This comment was published in Jordan Times on 4/11/2010
Two events that took place during last week reveal that Shiite religious politicians and Sunni radicals embroiled in the struggle over Iraq are determined to wipe out the “old Iraq”, the tolerant, nationalist country that once was at the heart of the eastern Arab world.
The first event was the decision by Iraq’s supreme criminal tribunal to inflict the death sentence on Tareq Aziz, the country’s former deputy premier and foreign minister. He was condemned for alleged involvement in the suppression of a 1991 rebellion mounted by Shiite religious parties and Kurds at the instigation of president H.W. George Bush.
The parties targeted at that time by the US-ousted regime of president Saddam Hussein were the exiled factions that returned on the backs of US tanks and installed in power in 2003 by president George W. Bush. These Shiite factions were Dawa, currently headed by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), now led by Ammar Al Hakim, the Kurdish Democratic Party headed by Massoud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan led by Jalal Talabani.
It must be remembered that Aziz’s boss, Saddam, was executed in 2006 for the murder of 147 Shiites in retaliation for an attempt on his life by Dawa during a visit to the village of Dujail. At the time, the Kurds resented the government’s decision to give priority to his repression of Shiites and argued that the Baathist regime had attacked, killed and displaced masses of Kurds during the Anfal campaign of the 1980s.
While Shiites did not relent over Saddam, Maliki may now be lending an ear to the Kurds who hold the balance of power in parliament as well as Shiite radicals in his Dawa party and the movement loyal to cleric Muqtada Sadr - Maliki’s ally of convenience. Maliki, who is determined to secure a second term, has 89 seats and the Sadrists have 40. He needs the Kurdish bloc’s 57 to attain the majority in the 325-seat assembly to form a government. Maliki could be counting on the death sentence and, perhaps, even the execution of a prominent member of the ousted Baathist regime to rally support in the Shiite and Kurdish camps.
By condemning Aziz, Maliki will also remind his supporters that his main rival for the top job, Iyad Allawi, is a former Baathist and that a number of the winning members of his Iraqiya bloc were also Baathists once. Some Shiites and Kurds still consider Baathists servants of the devil.
The death sentence was proclaimed by Judge Mahmoud Saleh Al Hassan, a former Maliki aide and failed candidate for his Dawa-dominated State of Law bloc in the March parliamentary election. Hassan’s campaign posters proclaimed: “Those who wish to see the tyrants humiliated must vote for Judge Mahmoud Saleh Al Hassan.”
For Maliki, his Iraqi associates and his sponsors in Tehran, it is necessary to purge Iraq of Baathists and Baathism. The party and its ideology represent one face of the secular Arab nationalist movement that dominated the politics of the Arab world during the last half of the 20th century. Maliki and Tehran depend for their dominance in Baghdad on the power of Shiite particularism, bolstered by the drive of the Iraqi Kurds for independence.
The second event was the attack on the Chaldean Catholic church in the upscale district of Karada in Baghdad on Sunday evening. The men who carried out this operation, fighters from Al Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), are determined to root out Shiite religious parties, Kurdish secessionists and Baathists. Nearly half the congregation of 120 assembled for mass at Our Lady of Deliveramce died during the militant operation and the assault the Shiite-dominated Iraqi military mounted to end the?seizure of the church.
Christians, Shiites and Kurds are routinely targeted by ISI, the umbrella grouping of militant Sunni factions, including Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. ISI’s ultimate objective is the transformation of Iraq into a conservative Sunni entity where non-Sunnis would have no role in political life and the Kurds would have no autonomy.
The “old Iraq”, which had many problems and shortcomings, was, by contrast, the state of all its citizens - Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Kurds, Shabaks, Yezidis and others. The Baath Party that ruled Iraq for 35 years had members from most of these communities, half being Shiites. Although Westerners and anti-Baathist Shiites argue that Saddam Hussein’s regime was “Sunni”, this is untrue and unfair. His inner circle consisted of trusted relatives, mainly from the Tikrit area, who just happened to be Sunnis?
Aziz is a Chaldean Catholic, while many senior figures were from the Shiite community, including Muhammad Saeed Sahaf, former information and foreign minister, Saadoun Hammadi, former oil, foreign and prime minister and speaker of parliament, and Amer Al Saadi, former minister of industry and defence industry. These men were competent politicians and technocrats, Iraqi patriots who worked within the regime as best they could for the good of their country rather than for their sect or ethnic group. The ideo?ogy they espoused was inclusive and liberal.
“This is an Iraqi legal process,” stated an unnamed Obama administration official.
The administration is “staying out of it” because the US is getting out of Iraq by the end of next year, whatever happens to the country or its people. After Washington pulls out, the US does not care if Iraq is submerged by a deluge of warring sectarian and ethnic factions.