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Why is Iraq’s Maliki fighting al-Qaeda now?

Raed Omari

Published: Updated:

Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki no doubt is relieved about Anbar uprising against his totalitarian rule, shifting the fighting against al Qaeda-linked militants in Falluja and Ramadi. Iraqi troops are now more remembered and hailed as bravely fighting terrorists belonging to the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) with little mention of their recent crackdown on antigovernment insurgents in the western province of Anbar.

The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad has benefited from the presence of the al-Qaeda affiliated ISIL, the Ahrar al Sham Islamic Movement and Jabhat al-Nusra, and Iraq’s strongman al-Maliki is now renewing his legitimacy by declaring himself on the anti-terrorism front.

To make the long story short, both embattled leaders are shaping the struggle in their countries to their political advantage.

Exaggerating the threat for personal agenda

For al-Maliki, the “abrupt” presence of ISIL, formerly known as the al-Qaeda in Iraq, has constituted a must-be-seized opportunity to crush the annoying one-year-old Anbar Awakening of the “marginalized” Sunnis against his Shiite-led government in which he also expects international support.

There is actually a big question mark over the timing of al-Maliki’s war on the ISIL. Why now? Why not before? Al-Maliki, whose forces’ bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters in Anbar was launched on the pretext of clearing of al-Qaeda affiliates, has done nothing to eliminate radical groups.

Progress has not been made on this front since the outbreak of the anti-government uprising in the Sunni-dominated Anbar where protesters have been demonstrating against what they see as marginalization of their sect by the premier’s Shiite-led government.

Oddly enough, al-Maliki, whose government reached a U.S.-backed deal in 2007 with Sunni tribal leaders in what is known at the time as “Sahwa councils” to bring about an end to the terrorism, has now turned on these groups and arrested their leaders.

For al-Maliki, it is as if combating terrorism is a “seasonal” war, fought not according to a systematic approach but only occasionally when it serves his political agenda.

Let’s put aside al-Maliki’s claimed war against terrorism. The embattled premier has in fact decided to move decisively on the Anbar uprising – citing the al-Qaeda as a pretext to crush the protesters – when the awakening there began gaining momentum with Iraq being named as the fifth Arab state to officially join the “Arab Spring Club.”

Same manipulation, different country

In Syria, it is the same story. The Syrian regime exaggerated the presence and danger of radical Islamist groups, presenting them as gaining grounds within Syria all with the aim of scaring the U.S. and international community of al-Assad’s potential replacement and portraying the embattled president’s war as part of the global war on terror.

The conclusion is that the ISIL and other radical groups are in fact there in Syria and Iraq and while they do pose a threat to the region’s security and stability, it is also certain their threat has been exaggerated to serve certain political agenda.

Raed Omari

Remarkably enough, the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) has always been underestimated and referred to with abhorrence in Syria’s official rhetoric as “barbarian” radical Islamists fighters, described as heavily-armed and of serious danger to the world’s stability.

Now aside from the Syrian regime’s exaggeration of the al-Qaeda affiliates and other radical groups, the Syrian people are trying to repair the distorted uprising and are fighting against the ISIL to reclaim its revolution. Many provinces in the war-torn Syria have recently seen rallies against the wrong doings of the ISIL, manifested in killings and kidnappings.

Except maybe for the national FSA, the war against the Syrian regime has been fought by foreign fighters from Tunisia, Chechnya and other states but not solely by the Syrian people. This also has contributed to the distortion to the Syrian revolution because those radical fighters have been busy in fights against each other and not against the Syrian regime. The Syrian people should have the upper hand over the struggle in their country and they seem to be determined to do so this time.

The conclusion is that the ISIL and other radical groups are in fact there in Syria and Iraq and while they do pose a threat to the region’s security and stability, it is also certain their threat has been exaggerated to serve certain political agenda. The Americans are fully aware of that aspect already and that is the reason behind their unwillingness to engage in the al-Maliki's anti-terror war they themselves once launched.

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Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via raed_omari1977@yahoo.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.