Iraq after the U.S.
"On December 18, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki requested the dismissal of his deputy, Saleh al-Mutlaq...
"The next day, December 19, an arrest warrant was issued for Iraqi vice-president Tariq al-Hashemi, also a Sunni, on terrorism charges.
"On December 20, Mutlaq was prevented from entering the cabinet building in Baghdad. The same day, vehicles in which two Sunni politicians were travelling in the west of the capital came under fire, apparently from members of the Iraqi security forces.
"Although Mutlaq and Hashemi are the two most senior Sunni Arabs in positions of power, the authorities insist the proceedings against them have nothing to do with sectarian politics.
"State-run television last week showed what purported to be the confessions of Hashemi’s bodyguards, in which they said they assassinated health and foreign ministry officials and Baghdad police officers. They alleged that Hashemi paid them 3,000 US dollars for each attack...
"Hashimi left Baghdad and went to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north after security forces raided his home and office and arrested some of his staff...
"On December 21, the prime minister made it clear he no longer felt bound by the power-sharing agreement in which posts are shared out among Iraq’s various ethnic and confessional groups. Instead, he announced, he would be setting up a new majority-based cabinet."
The story here is that while Iraq today is politically freer with far more democratic features than it had under Saddam Hussein, the game being played is still one of which faction will dominate the state and the webs of government patronage that makes possible. In the decades prior to the 2003 Anglo-American invasion, the nation was ruled through the Ba'ath Party, which was dominated by military officers from the Sunni regions around Baghdad where power was concentrated under the Ottomans and British. After the complete collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, power passed to militias, either Shi'ites trained by Iran or Sunni units rooted in the old Iraqi army and augmented by foreign salafi fighters. The Sunnis wound up losing that civil war, which was at its peak from 2006-2009 and saw the end of mixed neighborhoods as people were forced to join their co-religionists for their own protection.
Prime Minister al-Maliki came to office through elections, but his power also rests on his dominance of a government which controls much of the economy and security services dominated by veterans of those same Shi'ite militias. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Sunnis live as refugees elsewhere in the Arab world, and al-Maliki's government is in no hurry to repatriate them. This is why Iraq's government is widely perceived, not as democracy, but as control by a sectarian strongman, and why those elsewhere in the Arab world always cited it as a negative example rather than a model. This is also why, over the past few months, Sunni regions have begun seeking autonomy:
"In recent months, Anbar, Salahuddin and Diyala Provinces have each pushed for a public vote on creating their own regional governments...
"Early Friday morning, Iraqi police commandos arrested a leading advocate of Salahuddin Province’s push for regional status and seized his computer and reams of documents, security officials said. They did not say why he had been detained.
"The provinces are not seeking a total divorce from the rest of Iraq, just a wider separation in the mold of Kurdistan, the relatively prosperous and safe area in northern Iraq. The Kurds, who have lived for decades as a people apart from the rest of Iraq, have their own Parliament and president, command their own security forces and have signed lucrative oil deals with foreign companies without Baghdad’s approval."
American forces have withdrawn, but the future of the country remains undecided. Its leaders treat their posts as fiefdoms through which to build their own power bases, and the general public fears a collapse of the security situation should competition among those leaders get too out of hand. Furthermore, the empowerment of a previously disadvantaged Shi'ite population has come at the direct expense of Iraq's Arab Sunnis, and that fact, kept firmly in Arab consciousness by the refugee problem, has been perhaps the most significant ingredient in a spike in anti-Shi'ite attitudes among Sunnis throughout the region. I will not say the country was better off under Saddam Hussein, but no one should pretend for political reasons that the U.S. has mid-wifed a stable democracy rather than a weak yet abusive state in a battered society which serves, not as a model of freedom, but a source of instability.
(Crossposted to American Footprints)