Forces loyal to Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki took to Baghdad’s streets on Monday after the prime minister refused to make way for his designated successor.
Earlier in the day, President Fuad Masum — a veteran Kurdish politician who was appointed by parliament late last month — had named Haider al-Abadi the country’s next premier. Abadi was immediately congratulated by America’s vice president, Joe Biden, while the former occupier warned Maliki not to “stir the waters” and use force to cling to power.
Maliki himself appeared on television but stood silent while a member of his Shia party read out a statement declaring Abadi’s nomination illegal.
The leader of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government demanded Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s resignation on Thursday after the premier had accused the Kurds of harboring radical Islamists who have declared an independent caliphate in the northwest of the country.
Maliki “has become hysterical and has lost his balance”, said a statement from the office of Kurdish president Masoud Barzani. “You must apologize to the Iraqi people and step down. You have destroyed the country and someone who has destroyed the country cannot save the country from crises.”
A day earlier, Maliki had accused the Kurds of supporting the uprising by the group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), saying, “We cannot be silent over this and we cannot be silent over Irbil” — the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region — “being a headquarters for ISIS and Ba’ath and Al Qaeda and terrorist operations.” Read more “Iraq’s Kurds, Accused of Backing Insurgents, Demand Maliki Resign”
Defying international calls to reach out to other sects, Iraq’s Shia rulers on Tuesday declared a boycott of the country’s biggest Sunni political bloc and accused Saudi Arabia of promoting “genocide.”
The United States, which occupied Iraq between 2003 and 2011, has conditioned military support for the government on the inclusion of Iraq’s Sunni minority.
Even before the Tuesday morning assault into Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, by hundreds of militants affiliated to Al Qaeda, the Iraqi security forces were stretched thin across the country.
Last week, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the breakaway Al Qaeda faction that has solidified a presence in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, swept into Samarra in a renewed attempt to spark widespread sectarian conflict. While the Iraqi army was quickly dispatched to the city and managed to reclaim neighborhoods previously taken by ISIS fighters, the operation sent shockwaves in the hearts of Iraq’s political officials and once again raised the question of whether the country’s security is at all better since American troops left in 2011.
In yet another reminder of how potent militancy in Iraq has become — and how ineffectual the Iraqi government’s response to terrorist attacks has been — the Sunni extremist group took a large swath of Mosul with little to no army resistance. Banks were looted of what are rumored to be millions of dollars in stolen funds, military checkpoints and police stations were taken, civilians were forced to flee to the Kurdish regions of Iraq and the city’s residents awoke to new overlords. Read more “Islamist Militants Take Mosul, Discrediting Iraq’s Government”
Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki accused Qatar and Saudi Arabia of supporting terrorist movements in the country and in effect waging a war against his government.
In an interview with France 24 that was broadcast on Saturday, the Iraqi leader claimed that the monarchies were “inciting and encouraging the terrorist movements” in his country. “I accuse them of supporting them politically and in the media; of supporting them with money and by buying weapons for them,” he said. “I accuse them of leading an open war against the Iraqi government.”
The blunt remarks come after years of sectarian violence in Iraq that has pitted Sunni groups against a central government in Baghdad that is dominated by Shia Muslims. Most recently, the conflict broke out in the Sunni majority province of Anbar where militants linked to the terrorist organization Al Qaeda took control in the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. Nearly 2,000 Iraqis have been killed in violence this year alone. Read more “Maliki Accuses Gulf States of Waging “War” Against Iraq”
In some of the most deadly fighting in Iraq since the American withdrawal more than two years ago, the residents of Fallujah, one of the largest city in the western Anbar Province, find themselves in the middle of a violent confrontation between militants associated with Al Qaeda and Sunni tribesmen who, for now, back the national army and police.
Thanks to reporters on the ground and corresponds in the region, we know that Islamist fighters have effectively taken over the city and held their ground for the last week. While Ramadi, Anbar’s provincial capital, is also partially in the hands of the same insurgents, Sunni tribes supported by the Iraqi government have reportedly captured its center.
