January 7th, 2013
07:26 AM ET

A rough start for Iraq in 2013

By Daniel R. DePetris, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Daniel R. DePetris is a researcher and a contributor to GPS. The views expressed are his own.

Sectarian animosities are nothing new for Iraqis. But what is different this time around is that they are now playing out without some of the players that were once instrumental in enforcing the rules.

While most Iraqis eventually grew tired of U.S. troops patrolling their neighborhoods, the United States was the only force strong enough to bridge sectarian divisions before they spiraled into violence. Aside from the United States, there was Jalal Talabani – a Kurd who continues to hold Iraq’s presidency and who reveled in the role as ultimate mediator of Iraq’s political disputes, often dragging the country’s warring politicians to his residence for some civilized discussion.

But with the United States gone, and Talabani’s health having deteriorated following a stroke, charges of political dominance and sectarian discrimination among Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s opponents have left some wondering whether the country is already facing the new year’s first open confrontation.

Late last month, apparently with no notice from Iraq’s security ministries or the prime minister’s office, Iraqi police scrambled into the Finance Ministry building and detained roughly 150 bodyguards who worked for Rafa al-Issawi, al-Maliki’s chief minister for financial affairs.  Dozens of those guards were later released upon further questioning, but police kept nine and charged them with terrorist-related offenses.

Issawi is not only a member of a staunch anti-al-Maliki party, Iraqiya, led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, but also happens to be one of the government’s top Sunni officials.  Predictably, Issawi reacted to the arrests with complete shock and some understandable anger, arguing that he was not even consulted about the sweep.

But Issawi was not the only one angry over the operation.  After news broke that the Shia-led government was once again targeting the staff of a top Sunni politician, tens of thousands of Iraqis from the country’s Sunni heartland flocked to the streets in protest.  The protests were so large that the major highway connecting Baghdad to Jordan and Syria was blocked, sending a symbolic message to al-Maliki that his support among the Sunni community, particularly in Anbar Province, has hit new lows.

From the Sunni perspective, the anger is justified. In fact, Iraq’s Sunni population has seen this before.  About a year ago, Iraqi security forces arrested several guards who worked in the office of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a man who at the time was the most senior Sunni politician in al-Maliki’s coalition government. Hashimi’s guards eventually confessed to plotting terrorist attacks against Iraqi Shia on the orders of Hashimi – a confession that al-Maliki critics and Sunni officials claimed were coerced through torture.  The Iraqi judiciary would later issue a warrant for Hashimi based on those confessions, forcing Iraq’s vice president to flee his own country for Turkey, where he remains safe from a death sentence for ordering and financing terrorist attacks.

Whether or not Hashimi was actually guilty over the killing of Shia is almost beside the point.  What is important is that a substantial segment of Iraq’s Sunni community viewed the arrest, prosecution, and sentencing as a carefully planned vendetta by a Shia-led premier against a top Sunni rival.  With the detention of Issawi’s bodyguards in an operation that is eerily similar to Hashimi’s own arrest, the marginalization and alienation that Sunnis have felt since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is being reinforced.

In the past, the Americans and Talabani could use their influence to tamp down those feelings – at least until the crisis needed mediating again. But with U.S. troops long gone and Talabani recovering from his stroke in a German hospital, Iraq needs to find someone else who can perform that difficult task. In an ideal world, al-Maliki would fill that void himself. But with protests in the Sunni heartland continuing, and the prime minister not backing down, that is not likely to happen any time soon.

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Topics: Iraq

soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    Until Iraq is divided into three different states by giving the north to the Kurds, the south to the Shiites and the west to the Sunnis, Iraq will know no true peace. In fact, Iraq was created not by the Iraqis themselves back in 1919 but by the British and the French! Moreover, the Kurds in northern Iraq should unite with the Kurds in eastern Turkey in order to form a united Kurdish Republic just as Israel did back in 1948.

    January 7, 2013 at 10:14 am | Reply
    • wjmccartan

      Why is it Joseph, that you're to the only one who made a sensible comment here? It looks like everyone else is too ignorant to see things your way, sadly enough. I agree, Iraq would do far better if each of these groups had their own state instead of being forcefully united as the West wants it to be!

      January 7, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Reply
      • RLF

        Actually the answer is a bit mor convoluted than that. The Kurdish North has a larger percentage of Iraqs oil reserves. While the Kurds are not playing nice at the moment and are not working well if at all with Iraqs oil ministry on how this resourse should be managed, A break away into a "Kurdish nation" with say the Turkish Kurds would quite possibly be a huge blow to the Iraqi government! To break off the Suni or Shia as Mr. McCarthy also stated how would you divide up the remaining oil wealth, such as it is? It is not fully redevolped and may all reside in one or the others primary portions of the country. I always forget which is which, but I know Saudi Arabia is primarily one of those 2 Suni or Shia, and I have few doubts one of their other neighbors is primarily the other – thereby dissolving Iraq forever more and creating a Kurdish State whatever they want to be called. But sombody wont like the idea – shall we start with the present Iraqi government and to make this happen either revolution or a war from an outside source. None are pretty or happy outcomes for the Iraqi people who as of the last time I was ther sure looked like they had suffered enough! The reason I say it this way is that I just do not see the present government on their own saying "hey! I have a sweet idea to make us all live happily ever after!!!"

