The U.S. ambassador to Iraq has expressed approval of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s quest to detain Iraq’s vice president on terrorism charges, despite almost everyone else recognizing it as part of a troubling pattern of consolidating dictatorial power.
“There is a serious effort by the Iraqi judiciary to have a free and fair and just investigation,” Ambassador James Jeffrey said. “It seems a lot of care is being taken at this point to maintain judicial independence and to have a very broad investigation.”
Maliki, a Shiite, ordered the arrest of his Sunni Vice President Hashemi just as the last U.S. troops left Iraq. Many saw the move in the context of a broader pattern by Maliki of corruption, illegally crowding out Sunni authorities in Iraq’s government, and consolidating undue power for himself. In fact, nearly everybody agrees this is the case except for Maliki, his political allies, and the United States.
Hashemi is now hiding out in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, claiming he would not get a fair trial in Baghdad. The Maliki government says the charges against him are based on confessions from members of the vice president’s security detail and date back to 2006 and 2007, during the height of sectarian fighting in Iraq.
Maliki also recently betrayed an agreement that would have limited his ability to marginalize the Sunnis and turn the military into a sectarian force and ended up arresting hundreds of former Baath Party members on charges that they were involved in a coup plot. Because of the turmoil, Sunni and Kurdish blocs in the Iraqi parliament have committed themselves to a boycott.
Just this month, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq warned in a CNN interview that Maliki is “going towards dictatorship.” Last week, former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi co-authored article in the New York Times, along with fellow Iraqiya members Osama al-Nujaifi (Iraq’s parliament speaker) and Finance Minister Rafe al-Essawi, warning that Maliki is taking the nation down the path of “sectarian autocracy.”
Yet, all that Maliki’s allies in Washington can say is that the investigation against Hashemi is “fair.” American money and weapons continue to flow to the Maliki government and ambivalence towards the worsening situation on the part of U.S. officials is a sign of what the longterm relationship with Iraq’s leadership will be like.