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The Post is reporting that there are three departments of the Iraqi government — defense, internal security and transportation — vying for control of the more than 90,000 foreign contractors in Iraq. It is not a coincidence that the defense ministry is currently headed by a Sunni and interior by a Shiite, although there are negotiations under way to appoint new ministers to those two vital departments. The sectarian split in Iraq is growing as the Maliki government is seeking to consolidate its power and his coalition partners — including Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister and head of the party that received the most votes in the 2010 elections — warns of “a political process which is not inclusive, [that] can only destroy the future of this country.”
Allawi told CNN, “Sectarianism is coming back in force in this country. I think that Iraq is passing through the most dangerous phase through its history now.” He says that the US has a moral obligation to use its diplomatic influence to bring “sanity” back to Iraq.
Allawi backed out of the power sharing deal with Maliki when the prime minister refused to accord his Iraqi National Movement the number and importance of ministries commensurate with his narrow victory at the polls. Since then, Maliki has been running roughshod over the minority Sunni and Kurdish parties who are part of his coalition, leading eventually to charging his Sunni vice president, Tarez al-Hashemi, with heading up a death squad during the civil war and after. Hashemi fled to Kurdistan and there has been a standoff ever since as the Kurds refuse to turn him over to Maliki despite an Iraqi court order that they do so. (Iraqi courts are largely controlled by the Shiites.)
The Sunnis have begun pushing back. On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Al Mutlaq called on Maliki to resign, saying he was turning Iraq into a “dictatorship.” In an interview with Gulf News, Al Mutlaq said, “The longer Al Maliki stays in power, the higher the possibility of a divided Iraq.” Mutlaq’s Sunni backed party has been boycotting parliament and cabinet meetings in protest of what he says are Maliki’s efforts “to consolidate power, particularly over state security forces.”
It is no accident that Maliki’s strong arm tactics began almost before the last American vehicle had left Iraqi soil last month. President Obama’s precipitous withdrawal from Iraq may be politically popular at home, but it is turning into a disaster for the Iraqis.
That fact is borne out by Al-Qaeda in Iraq apparently being rejuvenated by the departure of American troops. They have resumed mass casualty terrorist attacks that have killed more than 200 Iraqis — mostly Shiites — in the last month. Over the weekend, 53 Shiite pilgrims were killed by a car bomb in Basra. On Sunday, an apparent attempt by Sunni insurgents to affect the release of some prisoners resulted in 18 people killed, including the attackers, at a jail near Ramadi. And on Monday, 11 Iraqis were killed outside of Mosul in another sectarian-inspired attack.
Also on Monday, three other attacks killed 4 and injured dozens. Not all the attacks are thought to be carried out by al-Qaeda. But the political situation is having an effect on what’s happening on the ground in Iraq as sectarian tensions skyrocket and the fragile fabric of Iraq’s political culture unravels.
The crisis appears to be beyond the ability — and the desire – of Prime Minister Maliki to solve. An attempt is being made to get multi-party negotiations going again but there is no sign that Maliki will share power with the Sunnis and Kurds in any meaningful way. The more intransigent he becomes, the more distrust he sows with other political blocs who are more and more disenfranchised with each passing day.
The possibility that Iraq will fly apart at the seams with Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites forming their own autonomous regions has perhaps never been greater. The real danger is if Iraq were divided, the weakness of its separate parts would invite al-Qaeda to set up shop and Iran to further dominate the Shiites. This would present a brand new set of strategic problems for the United States and our friends in the region, and cause untold suffering and bloodshed for the Iraqi people.
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