Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued an arrest warrant Monday for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. Iraq’s highest-ranking Sunni official is accused of running a hit squad that assassinated government and security officials. This critical development comes just days after U.S. troops left after nine long years of war there.
This is bad news for a country mired in sectarian hostility between Sunnis and Shiites. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is trying to consolidate as much power as he can for his party while the U.S. is no longer on the ground. There seems to be no end in sight for Iraq’s struggle finding political stability.
Major General Adil Daham, Iraq’s Interior Ministry Spokesman, said on Iraqi state television, “An arrest warrant has been issued against Vice President al-Hashemi under the terrorism law and five judges have signed this warrant.”
Iraqi state TV showed a half hour of poor quality video with three men described as former bodyguards for Hashemi. The three men go on to confess planting bombs in public squares and firing upon convoys. One of them even admits to having been paid three thousand dollars by the al-Hashemi for one such attack.
An aide of Hashemi has told the New York Times that the vice president denies any such wrongdoing, although the three men did work for him at one point. Iraq’s Supreme Court has recently ordered that al-Hashemi cannot leave the country. He is supposedly in Kurdistan.
Just before the warrant was issued, Prime Minister al-Maliki attempted to get parliament to take up a no confidence vote against Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq (a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc along with Hashemi). It seems as though the leader of the Shiite-dominated government is vying for more power at the expense of the Sunni minority, who many Shiites resent for their association with Saddam Hussein’s rule.
Politics in Bagdad may turn for the worse as the Prime Minister tries to maintain his party’s control of the Interior and Defense Ministries. Having control of each allows for authority over Iraq’s police and military forces. Sunni officials are suspicious of Maliki’s recent moves and view the vice president’s warrant to be politically motivated.
As for the U.S. response to all of this, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has stated, “We are urging all sides to work to resolve differences peacefully and through dialogue in a manner consistent with the rule of law and the democratic political process.”
The political situation in Iraq may never cool down. What we may see in the coming weeks and months could involve further sectarian rifts amongst government officials and possibly armed conflicts. The people of Iraq are fearful that the “uneasy peace” between the Sunni minority and Shiite majority will falter and restart violence. As Sunnis feel more marginalized and Maliki continues his increasingly authoritarian stance, Iraq’s long battle for political stability remains far from over.
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