The violence prompted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to appeal to the residents of Fallujah in televised address to evict Al Qaeda’s fighters on their own if they hope to stave off a military operation. With sectarian tensions already at a dangerous high in Iraq, the worst decision that Maliki, a Shia, could take is to order the Iraqi army to storm a major Sunni city and potentially incur civilian casualties. Read more “Iraq’s Maliki Faces Tough Choices in Fallujah”
Twenty-three months ago, Americans and Iraqis alike celebrated a milestone they had both long waited for: an end to a bloody and hard fought occupation. Iraq, at least when compared to its more violent days, was slowly stabilizing, with an Al Qaeda terrorist network struggling to sustain itself and a thriving oil sector pouring tens of billions of dollars into the country’s economy. President Barack Obama, who had considered the invasion of Iraq a “dumb war,” announced on national television that all America’s troops were coming home and that its involvement in the war was finally over.
Fast forward to today and it is clear that whatever hopes Iraqis had for a future have come apart at the seams.
An Al Qaeda affiliate that was nearly beaten through a combination of American special operations, gradual political reconciliation between Shia and Sunni Muslims and a grassroots anti-terrorism campaign across the Sunni provinces is once again tearing Iraqi families apart.
Over 7,000 Iraqis have been killed this year in ambushes, shootings, car and suicide bombings. More than 1,000 were killed last month alone. Despite the tens of billions of dollars that the United States and its coalition partners poured into Iraq’s security forces in the last ten years, they have been unable to stop a wave of violence that has killed an average of dozens of Iraqis per day.
Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s state visit to Washington DC on Friday could hardly come at a more pressing time. Maliki, a man who was originally put into the premier’s office as a compromise candidate, has managed to retain his seat through a combination of political acumen and a monopolization of the country’s institutions. He remains the nominal head of the Ministries of Defense and Interior and has used his influence to push Iraq’s evolving Federal Supreme Court to his side. It’s an evolution that Maliki’s political opponents, Shia, Sunni and Kurdish alike, regard as a workaround of the country’s constitution.
Maliki, then, could have a hard time convincing officials in the United States that he is the man who can save Iraq from the current scourge of terrorism and bring it back onto a peaceful and democratic footing. He has had an especially difficult time with members of Congress. Meetings with top Democrats and Republicans in the Senate did not go as well as he might have hoped. On Monday, a bipartisan group of six influential senator even wrote a letter to the White House criticizing Maliki’s governing style as autocratic and an incubator of the violence currently sweeping across his country.
Maliki is used to criticism but his actions over the past week underscore the fact that he understands that his credibility with the Americans is fast deteriorating. In addition to submitting an op-ed to The New York Times and delivering a speech to a prominent Washington think tank, Maliki met with a host of senior American officials, from congressional leaders and the secretary of defense to Vice President Joe Biden. In each meeting, Maliki delivered the same message: Iraq needs help to take the fight to a resurgent Al Qaeda.
The premier will be sure to stress the terrorism argument when he meets President Obama today. Greater intelligence sharing between American and Iraqi forces is the top item on his wish list but a close second is the speedy delivery of American fighter aircraft that the Iraqi government needs to patrol its airspace.
Before any of those requests can be met, President Obama must make clear to the Iraqi leader that a reliance on military force is only a partial solution to the terrorism problem. Ultimately, Maliki will need to demonstrate the type of political courage that he has failed to exhibit in the past — reaching out to Sunni politicians, rebuilding a constructive alliance with Sunni tribes and formulating a more tolerant and less poisonous political environment.
For the millions of Iraqis who are still trying to recover from a decade of war, terrorism is nothing new. Ten years of warfare and insurgency have not only brought about the partial destruction of Iraq as a strong state but also the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians while millions more were made refugees in their own country.
So when American troops finally withdrew in December 2011 after officially declaring that coalition military operations were over, Iraqis of all sects and religions were hopeful that their lives would get better — or at the very least, more peaceful.
