descends into sectarian puppet
show By Sami Moubayed
DAMASCUS - The storming of Vice President
Tarek al-Hashemi's office in Baghdad in late
December - on the orders of Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki - went by relatively unnoticed in the
international and Arab media.
were seemingly too busy covering events in Syria
to mind what seemed to be trivial in the complex
world of Arab politics.
recently opened a "temporary office" in his
current exile in Kurdistan, was furious at the
raid and the arrest of two of his employees
without any judicial warrant.
is wanted in Iraq on "terrorist charges" -
"orchestrating bombing attacks" - created a storm
when he accused the post-2003
political system of "drifting from building a
democracy to building an autocratic regime".
He had previously implied that Maliki was
becoming another Saddam Hussein. These calls were
echoed by fellow Sunni, Deputy Prime Minister
Saleh al-Mutlak, who described Maliki in similar
Sunni politicians are furious
with the accusations against Hashemi, which were
leveled on December 19, 2011, with some ministers
boycotting a recent cabinet meeting, voicing their
objection to Maliki's conduct. They claim that
Hashemi's persecution - which targets the Sunni
community as a whole - has Shi'ite Iran's
fingerprints all over it.
Hashemi, 70, is
a heavyweight affiliated with the Iraqi Islamic
Party, the Iraqi branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
He joined the party at the age of 33 in 1975 and
29 years later became a member of its shura
(council) and was elected secretary general.
During the December 2005 elections,
Hashemi led the largest Sunni bloc in parliament,
with 44 members, loosely affiliated with Saudi
Arabia and strongly opposed to Iranian hegemony
over Iraqi politics.
The Iraqi Accordance
Front that he represented nominated him for the
post of vice president, pretty much against the
will of heavyweight Shi'ite politicians, in April
One week after his appointment, his
brother Mahmud was killed by armed Shi'ite
militias and two weeks later so was his sister
In July of the same year, his
second brother, General Omar al-Hashemi, was also
killed, during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan,
by armed gangs.
Hashemi famously opposed
federalism at a time when Iran-backed figures were
demanding an autonomous district for Shi'ites in
southern Iraq, arguing that this would further
divide the carved-up nation and leave Sunnis in
central Iraq with no oil.
demanded division of oil revenues based on
population, and was strongly in favor of
de-Ba'athification and in empowering Sunnis
through military, police and political posts.
A target on his back A closer
look at Hashemi's arrest warrant shows that
Maliki's move had little to do with Hashemi
himself. Although the aging statesmen has been a
headache for Maliki's coalition in recent years,
his mischief was always "controllable" as the man
threatened to walk out on cabinets over and over -
but never took the bold move.
He does not
command a militia that roams the streets, has not
been convicted of any treason and certainly is not
"Saudi Arabia's number one" in Iraqi politics.
The charge brought against him is of
operating a militia in the post-2003 order that is
accused of killing political opponents. Big deal -
by Iraqi standards. If Maliki wanted to go by an
anti-militia yardstick, then he would have to
arrest his prime allies Shi'ite cleric Muqtada
al-Sadr and Ammar al-Hakim, who respectively run
the Mehdi Army and Badr Brigade, two
Iran-affiliated military groups.
warrant, pretty much as he has been saying all
along, is 100% political, aimed at arm-twisting
and scaring the Sunni community at large, which he
Maliki is worried that the
Arab Spring will soon reach Baghdad, now that the
Americans have left, only this time it won't be
society at large rising against an aging despot;
it will be the Sunni minority that ruled Iraq
since creation of the modern country in the 1920s,
against the Shi'ite majority that came into power
after the 2003 toppling of Saddam.
politicians, no doubt, are fed up with paying the
price for Saddam's madness, having been excluded
from top posts like the presidency and premiership
- two jobs that were historically theirs. They
have long voiced loud and legitimate demands; that
Sunni politicians get better representation in top
government posts, are empowered politically
through the judicial, executive and legislative
branches, and that a general amnesty sets
thousands of Sunnis free.
Sunnis have a
long list of demands that they seek to achieve,
which relates to the distribution of oil, for
example, and accountability for Shi'ite militiamen
who have been free to roam the streets of Iraq for
six years, with no accountability whatsoever from
They have been
involved in killing and looting within Sunni
neighborhoods, but almost always Maliki looked the
other way, arresting and persecuting Sunni
As long as the Americans
were around, Sunnis felt there was little they
could do to get rid of Maliki and his team, seeing
that the prime minister had been brought to power
by the George W Bush administration and kept in
his job by President Barack Obama.
always felt that Iran had handled the 2003
toppling of Saddam as a blessing in disguise,
using it to prop up loyalists like Ibrahim
al-Jaafari, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, his son Ammar,
and Maliki himself, in top positions.
Hashemi - like so many of his allies -
were waiting for the day that the Americans
withdrew their troops to strike at Maliki. The
Arab Spring no doubt awakened their appetite, and
so did fresh Saudi backing after its new Crown
Prince Nayef Ibn Abdul-Aziz came to power last
Nayef is adamant about getting
the Iranians out of Iraq, which he considers Saudi
Arabia's own backyard and the crux of its national
security. Having an old grudge to settle with the
Iranians, based on historical, political and
religious rivalries, Nayef will not rest until he
restores Sunni supremacy to Iraq and is a main
supporter for the upcoming "Sunni Spring" in
Hashemi was earmarked to become
one of the pillars of this uprising, and was
struck down early by Maliki, as a pre-emptive move
to frighten his allies and break the backbone of
the Sunni rebellion. It certainly will not stop
it, but it very much might slow it down. The real
target is Saudi Arabia, not Tarek al-Hashemi.
Sami Moubayed is a university
professor, historian and editor-in-chief of
Forward Magazine in Syria.
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