Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis Update 14

Update 14- March 15, 2012-March 23, 2012

Barzani Disparages Maliki

In his annual message in honor of Newroz, the Kurdish New Year, Kurdish President Massoud Barzani gave a scathing review of the current Iraqi government. On March 22, Barzani began by lamenting the violations to the Iraq Constitution that have become endemic and criticized the Baghdad government for ignoring the Arbil Agreement, a power-sharing agreement that formed the current government. “Power-sharing and partnership between Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Arabs, and others is now completely non-existent and has become meaningless,” he asserted.

He also criticized Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s consolidation of power. “There is an attempt to establish a one-million-strong army whose loyalty is only to a single person,” he said. While Barzani was critical of the Shi’a-led government, he dismissed suggestions that the alliance between Kurds and Shi’as was on the verge of collapse. Reaffirming his commitment to solidarity, Barzani stated that the “Kurds and the followers of [Shi’a clerical leaders] Ammar al-Hakim and Muqtada al-Sadr have always shown solidarity with each other.” Barzani called on all Iraqi political leaders to find a solution, suggesting the failure to do so will force Kurds to take a more independent path.

Maliki Allies Criticize Barzani For Sheltering Hashemi

After Barzani argued against handing over Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi to Baghdad based on “Kurdish ethics” last week, some of Maliki’s political allies criticized the Kurdish president for giving refuge to a wanted man. On March 17, State of Law MP Yassin al-Majid, a close ally of Maliki’s and former media advisor, wondered how “Kurdish ethics” allowed Barzani to invite Saddam Hussein’s forces in 1996 to enter the Kurdish region and fight the Kurdish peshmerga forces belonging to his Kurdish rival and now-Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Just days after Barzani delivered his critical speech toward the central government on March 20, State of Law MP Hussein al-Asadi stated that Barzani “became a wanted individual” after refusing to allow Hashemi’s arrest warrant to be carried out. “Barzani’s last escalation will not get him away from justice,” Asadi warned.

In early January Asadi had also criticized Talabani, who housed Hashemi immediately after the warrant for his arrest was issued. Asadi openly called during a session of parliament for Talabani to be charged with protecting and providing refuge to Hashemi. Then, Asadi cited Article IV of the 2005 Counterterrorism Law, which also charges suspects for harboring and supporting terrorists, as applying to Talabani. His statements caused the Kurdish bloc to walk out of Parliament in protest.

Iraqiyya Loses Confidence in National Conference

On Thursday, a leading member of Iraqiyya said the bloc would not be interested in participating in the National Conference if it is scheduled after the Arab League Summit, which will start on March 29 in Baghdad, because it would have “no value.” Parliamentarian Dhafer al-Ani criticized Maliki as “not serious about reaching common grounds” and accused the Shi’a National Alliance bloc of “wasting time” and not being honest with the Iraqi people. Spokesman Hameed Maala of the Islamic Supreme Council for Iraq, a Shi'a party within the National Alliance, believed there is not enough time to hold the conference before the summit, arguing that the conference’s agenda “contains many big issues that require lots of discussion.” In addition, Iraqiyya leader and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told the Washington Times on March 22 that the U.S. was ignoring an “emerging dictatorship”in Baghdad and that Iranian influence is “becoming the dominant feature of Iraq.” His comments prompted State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland to issue a statement: “We strongly disagree with [Mr. Allawi’s] characterization of our relationship with the government of Iraq and the role we have played to keep the Iraqi political process on track.”

Hashemi Bodyguard Dies in Custody

Hashemi on Wednesday claimed to have photographic evidence that one of his bodyguards was tortured to death while in government custody. Amer Sarbut Zeidan al-Batawi was arrested with other Hashemi guards in December on charges of carrying out attacks on Iraqi security forces under Hashemi’s orders. Government officials filmed the bodyguards’ confessions, which formed part of the evidence against Hashemi, who remains a fugitive in Kurdistan. Batawi’s body was turned over to his family on March 18 with no cause of death listed on his death certificate, but Lieutenant General Hassan al-Baydhani, chief of staff of Baghdad’s security command, argued that Batawi died of kidney disease after refusing testing or treatment. A spokesman for the Supreme Judicial Council, Abdul-Sattar al-Birqdar, said that preliminary autopsy results showed that the cause of death was severe diarrhea, low blood pressure, and kidney failure. On Friday, a spokesman for the Ministry of Human Rights, Kamil Amin, announced the Ministry would release forensic results when it received them. An unknown number of members of Hashemi’s security and office staff remain in custody, and Human Rights Watch called on Friday for the release of their names and the charges against them, as well as assurances of access to lawyers and medical care.

Agenda for Arab League Summit

This week, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari highlighted topics on the agenda for the Arab League Summit. Starting on March 29 in Baghdad, the participants in the Arab League summit will discuss the crisis in Syria, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and combating terrorism. Speaker of the Arab Parliament Ali Salem al-Diqbasi said on March 22 that he will be attending the summit and will seek a decision to make the Arab parliament “permanent so that it can practice its right to legislate unified Arab laws.” Diqbasi added, “But we don’t want a permanent parliament to be just another organization to be added to other Arab institutions. We want it to be making decisions that are mandatory on all [concerned].”

On March 17, Deputy Iraqi Foreign Minister Labid Abbawi expressed support for an Arab League peacekeeping force to be placed in Syria, but stopped short of endorsing the proposal offered by Qatar. On March 10, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told a group of Arab foreign ministers in Egypt that it was time to “apply the [Qatari] proposal to send Arab and international troops to Syria.” Abbawi, however, emphasized that Iraq envisioned an Arab peacekeeping force that were similar to the duties of United Nations peacekeeping forces. “It will not be a force that will go to take sides in any conflict or any problem,” he added.  

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 weekly updates, click here.