Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 22

Iraq’s Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 22 May 11, 2012-May 18, 2012

By Ramzy Mardini

Hashemi Trial Begins

The trial against Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi began in absentia this week after being delayed twice since the original date set on May 3. Ahmed Shawqi, one of the first bodyguards arrested on December 15when tanks mobilized around Hashemi’s residence in the Green Zone, testified on Tuesday in front of Baghdad’s Central Criminal Court. “I confirm that we were carrying out operations such as planting bombs, car bombs and assassinations,” Shawqi stated, while accusing Hashemi’s son-in-law, Ahmed Kahtan, of planning a series of targeted killings. The day Shawqi was taken into custody, Hashemi aides described him being beaten and tortured by Baghdad Brigade forces.

Hashemi is considering withdrawing his defense team, arguing that the Criminal Court is not the appropriate venue for his trial. Citing Article 55 of the Penal Code, Hashemi argues the trial should be moved to another location (Kirkuk or Arbil) to ensure a fair trial as well as protection from intimidation for his staff, witnesses, and defendants. “I will only attend a court where safety and justice is guaranteed, and this cannot happen in any court in the Green Zone,” Hashemi said in a recent interview, implying Baghdad courts are under the influence of the prime minister. The Judicial Supreme Council has denied official requests made by Hashemi and his defense team to have his trial moved outside Baghdad.

Hashemi and over 70 of his bodyguards were charged last December by the Ministry of Interior for allegedly supporting and carrying out terrorism acts. He has maintained that he is innocent and that the charges brought up against him are politically motivated. Since April 9, he has resided in Istanbul after previously staying in the Kurdish region for months. The trial’s next hearing is scheduled for May 20.    

Mutlaq Returning To Cabinet Sessions

Reports this week suggest that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq is ready to return to cabinet meetings next week. Maliki attempted to sack Mutlaq from his position last December, but was unable to acquire enough support in Parliament to withdraw confidence in his deputy. Back then, Mutlaq had referred to the prime minister as behaving like a dictator during a CNN interview while Maliki was in Washington, DC on an official visit to the White House. He has not participated in a single cabinet session since then. 

Yassin Majid, a parliamentarian in Maliki’s State of Law coalition, stated today that the prime minister had withdrawn his request for a parliamentary no-confidence vote against Mutlaq.  Earlier this month, a source allegedly within Iraqiyya stated to the media that Maliki had sent several mediators to Mutlaq in negotiating the removal of his request to oust the deputy prime minister from power in exchange for Mutlaq to return to cabinet sessions. Reportedly, Deputy Prime Minister and State of Law lawmaker Hussein Shahrastani and senior Da’awa official Sheikh Abd al-Halim al-Zuhairi visited Mutlaq on May 1. This was followed by visits from other Maliki allies, including State of Law parliamentarians Izzat al-Shahbandar and Khalid al-Asadi, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament Qusay al-Suhail from the Sadrist bloc, and Ahmed al-Arabi of the White bloc, which splinted from Iraqiyya last year. The offer communicated was that Mutlaq can resume his post with “all merits” without having to apologize to Maliki, previously a requirement by the prime minister. However, Mutlaq reportedly was refusing then to take up his duties as deputy prime minister “until a change in the government is done.”

15-Day Ultimatum Ends

Maliki’s rapprochement with Mutlaq comes as he faces increasing pressure from other political opponents. In late April, Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani convened a meeting in Arbil with President Jalal Talabani, Speaker Osama al-Nuajfi, Iraqiyya leader Ayad Allawi, and Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to determine the appropriate response to Maliki’s failure to implement the Arbil Agreements and the disputes surrounding last December’s political crisis. They issued a 15-day ultimatum that called for Maliki to adhere to nine demands and indicated Maliki faced the prospect of a no-confidence vote in Parliament should he continue his current course of consolidating power and ignoring previous brokered agreements. The ultimatum ended on Thursday without a response from the prime minister. It is uncertain what course of action the Arbil participants will take next. One possibility is the initiation of a second round of meetings between the political opponents to determine a response against Maliki for failing to satisfy their request.