nevertheless.