Iraq's Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update 19
Iraq’s Post-Withdrawal Crisis, Update #19 April 20, 2012-April 27, 2012
By Stephen Wicken
Maliki Visits Tehran
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki traveled to Tehran this week to meet with senior Iranian figures including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and First Vice President Reza Rahimi. Maliki was accompanied by Transport Minister Aamer Abdel Jabbar, Trade Minister Abdelfallah al-Sudani, and Electricity Minister Kareem Waheed, but not by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a decision which drew criticism from the Kurdish Alliance. Discussing bilateral relations with Maliki on Sunday, Ahmadinejad stated that if Iraq and Iran remained “powerful and esteemed,” there would be no room in the region for the U.S. and Israel. Rahimi added that the two countries enjoy a “unique and unbreakable” relationship. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei congratulated Maliki and Iraq on the “great success” of the American withdrawal from Iraq, which Khamenei said “was achieved through the resistance of the [Iraqi] government and by showing the collective and national will in Iraq.” Maliki’s State of Law coalition was subsequently forced to deny that Rahimi had called during his meeting with Maliki for an official unification of Iran and Iraq, saying that Rahimi’s apparent call for the two countries to be “completely united” was simply a metaphor for ambitious collaboration between the two countries and that Iraq seeks to function as a mediator between Iran and the Arabs. Maliki also met with Grand Ayatollah Mahmud Shahrudi, an Iraqi-born member of the Iranian Guardian Council who has previously been linked to Maliki’s Dawa party and backed by to succeed Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as head of Iraq’s Shia community.
Maliki’s War of Words with Erdogan
The Iraqi government summoned the Turkish ambassador on Sunday to protest remarks Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made about Maliki’s “self-centered” behavior towards “coalition partners.” Maliki responded by accusing Turkey of behaving like a “hostile state” aiming to establish hegemony in the region. The Turkish Foreign Ministry followed suit, calling Iraqi chargé d’affaires Sudat Hidir to tell him that Maliki’s comments were “unacceptable.” Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who faces terrorism charges in Iraq but has been in Turkey for the past few weeks, contested Maliki’s claim that Erdoğan’s statements constituted interference with Iraq’s internal affairs, noting that it is natural for Turkey to be concerned with developments in neighboring Iraq.
On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stressed during a meeting with the leader of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, Esad Salihi, that Turkey rejects any discrimination on ethnic and sectarian lines in Iraq. Davutoğlu also denied that Iran was behind Maliki’s standoff with Turkey, saying that such polarization “has never been an issue, and from now on we won’t let it happen.” Davutoğlu insisted that Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi briefed him by phone both before and after Salehi’s meeting with Maliki in Tehran.
Barzani Escalates Rhetoric towards Baghdad
Kurdish Regional President Massoud Barzani made two statements this week that hinted at moves towards Kurdish statehood. On Monday, he warned against the proposed U.S. sale of 36 F-16 jets to Baghdad, alleging that Maliki had discussed the use of the planes against Kurdistan during a meeting with military advisers. Barzani said that should Maliki be allowed to control the aircraft, the Kurds would “adopt another stand.” In a subsequent interview with the Associated Press, Barzani called for a September deadline for the formulation of a power-sharing agreement to resolve the political crisis. If the impasse is not broken by the time of Kurdish regional elections in September, said Barzani, Iraqi Kurds may hold a referendum to decide whether they want to “live under a dictatorial regime” or in an independent state. Barzani also said that he “wholeheartedly” supports Sunni efforts to create their own self-ruled regions in Iraq.
Barzani also worked to bring other parties on board with his stance against Maliki. On Tuesday, the Kurdish Regional Presidency announced that 13 Kurdish political parties had agreed to unify Kurdish discourse towards Baghdad, with only the Kurdish Gorran movement, which holds eight seats in Parliament, not participating.
Sadr, Sadrists to Arbil
Muqtada al-Sadr continued his double game with regard to Maliki, announcing a visit to Arbil to discuss ways to prevent “the emergence of a new dictatorship in Iraq.” At the ensuing meeting with Barzani on Thursday, however, Sadr stressed the need for Iraqi unity, announcing an 18-point program for resolving the political crisis that emphasizes power-sharing. Sadr refused to answer questions about whether the Sadrists would join in an attempt to unseat Maliki.
On Tuesday, Kurdish Alliance leader Fouad Masum announced plans for a separate consultative meeting on the political situation to be held in Arbil on May 7, to which Sadr would be the first invitee. Sadr’s Ahrar bloc accepted the invitation but said that it would not make concessions that would break up the National Alliance. State of Law MPs accused Barzani of attempting to derail ongoing preparations for a National Conference in Baghdad mandated by President Jalal al-Talabani, insisting there is no need for a separate meeting. A Kurdish Alliance spokesman maintained that the Arbil meeting was not intended to sideline or replace the Baghdad meeting but to supplement it in order to arrive more quickly at a political solution.
Preparations for National Conference Proceed Without Iraqiyya
While Barzani made plans for his consultative meeting in Arbil, the preparatory committee for the National Meeting met in Baghdad on Tuesday without representatives from the Iraqiyya bloc. An Iraqiyya spokesman said that the bloc would return to the Preparatory Committee only after receiving guarantees on the implementation of the Arbil Agreement as a “goodwill gesture.” Representatives for the National Alliance were given the responsibility of drafting a proposed agenda for the National Meeting. On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Accord Movement within Iraqiyya, Hadi al-Zalmi, reiterated that Maliki must adhere to the Arbil Agreement in order to remain in his post.