Iraq is facing renewed sectarian tension just as U.S. forces finishing leaving the country. On Monday, the Iraqi government issued an arrest warrant and travel ban on Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni. At the same time, Prime Minister al-Maliki, a Shiite, is calling for the firing of Vice Prime Minister Saleh Mutlak, a Sunni. To make matters worse, Moqtada al-Sadr says he will revive his Iranian-backed Shiite militia in 2012 if any American personnel, including civilians, remain. His forces have much Sunni blood on their hands.
The Iraqi government claims that Vice President Hashemi is involved in terrorism, an accusation he says is politically motivated and comes from Maliki. It is claimed that he has a hit squad to kill Shiite officials, including Maliki. Three of his bodyguards were arrested and 13 detained. Their testimony incriminating Hashemi was aired on television. Hashemi’s supporters believe their testimony was coerced.
“I swear to God that I never committed a sin when it comes to Iraqi blood,” Hashemi said during a press conference in Iraqi Kurdistan. He also thanked Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, for his hospitality.
Maliki is also demanding that Vice Prime Minister Saleh Mutlak, another Sunni, lose his position after he accused Maliki of acting like a dictator and being worse than Saddam Hussein. This indicates that Maliki is waging a political offensive against the Sunni leadership. This may be encouraged by Iran, as both Sunni officials consistently warn of its meddling.
It is very possible that the charges are politically-motivated, but it must be remembered that Hashemi has extremist ties. He is a leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate. The Brotherhood has existed in Iraq since the 1940s. In November 1991, its periodical stated that there is a “U.S.-led western conspiracy which was plotting to destroy it [Iraq] in the interests of Israel and ensuring oil supplies to the western world.” One of its pamphlets explicitly said that Iraq should be an Islamic state and that “Islam would have to be re-implemented slowly and gradually” but without violence.
He and his Iraqi Islamic Party colleagues were staunch supporters of a timetable for American forces to leave and legitimized the insurgents targeting Coalition forces. “You call it ‘insurgents,’ we call it ‘resistance,’” Hashemi said, though he condemned Al-Qaeda and said the terrorist group should not be coupled with Iraqis trying to expel Coalition forces. In the same December 2006 interview, though, Hashemi noted that only 20-25,000 of the Coalition forces were combat soldiers, and said more were needed.
Maliki’s Sunni opponents are part of the al-Iraqiya bloc, which is led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. He is a secular Shiite that is hated by Iran and looked upon favorably by the U.S. The bloc holds 82 of the 325 seats in Iraq’s parliament and it is now boycotting ministerial and parliamentarian meetings.
Al-Iraqiya is the strongest rival to Maliki, and it is possible that these charges reflect growing ties between Maliki and Iran. For example, the Iraqi delegation that recently met with President Obama included the Minister of Transportation, Hadi Farhan al-Amiri. He was a commander in the Iranian-backed Badr Brigades militia. When FOX News investigated it, a White House source pointed out that the Bush Administration also met with Iranian-tied officials. FOX was shown a photo of President Bush meeting with Sayyed Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Iranian-backed Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. In 2006, U.S. forces arrested two members of Iran’s al-Quds Force at al-Hakim’s compound where they were meeting with al-Amiri.
The sectarian tension is particularly worrisome because U.S. forces have now left Iraq. The Sunnis distrust the Iraqi security forces, arguing that they are often a tool of sectarian forces. Moqtada al-Sadr is threatening to reconstitute his Mehdi Army militia so it can target any remaining American civilian presence, such as contractors. There is reportedly discussion about 800 to 1,000 American trainers returning to Iraq. If his militia is revived, the Sunnis will likely be provoked into bringing back their own militias, even if al-Sadr says he won’t target Iraqis.
Iraq is now facing its moment of truth. Now that American forces are gone, it will now be seen whether Iraq’s fragile democratic beginnings can be preserved or if it will fall into renewed authoritarianism and Iranian hegemony. Its sectarian communities will have to come together for the common good or watch the country spiral into violence and political dysfunction once again.
The Iraqis are deciding their own future now and it is up to them to get it right.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.