Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been making comments targeting Turkey since mid-December 2011.
Maliki, in his statements, has argued that Turkey is interfering with the internal affairs of Iraq; however, he has failed to accuse the US, which occupied the country as of 2003, or Iran of doing the same, especially given that Iran even interfered with the appointment of its government. Nobody can argue that Maliki holds constructive and positive views on Turkey. However, he has never made such strong public statements before. Why is he making them now?
Maliki has argued that Turkey has strong ties with the Sunni Arabs in the country through bonds with Sunni leader Tariq al-Hashimi. However, it is a known fact that Turkey has good relations with the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council and its leader, Ammar al-Hakim, as well as the Sadr movement. It is obvious that not all Shiites have trouble with Turkey and that only relations with Maliki and the Dawa Party have deteriorated. This is the best indicator that Turkey has been relying on a discourse that does not put emphasis on sectarianism.
Maliki’s new policy of targeting Turkey since Dec. 2011, which has escalated tension with Ankara, appeared to come to a halt on Jan. 25, when Hakim paid a visit to Ankara. However, Maliki still keeps criticizing and condemning the Sunni-Arab leaders in the country. Over the past week, the Baghdad deputy governor, the Diyala deputy governor and the Salahaddin parliament speaker have been arrested for supporting terrorism. All of them are members of the Sunni al-Iraqiya movement. Vice President Hashimi, another Sunni-Arab politician, is still in Erbil. His motion to be tried in Kirkuk has been dismissed by the Iraqi Supreme Court. Deputy Prime Minister Salih al-Mutlaq may be replaced by another politician from Iraqiya. It is useful to recall that Mutlaq is a former Baath member and that he participated in the elections due to strong demand by the US and Turkey despite the fact he was on a list of those banned from running for office before the March 7, 2010 elections.
As Maliki takes a stronger stance against the Sunni-Arab politicians, the troubles within Iraqiya are manifesting more visibly. The leadership of the party, which protested the cabinet and the parliament after the arrest of Hashimi and did not join the parliamentary sessions, is now unable to control the party group. Some ministers and deputies did not comply with the party’s decision to boycott the parliamentary activities. The Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITC) in the Iraqiya bloc endorsed the party’s decision; however, some of its ministers did not support it.
To what point will Maliki escalate tension? When he was elected prime minister in 2006, Maliki did not have strong tribal or political support. He was appointed prime minister because he was not strong not because he was strong. However, over time, he proved that he was a smart politician, showing that a weak prime minister could actually turn into a strong political figure. He attracted the support of civilian and military bureaucracy, putting emphasis on the unity and integrity of Iraq. It has become a fashion to wear badges and tags of the Iraqi map. Only nine months after the general elections on March 7, 2010, Maliki was able to form the government on Dec. 21, 2010. The new election system and the parties’ preference to take part in the elections as coalitions and political blocs created a divided parliament and government. For this reason, after the withdrawal of the US troops, Maliki has been trying to intimidate the Sunni-Arab politicians. If he succeeds in this plan, Maliki, as argued by reports and analyses, could turn his attention to the Shiite parties and then the Kurds as well to secure a Shiite union in the country.
Maliki’s policies that have been escalating tensions as of late have also led to escalated violence, particularly in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk. The manageable chaotic environment is about to be replaced by an unpredictable chaos in the country.