I disagree with those who accuse Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, of sectarianism. Rather, he is guilty of political opportunism. He currently uses the Sunni-Shiite dispute for the sole aim of remaining in power. With regards to his aims concerning his political rivals, Maliki’s intentions are becoming clearer. I also disagree with those who think he is pursuing and isolating Sunni leaders, despite his public war against the Sunni leadership, his true aim is to eliminate the Shiite leadership.
Maliki knows that most Sunnis, whether they are individual voters or party leaders, will not vote for him in the first place. At the same time, he is aware that the Shiites are frustrated with the manner in which he rules the countryAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Maliki’s desire is to rule Iraq for many years to come. He knows that his real rivals are not Sunni leaders like Tareq al-Hashemi, Rafia al-Issawi or Ahmed Abu Risha but are Shiite leaders like Moqtada al-Sadr, Ammar al-Hakim and even his partner in the party, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. The latter group are the only people capable of dislodging him from power. This is because they compete with him to gain Shiite votes which are impossible to attain in the next elections. His desire to win Shiite votes only comes into question if we assume he will insist to go through the motions of an election to keep power. It must be noted that his participation in the next election is not actually allowed as he has ruled for two terms.
Maliki knows that most Sunnis, whether they are individual voters or party leaders, will not vote for him in the first place. At the same time, he is aware that the Shiites are frustrated with the manner in which he rules the country. After six years of being premier, the country remains without services and jobs, and there is no hope of a stable future. This is why Maliki thinks that his only means to remain in power is to be a Shiite hero by riding the wave of the Sunni-Shiite dispute. This is why he escalated the campaign against Sunni officials, personally confronted their protests and forged cases against them. He thinks this will make him a hero in the eyes of the Shiite fanatics. Sunni criticism and protests against him also make him a victim in the eyes of many Shiites and thus gain him their sympathy. Between being the Sunnis’ victim and the Shiites’ hero, Maliki wants to defeat his competitors among the Shiite leaders who criticize him, like Moqtada al-Sadr. Although Maliki personally engages in verbal battles with Sunni leaders, he avoids such battles with his Shiite rivals. Even when Sadr declares running the political battle against him and besieges him with protests, Maliki avoids clashing with Sadr and his followers.
I do not think Maliki really has disputes with, or vendettas against Sunni leaders. But unfortunately, for the sake of remaining in power, he is willing to commit all sins including sabotaging the social fabric, pushing the country into a long sectarian struggle and perhaps even disuniting Iraq. He is willing to do anything as long as he achieves his aim of remaining a leader.
No convincing reasons
There are no convincing reasons behind the escalation Maliki began against his former Sunni partners. All the Sunnis he fights today are the ones who stood behind him during past years. They are the ones who worked with him in government despite the general Sunni frustration with the large number of jailed Sunni sons and the hundreds of thousands laid off from their jobs because of excuses like eradicating Baathist sympathizers.
The last person Maliki targeted is one of his allies in the war against terrorism, Ahmad Abu Risha, whose brother Abdel Sater is a victim of al-Qaeda terrorists. Sater was killed for leading his tribe, known as Sahwa Forces, to fight and defeat al-Qaeda after the Americans and Maliki’s troops failed to defeat them. What is ironic is that Maliki accuses Abu Risha of cooperating with al-Qaeda although the latter killed the former’s brother!
We will not find a reason for Maliki’s regressive stance other than the hunger for power which he will do anything and everything for. HE is akin to Dictator Saddam Hussein who pursued everyone he felt threatened by on the ruling level. He pursued everyone whether they were Baathist or Sunnis. He killed his best friends and even his daughters’ husbands because they opposed him.
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