Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki does not tire of reiterating the words national reconciliation, closing the ranks, eliminating sectarianism and foreign infiltration and purging the security forces of sectarian and partisan tendencies. However, more than anything else; he likes to talk about his Iraqi identity and the immortal Iraqi state.
This is what we have been hearing since he assumed the premiership in April 2006 succeeding Ibrahim al Jaafari who was preoccupied with rhetoric, debate, fatwas [religious edicts] relating to Muslim pilgrims and protecting the Mehdi militias when matters became heated. Perhaps Muqtada [al Sadr] and his youth’s rifles helped him create a popular support base, something which the sweet-talking al Jaafari had lacked.
Nuri al Maliki, however, came as part of the security program and in the midst of Sunni, Arab, and international criticism over the sectarian penetration of security agencies. He was asked to purge the Interior Ministry of its sectarian reputation following the discovery of a secret torture dungeon.
Al Maliki drew up the Baghdad security plan after the bombing operations intensified but it had little effect, he then redirected his attention to the Arab world to prove that he was not subordinate to Iran and called upon the Arabs to open up embassies in Baghdad.
Moreover, he frequently stated that there is Iranian intervention, something that was similarly reiterated by his army generals and security forces. However, at the same time, he did not neglect to mention the ‘takfiris’ [Muslims holding fellow Muslims disbelievers]; the Sunni Salafists and the ‘Saddamists’; the Baathists and when the situation became difficult with Muqtada al Sadr and the Mehdi army in Basra, he imposed religious regulations on the people, furthermore specifying the suitable dress code for men and women. Al Maliki wanted to demonstrate that his firm hand did not distinguish between Sunnis and Shia and he wanted to give empirical evidence after having spoken about it repeatedly so as not to be all talk like his predecessor Ibrahim al Jaafari.
Therefore, al Maliki led a large force to Basra and began to fight Muqtada al Sadr. Al Maliki eliminated, or came very close to eliminating, the presence of the Sadrists in Basra. The forces then moved to Sadr City and Ashula. At the time he said, “Within the Shia there are some who are worse than Al-Qaeda!” This was an explicit statement issued by a renowned Shia symbol.
But this is all common knowledge. Al Maliki went to Tehran, as it was reported, for two reasons: One; to reassure the Iranians with regards to the cooperative security plan with the Americans (or to redefine their military presence in Iraq, to be more accurate). Two; to furnish practical evidence about Tehran’s implication, specifically the Quds force, affiliated to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and for its illegal military practices and operations in Iraq.
So, does this mean that we have finally found the “Iraqi State’s Savior” who can save the state and emerge victorious irrespective of any other affiliations? It might be too soon to say that and perhaps it would be foolish to conclude it but there is hope in that notion.
According to his biography, Nuri al Maliki was a member of the Dawa party in 1970, which is a Shia replica of the [Sunni] Muslim Brotherhood (MB) party. It is related that many of his family members were killed because of his relationship with the Islamic Dawa party during the Baathist regime.
Al Maliki left Iraq in 1979 after he was sentenced to death; he remained in Syria until 1982 before moving to Iran only to relocate back to Syria where he was to remain until the fall of the Iraqi regime [April 2003]. Some point to his departure from Iran to distinguish him from the al Hakim party, which remained affiliated to Iran. Al Maliki soon became part of the Dawa party’s leadership and was responsible for internal operations throughout his exile.
Shortly after the fall of the Iraqi regime in 2003, al Maliki returned after a period of exile that lasted nearly a quarter of a century. He contributed to the founding of the United Iraqi Alliance and was its official spokesman and was moreover appointed as the head of the Security and Defense Committee in the Iraqi National Assembly. Al Maliki was an active participant in the committee entitled with drafting the constitution and was deputy leader of the Supreme National Debaathification Commission.
Nuri al Maliki was elected by the United Iraqi Alliance to head the government in 2006. As such, he was the coalition’s choice and was dubbed the party’s ‘guard’ while his history with the Dawa party lends him further credibility. Despite Arab objections, al Maliki approved the execution of Saddam Hussein and thus consolidated his popularity and support within the Shia base.
As such, his support is legitimate and untarnished. This might prove to be a useful factor that could guarantee further steps away from the narrow-sighted partisan demands relating to the building of the Iraqi state. This particularly applies to the lamentation over Shia oppression, since it is no longer meaningful after the Shia power has become the foundation of Iraq today.
According to the sectarian positioning in posts; the head of government [Nuri al Maliki], Vice President [Adil Abdel al Mahdi*], First Deputy Speaker of Parliament [Khaled al Attiyah] and the Minister of Interior [Jawad Bulani] are all Shia. Perhaps the post of Interior Minister will always be occupied by a Shia candidate. So who are the downtrodden and deprived that we referring to?
Iraq’s Shia are in a different position than other Shia around the world. I am referring to the time following the collapse of Saddam’s regime and after founding the sectarian alliance. There is no reason why the Shia should have a victim complex when others are much worse off than they are. This specifically applies to [Abdel Aziz] al Hakim’s Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution and the incumbent al Dawa party.
Nuri al Maliki rose to power leveraged by the Shia alliance which also helped him take the steps he took against Saddam and his comrades, and Al-Qaeda. So, is this leverage a condition for survival or can it be transcended for a larger and more permanent leverage; one that could encompass all Iraqis, Sunnis, Shia, Kurds and Arabs?
Is al Maliki’s approach a purer one that is far removed from the partisan and sectarian manipulation and the envy of some? Is he moving away from the logic of a religious revolution to that of a state?
Al Maliki’s situation reminds me of that of another leader who also used to reside in Baghdad; the Abbasid Caliph Abu Jaafar al Mansur, who is the real founder of the Abbasid state and its second caliph after his brother Abu al-Abbas who was known as as-Saffah (the butcher). The Abbasids, as we know, overthrew the Ummayad empire, they were the Alawites and the Abbasids (or the Bani Hashims) both of whom loathed the Ummayad empire for the oppression they suffered at its hands.
The secret slogan for the revolution was “make peace with descendents of Mohammed”, which is a Shia slogan in its broad sense. Moreover, the Abbasids reached power through Shia leverage. Soon after matters began to settle, Abu Jaafar al Mansur began to consolidate his authority and the modern state whilst unifying the Alawite slogans but when the tables were turned and the revolt was against him; he was infinitely harsher with them than the Ummayads had been before him.
This may best be illustrated through the verses of a poem written by an Alawite poet:
If only the injustice of Bani Marawan were to prevail
Over the justice of Bani Abbas now.
Can we compare al Maliki with Abu Jaafar al Mansur? Not necessarily; however, if al Maliki is the new Mansur in Baghdad, we neither want him to be oppressive nor despotic in power like Abu Jaafar. Rather, we would want him to be bold and courageous in conquering ideological slogans for the sake of Iraq and the [concept of the] state.
Mr. Prime Minister, we hope that your nationalistic and non-sectarian words are genuine, although we see a group of your advisors following a different course than yours. Theirs is a tense sectarian rhetoric that is partisan-inclined and narrow minded.
And who knows, perhaps the man’s words are true, especially when he mentions his grandfather; the poet [Muhammad Hasan Abi al Mahasin] who was the poet of the national revolution, and says that he is an extension of that patriotism.
* Adil Abdel al Mahdi shares the post with Tariq al Hashimi and he is Sunni.