Targeting Mutlak and Hashemi: Towards Full Political Disintegration in Iraq?
Sunday, 18 December 2011 13:15
Only days after Maliki’s Washington photo-op and with the US withdrawal formally sealed, Iraqi politics is alive again – but for all the wrong reasons. Yesterday saw unprecedented statements by people close to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that a move is afoot to withdraw confidence in Deputy Premier Salih al-Mutlak of Iraqiyya (on charges of incompetence) and to bring legal charges against Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, also of Iraqiyya, for alleged involvement in the recent terror attack against the Iraqi parliament.
It should be stressed that so far much of this remains rumours and statements. Iraqiyya leaders say no formal request to parliament nor any arrest warrants have been seen so far. However, to some extent, the exact formal status of these proceedings does not really make that much difference. Mentally speaking the cat is out of the bag anyway: Here are two abrupt attacks by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki against participants in his own government. Two lines of attack are being followed, one political and the other judicial.
With respect to the Mutlak case, given his latest comments to US media about the nature of Maliki’s regime it is perhaps unsurprising that Maliki should take some action: When Mutlak accused Maliki of being a dictator, Maliki allies quipped back that Mutlak was the deputy dictator! Whether Maliki has the parliamentary support base to do this remains to be seen. In this matter, Maliki can probably count on the Shiites outside the State of Law alliance (Sadrists and ISCI), since many of them are bitterly opposed to Mutlak for his past association with the Baath party (after previously having been targeted judicially, Mutlak was formally exempted from de-Baathification proceedings as part of the December 2010 government-formation compromise). It is also interesting that the move against Mutlak and the Iraqiyya boycott comes at a time when the general amnesty law is making progress in parliament: That was a case of Iraqiyya and the Sadrists uniting against Maliki.
It is more unclear what the Kurds would do and their votes should be needed even if Iraqiyya continues to boycott parliament since sacking a minister in theory requires an “absolute majority”. Given his penchant for exploiting potential legal loopholes, it is however not entirely unlikely that Maliki may try to make use of ambiguity that arguably exists in that the constitution regarding the definition of an absolute majority in this particular case: In most instances, the constitution explicitly refers to an “absolute majority of the members of parliament”, but with regard to the sacking of individual ministers it speaks only about an “absolute majority” (aghlabiyya mutlaqa). This may well have originated as a simple clerical omission, especially since the concept of a “simple majority” (aghlabiyya basita) occurs elsewhere in the constitution. In other words it would be a an exercise – far-fetched perhaps? – of redefining all of this as plurality, simple majority and absolute majority respectively. Under that kind of scenario, of course, the Shiite Islamists might theoretically seek to sack Mutlak singlehandedly.
As regards Hashemi, this very much looks like a judicial attack on a political enemy that Maliki would probably not be able to get rid of in parliament: Last spring, Maliki had more trouble getting his own vice-presidential candidate, Khudayr al-Khuzaie, confirmed than Hashemi had with respect to his own candidature. Today, there is a statement from the higher judicial council to the effect that it will create a special investigatory committee to look into the accusations against Hashemi’s security detail – a judicial approach that in itself seems ad hoc and extraordinary.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect in all of this is that Maliki is targeting people with a record for compromise. Both Mutlak and Hashemi have at times taken chances with their own constituencies for the sake of cooperating within the Iraqi political system. Back in 2009, Mutlak led a rapprochement attempt towards Maliki, whereas Hashemi was vice-president in the previous parliamentary cycle despite opposition from many Sunni Muslims. When Hashemi was labelled “Baathist” by the Sadrist Bahaa al-Aaraaji in autumn 2009, the revulsion against Aaraji in parliament included many Shiite Islamists and Kurds.
Symptomatic of all that is going on are perhaps today’s developments in Diyala. The embattled, pro-federal governorate council is in emergency session in the Kurdish-dominated Khanaqin. They complain about armed Shiite demonstrations in Baquba and the inability of the government security forces to provide adequate security. This is a pattern we have seen before: Secularists and Sunnis withdrawing to the Kurds in times of trouble with Maliki.
So far the Kurds have a track record of hosting Iraqiyya in a friendly manner and then ultimately betraying them in bilateral deals with Maliki.