Saturday, October 29, 2011

Will Maliki Send Troops into Tikrit?

According to this McClatchy report, Iraq president Nuri al-Maliki has a major crisis on his hands.  

The council of the Iraqi province of Salahuddin, meeting in Tikrit (birthplace of Saddam Hussein - and the great Crusade-era hero known to Europe as Saladin), voted to declare the province a separate region within Iraq.  In other words, they now claim the same semi-autonomous status that's obtained since even before the 2003 invasion for the northern Kurdish provinces that together form the Kurdistan Regional Government.  The Kurds insist on maintaining that status (and would rather have complete independence, if balloting taken several years ago is any indication), and for good reason, given their treatment at the hands of the Arab-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein (and his predecessors).

Salahuddin province is mostly Sunni, and was the heartland of Sunni support for Saddam.  Maliki leads a predominantly religious Shii coalition in a government that is dominated by the Shia, who are not about to allow a resurgence of Sunni political power in Iraq.  Maliki is trying to tar all of Salahuddin's Sunni as Baathists, and terrorists.  But he dare not allow this quasi-separatist initiative to gain momentum.

Unless the council backs down, Maliki will have to move forcefully against them, to squelch the entire movement before it gets rooted and spawns offshoots.  That, in turn, is likely to elicit a response from what remains a well-armed and angry Sunni opposition in Salahuddin and beyond, including Anbar province and cities like Fallujah.  Reuters reported yesterday that thousands of Sunni in Anbar had protested the Maliki government's recent round-up and arrest of Baathists (read: Sunni).  Iraq expert Reidar Visser has pointed out that Baathists and terrorists are not the same thing.  He has also noted that what the Salahuddin provincial council has done is unconstitutional.

I'm not sure that, in today's Iraq, any of that matters.  Maliki has made it clear that when it comes to ensuring his hold on power, he has no compunction about taking extraordinary action: arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as harsh interrogation (i.e., torture).  In an essay strikingly, but aptly, titled "Welcome to Malikistan," Visser notes:

Maliki clarifies that what Salahaddin is not really a declaration of a federal region, since this is not legally possible. This is correct, and thankfully the electoral commission has also contributed on a clarification on the subject, underlining that the governorate can only make the first step towards the creation of a federal region and not simply declare it. But what follows is complete nonsense. Maliki says the government will reject the request for a referendum because it “is based on a sectarian grounds, intended to offer protection of Baathists, and on other unclear grounds”!

This comment by Maliki is tantamount to pissing on the constitution. As long as they stay faithful to the procedures laid down in the law for forming regions, Iraqis can create federal regions for whatever reasons they want. No one has the right to enquire about the motives as long as the modalities are done correctly. If Maliki wants to change that – and there are good reasons for restricting federalism options so as to avoid a constant string of useless federalism attempts – he must work to change the constitution.

It is a sorry sign of the state of play in Iraq that both opponents and proponents of the Salahaddin federal region are now making up their own laws.

At a time when the official US boots-on-the-ground military presence in Iraq is about to end, the portents are not good.

1 comment:

Lysander said...

It seems to me it is Maliki that has the oil and not Tikrit. If he is smart, he will try to buy off the Tikritis rather than fight them.

And the Tikritis can't count on too much money from KSA. The Saudis have to pay for the counter-revolutions in Egypt and Yemen while buying off their own population.

Then again, Maliki may not be smart.

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