Published: February 12, 2010
To resolve a dispute with the Tikrit provincial council this week, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq did what any good autocrat would do: He sent in the army. The problem is, Mr. Maliki isn’t supposed to be an autocrat. And the United States didn’t train Iraq’s Army so it could be used for political coercion.
This is just the most recent example of thuggery by Mr. Maliki, who is determined to do anything he can to win re-election next month. If he and his Shiite-led government continue this way, the vote will not be seen as legitimate and opposition groups may well return to violence. That would be a disaster for Iraqis and the United States, which is supposed to be on its way out of Iraq.
The Tikrit dispute began last fall when the newly elected provincial council voted to dismiss the provincial governor, Mtasher Hussein Ulaiwi, claiming negligence. Mr. Ulaiwi refused to step down and was finally removed from office.
Eager to curry favor with Mr. Ulaiwi’s Iraqi Islamic Party, which includes the speaker of Parliament and other prominent Sunni leaders, Mr. Maliki ordered the army to occupy the provincial council’s office for two weeks to block the seating of a new governor.
Talks led to the appointment of an acting governor, but Mr. Maliki is still trying to influence the choice of a permanent governor. This week, he sent the troops back. As of Friday, they were still there.
Meanwhile, in Diyala Province, government forces have arrested a leading candidate from one of the main blocs challenging Mr. Maliki’s coalition. The arrest came just days after the candidate participated in a debate in which he criticized those security forces.
And Mr. Maliki continues to defend his government’s efforts to disenfranchise hundreds of mainly Sunni candidates because of alleged ties to the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein.
We were relieved when an Iraqi appeals court overturned the ban and said it would review each candidate’s eligibility. The court then spent only a few days on that review, and it now appears that fewer than one-quarter of the 500 banned candidates will be allowed to run.
We have never disputed the government’s right to vet candidates. But the process has been suspiciously opaque. This is a very dangerous game. Mr. Maliki has a responsibility to put his country’s interests above his own political ambition. If he doesn’t understand that, Washington needs to remind him.
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