Saudi Arabia started distancing itself from Iraq a long time before Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reached power in Iraq eight years ago.
The kingdom believed that the United States was too tangled in Iraq and should have left the Iraqis to deal with their problems alone. After toppling Saddam Hussein, the U.S. asked Saudi Arabia to intervene and help them in the political process to form the new Iraq.
But Riyadh chose to distance itself from post-war Iraq, even to the extent of banning its businessmen from dealing with Iraqi and American operations in Iraq. All the multi-billion-dollar projects were assigned to Kuwaiti companies and others.
When the U.S. empowered Ghazi al-Yawar al-Jarba, an Arab Iraqi Sunni who is close to Saudi Arabia, (He lived and studied in the kingdom) and made him Iraq’s first president after the fall of Saddam Hussein, through the governing council in 2004 - Riyadh refused to deal with him.
Persuading in vain
Jarba used to visit Saudi Arabia on a personal level and not as a President. Many have tried in vain to convince Riyadh to change its self-distancing policy and participate in drawing the future of Iraq.
Maliki - far from being a religious leader - is a politician who is always keen on exploiting Shiite fanatics to rally his ranks within the Sunni-Shiite struggleAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Hence the problem was not with Maliki in person and not even with Shiite politicians. It was the Saudi government’s policy, no matter if we think it was right or wrong.
Instead of thanking Saudi Arabia for distancing itself from Iraq and not supporting any party for 10 years, Maliki has consistently attacked the kingdom, although knowing that it is a powerful neighboring country that includes eminent Sunni religious authorities.
On good terms
Maliki knew that the kingdom was on good terms with the U.S. and could have changed the balance during the occupation years, but it didn’t. Maliki’s mistake was not that he attacked Saudi Arabia; it is a tactic that he adopted along with many of his ministers for political reasons. He committed a huge mistake against his country and citizens.
For eight years, he purposely refrained from instituting a national reconciliation process, even though he had all the abilities to do so, especially in light of the wide system of government that can embrace everybody. Instead of reconciliation and participation, he adopted an extreme centralization policy, without engaging anyone although he was in charge of a coalition government. He maintained the tension between all parties, thinking that it will weaken his rivals..
He is not the leader of the Dawa party that he belongs to, has no religious authority, and is not a national politician who can unite the numerous factions. He adopted a sectarian policy and did not act against Sunnis who were against him but he prosecuted Sunnis who accepted to work with him, and dared to stand against other Sunni fanatics, like Saleh al-Mutlaq, Rafeh al-Issawi, al-Nujaifi and others.
Keen on exploitation
In my opinion, Maliki - far from being a religious leader - is a politician who is always keen on exploiting Shiite fanatics to rally his ranks within the Sunni-Shiite struggle. Shiites who are against him are well-known for being from clerical dynasties, like Muqtada al-Sadr and Ammar al-Hakim, who are supported by millions of Iraqis.
Both Sadr and Hakim have developed a better political project than Maliki and ironically are less sectarian than he is. Maliki believes that by oppressing Sunnis and resorting to intimidation and incitement, he will gain more popularity and isolate all other Shiite leaders.
Maliki has also marginalized the majority of Shiite party representatives who led him into the government, by monopolizing authorities, to the extent that he has established in the premiership a huge-budgeted office to deal with key ministries, thus taking away the powers of ministers.
The new Saddam
He is doing what Saddam did before him. When Mosul and other cities and regions fell in the hands of ISIS, he started blaming the army since there is no one else to blame - he is the minister of defense, interior, finance and intelligence.
This is why Maliki is searching for a solution to evade his responsibilities. If he were in another country, he would have been put on trial and held accountable. To be exempted from blame, he invented a conspiracy theory, but who are the conspirators?
He did not name anyone, because if he had gone into the details it would not have been convincing.
He is the defense minister who appointed all army commanders, including those in Mosul and the rest of Nineveh: they all let him down despite being in their majority Shiites. The same applies for military and security intelligence.
A victim of Maliki
When Homs was attacked by ISIS militants and local armed men, the army did not fight back. Instead, its officers fled, leaving thousands of soldiers in danger. The army was also the victim of Maliki’s decisions, wrong choices and corruption.
He blamed regional countries, including Saudi Arabia. How can Saudi Arabia conspire against a country that has more troops than it has, and that are also trained by the U.S.? Why would Saudi Arabia conspire against changing the regime, after avoiding intervention in forming a new regime for 10 consecutive years?
Finally, Iraq cannot handle more problems, and neither does the region, especially that the conflict-ridden country is at a fork in the road.
Iraq needs to restore its broken parts and start addressing its real problems through internal reconciliation, and should establish a government that can embrace all parties, or follow the lies and sink deeper into further fatal errors.
The article was first published on Asharq al-Awsat on June 20, 2014.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.SHOW MORE