We reported on Monday the surprising arrest of a guard close to Sunni parliamentary powerbroker Adnan al-Dulaimi on charges of al-Qaeda ties, and the dramatic all day curfew on Saturday in response to a foiled attack on the Green Zone. Political fallout has threatened to break apart Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s national unity government, but so far the primary result has been to heighten tensions between the faction of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sunnis on the one hand and Sadr’s coalition partners within the Shi’a United Iraqi Alliance on the other.
Dulaimi is head of the Iraqi Accord Front, the largest Sunni party in parliament, and based on statements by senior Shi’a officials so far, it appears that they are willing to take him at his word that he is not working with al-Qaeda. While Iraq’s national security advisor stated that he thought Sunni tribes were committed to fighting al-Qaeda, a leading Sadrist lawmaker launched a blistering attack on Maliki’s government and the entire basis for his political agenda. Meanwhile, interior ministry personnel have come under further scrutiny for involvement in death squads and the torture of prisoners, confirming Sunni criticisms, yet now some prominent Shi’a have criticized the interior minister for appointing prominent former Baathists Sunnis.
With concerns about Sunni figures having al-Qaeda ties as the backdrop, Baha al-Arji, an outspoken member of the Sadr faction in parliament, launched one of the strongest criticisms of the Maliki government by the Sadrists since its formation. As reported in Al-Hayat (“Sadr Faction Demands Government Change and Accuses Accord Front of Protecting Takfiris”), Arji not only accused Sunni political figures of ties to al-Qaeda, he also charged that the government faced a “crisis of trust,” saying that even between Prime Minister Maliki and his Sunni deputy there was a deep conflict. The Iraqi newspaper Al-Rafidayn quoted Arji (in a separate statement) as accusing Sunnis of plotting a coup against the Maliki government.
Attacking the Sadrists’ putative Shi’a allies in the ruling UIA, Arji went on to charge (quoting from Al-Hayat) that “occupation forces have worked through various means, beginning with democracy, which allowed terrorists and takfiris to kill Iraqis, then through the national unity government and more recently through the reconciliation initiative.” (For another English source on this issue, see the Washington Post).
Members of the Sadr faction in parliament often blame U.S. forces for the violence in Iraq, and despite being part of the government they have criticized Maliki’s leadership in the past (see our July 26 report, Sadr Faction Threatens to Turn on Maliki Government). Yet this is a frontal assault on the prime minister’s entire political program; expansion of the democratic process, the inclusion of Sunnis willing to commit to a democratic Iraq, and the amnesty and reconciliation initiative aimed at persuading Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms. The growing hostility between anti-American Sunni insurgents and the Sadrists has been growing for some time (see our August 5 report, Sadr’s Ties with Sunni Militants Go Sour), and the gap separating them is now wider than ever.
Iraqi National Security Advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubae’i, who is also Shi’a, struck a different tone, as quoted in the same article. While confirming that a Dulaimi guard had been tied to al-Qaeda, he defended Sunnis who had embraced the political process, saying that Ayyub al-Masri and other al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders were beginning to feel the “noose around their necks” as Sunni tribes in the Anbar Province continued to be united against them (we covered this in a recent report, Anbar Sunnis Turn on al-Qaeda). Rubae’i also showed a video which he said was captured from members of al-Qaeda which showed someone fitting Masri’s appearance overseeing the training of suicide bombers. Rubae’i emphasized the conflict between the Sunni tribes and al-Qaeda by noting that the latter had called for the killing of Sunni tribal leaders, and had succeeded in killing tribal leader Shaikh Usama al-Jad’an. He added that “the tribes are one family, be they Dulaim, or Shamar or Rabi’a” and that they would doom al-Qaeda in Iraq.
In related but seperate news, the Interior Ministry, headed by Jawad al-Bolani, an independent Shi’a, has been at the center of recent criticism. Sunnis have claimed that the first elected government, that of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, allowed Shi’a death squads to work out of the ministry, and these allegations have continued. Some have predicted that Bolani himself might be replaced, despite the fact that he has been praised for taking some actions to remove personnel with ties to illegal groups. The main criticism is that while he may have done some good, he has not done enough, and his lack of ties to the Shi’a parties - considered a plus at first - may have weakened his leverage. The pressure is also increasing from the U.S., as American officials warn that continued evidence of torture by interior ministry personnel could lead the cutting off of aid (New York Times).
Yet now a charge of a completely different kind has been leveled at Bolani by Ali Lamy, the executive director of the government’s National Debaathification Committee - that he has allowed too many Baathists to occupy important posts. As reported in Al-Hayat, Lamy is quoted as saying that seven of the eight highest-ranking positions in the ministry have now been given to former Baath members. This may actually be a positive, if it means that Bolani has brought in more Sunnis who while former members of the Baath were not true believers, although the article specifically quotes Shi’a lawmakers as alleging that they were leaders in the Baath Party. Lamy is also quoted as criticizing Bolani over the restoration of some Baathist members in the city of Kut who had been removed by the Debaathification Committee. The Debaathification process has been very controversial in Iraq, with some Shi’a arguing that no former Baathists should be able to hold office, while the Sunnis and some Shi’a argue that only hardcore Baathists should be barred, since many belonged to it in the Saddam Hussein era only formally.