Nearly two years after that withdrawal, however, the security situation in Iraq has deteriorated to a point that even the most pessimistic Iraqi had not predicted. The scope and scale of terrorism that is devastating the Middle Eastern country this year is on a level not seen since 2008 when the sectarian civil war that tore Iraq’s social fabric apart was finally burning itself out.
2013 is turning out to be one of the most violent years in recent Iraqi history. As of this month, more than 7,000 Iraqis have died in terrorist attacks. Last year, 4,574 were killed in such incidents. If the current rate of violence continues, 2013 would surpass the previous two years combined in the number of civilians killed by terrorism — a development that, if met, would be a striking warning to the world that Iraq is still very much in the middle of an asymmetric war.
The pace of violent attacks has also increased markedly in comparison to just a year ago. Hardly a day goes by without a car bombing, ambush, assassination or suicide bombing. Since last month, there have been 26 days when at least thirty Iraqis were killed in acts of insurgency or terrorism.
Indeed, the last mass casualty attack occurred just this Monday when a suicide bomber crashed his vehicle into a café and detonated his explosives, killing 38, mostly young men enjoying a night out. This incident came only four days after nine car bombs exploded throughout Baghdad, the capital, claiming 61 lives.
The situation has become so dire that it is often difficult to determine which group is responsible for specific attacks. There are a number of Sunni Islamist groups carrying out attacks against the central government but the vast majority of the mass casualty bombings are no doubt the work of a resurgent Al Qaeda branch that, just four years, ago, was the verge of collapse.
The United States will have the opportunity to drill home all of these points on November 1 when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is due to meet President Barack Obama in Washington DC.
With a civil war raging in Syria and negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program just beginning, the Obama Administration has put the Iraq file on the backburner — not ignoring it, but not prioritizing it either. Most bilateral discussions to date have centered on implementing the Strategic Framework Agreement which allows American forces to assist their Iraqi counterparts in intelligence gathering and counterterrorism operations.
With terrorism in Iraq at a five year high, and Shia premier Maliki refusing to give major concessions to his Sunni opponents, the message from the United States should be clear. Simply co-opting parts of the Sunni protest movement with short-term carrots will not mend the sectarian divides in Iraq. More Sunnis should be let into the security forces and an anti-terror law that is overly broad in its implications ought to be revised.
At the height of the civil war, America realized it could not pacify the country nor extinguish the insurgency through military force alone. Tackling the political obstacles underlining the unrest was just as important. Now that Iraq is in the middle of its most widespread violence in five years, it is time it taught those lessons to Iraq’s own officials.
It is not unusual for thousands of Iraqis to march in the streets, railing against their government. The country’s Sunnis, who dominated politics under Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime, have particular grievances with Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s administration, the most important being the abolition of counterterrorism laws that they view as discriminatory to their sect.
This was how last week’s protests started. Things changed on Tuesday last week when an Iraqi army unit stormed a protest camp in Hawija near Kirkuk north of Baghdad in pursuit of suspects involved in the killing of a soldier a few days prior. By the time the operation was over, dozens of people lay dead in the carnage. When news of the incident spread across the country, protesters and insurgents in Sunni areas were quick to pick up arms in retribution. In one such incident, four Iraqi troops were ambushed at a checkpoint in Ramadi and killed by unidentified gunmen. Five more were killed in Abu Ghraib.
Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki warned on Wednesday that a rebel victory in Syria could create a new haven for Islamic extremists and destabilize the region.
The Shia leader, who has been alone in the Arab world not to call upon Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to resign while his government battled a popular uprising, said in an interview with the Associated Press, “The most dangerous thing in this process is that if the opposition is victorious, there will be a civil war in Lebanon, divisions in Jordan and a sectarian war in Iraq.”
Syria’s civil war pits majority Sunni Muslims against Assad’s minority Alawite regime which has managed to hold on to power in the northwest of the country as well as the capital Damascus. Insurgent groups control several towns in the north as well as the oil rich eastern part of the country around the city of Deir ez-Zor on the Euphrates River. Read more “Iraq’s Maliki Warns Assad’s Fall Could Destabilize Region”