Political Update: The Hashemi Verdict & the Health of Democracy in Iraq

On Sunday, Iraq’s Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi was sentenced to death by hanging after he and his son-in-law were convicted of organizing the murders of a security official and a lawyer. All told, Hashemi is subject to more than 150 charges of terrorism based upon allegations that he used death squads to target his political opponents. The verdict carries distressing implications for short-term domestic security in Iraq and for diplomatic relations with neighboring Turkey, where Hashemi currently resides and has been based since his trial began. While some observers view the case against Hashemi in purely sectarian terms, the targeting of a Sunni politician in a Shi’ite-led state, the sentence in fact highlights the pernicious nature of personal rivalries within Iraqi politics. Further, it demonstrates the politicization of the Iraqi judicial system under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has commandeered Iraq’s legal institutions in order to consolidate power around his inner circle. 

Hashemi is a leading member of the Iraqiyya coalition of secular and liberal politicians and Sunni Islamists that nominally has shared power with Maliki since 2010. A former leader of what was Iraq’s largest Sunni Islamist group, the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), Hashemi left the IIP in 2009 to form the avowedly non-sectarian Tajdeed (Renewal) List. Although he has held the post of Vice President of Iraq since 2006 and was once seen as a possible partner for Maliki in the Bush administration’s attempts to sideline Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Hashemi has long been at loggerheads with the Prime Minister. As early as 2006, Hashemi began drawing attention to Maliki’s consolidation of authority around a select group of members of his Da’awa party and accusing Maliki of sectarian, pro-Shi’ite policies. During Maliki’s first government, Hashemi complained repeatedly that the Prime Minister ignored the actions of Shi’ite death squads targeting Sunnis. Hashemi threatened to resign from the government in May 2007, saying that Maliki was excluding Sunnis from decision-making.