Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 4
Kurds Walk Out of Parliament Session in Protest
During a parliamentary session on January 3, State of Law MP Sheikh Hussein al-Asadi, a senior figure within the coalition, openly called for Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to be charged with protecting and providing refuge to Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. A warrant was issued against Hashemi in December 2011 on charges of supporting terrorism. Asadi cited Article IV of the 2005 Counterterrorism Law, which also charges suspects for harboring and supporting terrorists, as applying to Talabani. The Kurdish bloc walked out in anger and protest, and declared they will boycott parliamentary sessions until Asadi apologized for his remarks against Talabani. But on January 5, just days later, the boycott ended even as Asadi continued his refusal to apologize. According to a Kurdish MP, State of Law representatives approached the Kurdish bloc and apologized on Asadi’s behalf to help end the boycott.
Debate to Form National Conference Continues
The debates surrounding the formation of a national conference, a move initiated by Talabani to resolve the current political crisis, continues. On January 10, Talabani received Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi in his Baghdad office, where the three discussed the parameters for the president’s initiative to hold a national conference to resolve the current political crisis. In principle, the blocs have agreed that a national conference to bring all the players to a negotiating table is the appropriate next step, but the details conditioning the conference remain in dispute. Iraqiyya leader Ayad Allawi reportedly set several pre-conditions for attending the national conference – that Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, Shi’a clerics Muqtada al-Sadr and Ammar al-Hakim must all attend the conference. In addition, he called for a political committee to be established to provide oversight regarding the integrity and professionalism of the investigation against Hashemi. Like Barzani, Allawi preferred the conference to be held in the Kurdish region. But State of Law and the Sadrists argued for the conference to be convened in the capital city. It was reported by Fuad Hussein, Barzani’s chief of staff, that the Kurdish president would not attend the conference if it were held in Baghdad. Wrongly giving the impression that the Kurdish president was boycotting the conference, Hussein later clarified the official position to the media the next day and reiterated Barzani’s support for Talabani’s reconciliatory efforts and stated that Barzani would send his representatives to Baghdad. But Iraqiyya still insists that the bloc will not attend the conference if Barzani himself is not present. On January 15, Maliki, Talabani, Nujaifi, and the heads of the political blocs are scheduled to meet in Baghdad to discuss setting the stage for the national conference, and resolve any preconditions remaining between the blocs.
Hashemi Wants Relocation of Court Trial
The Kurdish Ministry of Interior in Arbil received a formal request sent by the central government’s Ministry of Interior on January 8 to cooperate and hand over Hashemi and fourteen of his bodyguards and employees. Kurdish authorities refused citing that Hashemi is a guest in the Kurdish region. Baghdad also requested that Kurdish authorities not allow Hashemi to leave the country. Meanwhile, Hashemi has opened a temporary office in Sulamaniya, where he remains at Talabani’s residence as a guest. While in the Kurdish region, Allawi argued on January 9 that Hashemi’s case must be resolved, either legally or politically. Should it be legally, Allawi insisted that Hashemi be tried in an independent court free of political influence, but preferred for the matter to be resolved through a political solution. While first wanting to be tried in the Kurdish region, Hashemi has officially requested for the central government to transfer his court trial from Baghdad to Kirkuk. Hashemi is concerned about his protection in Baghdad and argues that judges in Kirkuk are removed from Maliki’s influence and intimidation and would allow for a fair trial. Hashemi says he is still awaiting response for his request from Baghdad.
Mutlaq Calls for Maliki to be Replaced
In a recent interview, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, a senior Iraqiyya figure, suggested that should the political crisis continue, Iraqiyya’s next step would be to call for early elections under the oversight of an interim government. Should those calls not materialize, Mutlaq stated that the bloc would demand the replacement of Maliki. Mutlaq says he does not regret the remarks he made criticizing Maliki’s dictatorial governing style in a CNN interview while Maliki was visiting Washington, DC, which lead Maliki to push for his removal. Recently, Mutlaq increased his criticism of Maliki, calling him worse than Saddam. “Saddam Hussein was a dictator who built, but Maliki is a dictator who builds nothing.” According to a spokesman for the Shi’a National Alliance bloc, former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja’afari laid out three options for Mutlaq, either to apologize to, resign or to present a candidate for his replacement. Meanwhile, Maliki reportedly made a telephone call on January 8 to Jamal al-Karbouli, the leader of the Solution Party wing of the Iraqiyya bloc, to replace Mutlaq as deputy prime minister.
Turks Receive Criticism from Maliki’s Allies
During a January 9 news conference in Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated his concerns about the developments in Iraq: “A sectarian approach is emerging in Iraq at the moment. Unfortunately, this sectarian approach has turned Iraq into a sea of blood.” Erdogan said that he did not agree with the course of action taken by Maliki against Hashemi, who is a friend of Erdogan’s. In a telephone conversation the next day, Erdogan advised Maliki that the arrest warrant against Hashemi is counterproductive to democracy in a country that is transitioning from civil war. Soon after, State of Law MP Ali al-Shilah warned over the consequences of continued statements made by Erdogan while arguing that Iraq is no longer part of the Ottoman Empire. Yassin Majid, a State of Law MP and close associate of Maliki’s, stated that Erdogan should work on keeping his nose out of Iraqi affairs. State of Law MP Ibrahim al-Rekabi even suggested that Turkey was responsible for the recent political crisis and that Ankara tries to control the policies over the entire region. On Thursday, Erdogan spoke to Allawi by telephone and communicated his concerns about the anti-democratic path Iraq was on and the risk of civil war and the negative implications to the region.
Reports that the Shi’a militant group Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) would take part in the upcoming national conference provoked a strong response from the Sadrist Trend. Sadrist leaders said their group would not participate in the conference if AAH was involved. AAH later announced that it would not participate in the conference if it would cause problems. Tensions between the two groups have long-existed, but worsened in recent weeks on account of AAH’s recent decision to enter the political process. Muqtada al-Sadr has denounced AAH for its involvement in killings against Iraqi soldiers and civilians. Amidst these tensions, elements of the Sadrist movement and AAH have reportedly held meetings recently in Baghdad.
Maliki Looks at Security Leadership Changes?
According to reports in the Iraqi media, Maliki is ordering a number of senior military leaders to be replaced, including Army Chief of Staff Lt. General Babakir Zebari, Commander of Baghdad Operations Lt. General Ahmed Hashim, and Commander of Rusafa Operations Lt. General Abdel Karim al-Izzi. However, there has been no official announcement regarding the alleged removals. Reportedly, a joint committee involving the Ministries of Interior and Defense is considering the transfer of certain responsibilities regarding internal security from Defense to Interior.
For a comprehensive look at the first two months since U.S. troops left Iraq, read Ramzy Mardini's backgrounder, " Iraq's Recurring Political Crisis." To read a transcript from the Feb. 29 event "Policing Iraq," click here, and to read a transcript from the Feb. 16 event "Iraq After the U.S. Withdrawal," click here. To read past and future weekly updates, click here.