        January 8, 2013 at 4:49 am |
    • Brian

      Because the Iraqi's themselves don't want it. While it would seem like a perfect solution to us, there is a lot of national unity over there. Just watch them at an international ball game!

      January 7, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Reply
  2. len Holliday

    Conflict for Iraq is not the same as before! Under the Dictatorship of S.H. their people were scared to death! But, not this time around. The Iraqi people will never allow a Dictator to control them anymore. They know what freedom is now and they won't go back! Once you let the Lion out of the cage it is almost impossible to put him back! The one the the U.N. an Iraq are working on right now is a way to create a high value for the Iraqi currency which is the Dinar vs. the U.S. Dollar. Almost all the money on the streets of Iraq is the American Dollar. In order for Iraq to have a fair chance in the real world economicily they must have a currency that trades on the world markets so a real value can be put on the Dinar! The Iraqi Dinar is fixed at one/tenth of one penny of American money for each Dinar. Before the two Bush wars it traded at $1 USD = $3.45 Dinars. The rumar is right now they are going to revalue their currency back to about $3 and it will trade freely around the world like all other currencies. That would be the best thing that could ever happen to Iraq. Then and only then will their economy take off.

    January 7, 2013 at 10:54 am | Reply
    • RLF

      Actually the Dinar is currently 1168 Dinar to $1! I hope you are correct that they revalua well above .50cents because the 500000 Dinar I have invested in could make me a millionair! Was easy to get while I was there, but still not difficult to find now if I chose to invest more

      January 8, 2013 at 4:58 am | Reply
      • Len R. Holliday

        RLF; Thanks for your comment! It seems that you may be one of the smartest people on here! If you own a half million Dinar you will be a rich man someday. For you see, when Bush number 1 moved into Iraq with war the Dinars value went to almost nothing. Most of the Iraqi people use the American Dollar to buy and sell their goods with on a day to day basis! This has to change and it will so. Weapons of mass destruction was not the reason we went to war for. It is all about having oil and a position for the U.S. in the Middle East! The average person does not have a clue. Someone in a news conferance ask 'W' Bush how in the world would we pay for this war? He said this war is already paid for. Well, as rumor has it; The State Department has billions of Iraqi Dinars brought back from the war. When the Iraqi Dinar revalues against the U.S. Dollar the U.S. will make billions off this deal thus the war is paid for. How nice. George Bush knew what he was doing. Obama will take all the credit when it happens which will be in the next 60 days! And by the way. Iraq will be the fastest growing economy in the world over the next 5 to 10 years and beyond! I'm a retired stockbroker of 20 years. If I had to pick one Country to invest my money in for the best return it would be Iraq. For those that have bought the Dinar; They will become very rich and soon! Thanks For Letting Me Share! Len R. Holliday(Retired Stockbroker).

        January 8, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  3. iran =iraq=bashar =evil

    who give a sht about those IRAQI WAKI SHIIA KILLERS AND THUGS.....IRAN IS CONTROLING EVERY THING those iraqi villoge idiots governments are irans puppets..killing and stealing and destroying iraq, many iraqi shiia killers were cought in syria killing the kurds and christeans and sunni those people are war criminals almaleki, alpajaji , aljalabi alja3fari and moqtada al qather..kelab

    January 7, 2013 at 11:30 am | Reply
    • wjmccartan

      Quite wrong indeed! It's the right-wing thugs in Washington and not the Iranians who run things in present day Iraq. That's why there can be no peace! That country needs to be divided up between the Kurds, the Shiites and the Sunnis!

      January 7, 2013 at 5:12 pm | Reply
  4. Kitty Litter

    Unfortunately the only thing some cultures understand is a boot on the neck.

    January 7, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Reply
    • Lioness

      Your comment is absurd and racially charged. How about let's start with your neck first?.

      January 10, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  5. zaeed

    how many times do i need to repate this russia needs to nuke ireland dublin cork and ghana kumasi and accra then drop a nuke on basque country of spain cut down the filth.

    January 7, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Reply
  6. English European

    "What is important is that a substantial segment of Iraq’s Sunni community viewed the arrest, prosecution, and sentencing as a carefully planned vendetta "

    Perhaps. What is also important is that a substantial segment of Iraq's Sunni Arab community view themselves as the rightful rulers of Iraq who should overthrow the majority government and impose a new dictatorship.

    Unfortunately successive ill-advised western attempts at building "national unity" government have simply encouraged these delusions. Rather like white South Africans, they need to understand that they aren't in charge any more – any never will be again.

    January 7, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Reply
  7. toolttime

    They need someone who can rule I Iraq with a iron fist

    January 7, 2013 at 4:37 pm | Reply
  8. j. von hettlingen

    Tens of thousands of Sunni Muslims have been staging anti-government protests over alleged discrimination in many Iraqi cities. The protests highlight the belief of many Sunnis that they are seen as second-class citizens in their own country. They have also urged for the release of female detainees, who reportedly had been arrested in place of husbands or sons wanted on charges of terrorism. Nouri al-Maliki had urged security forces to show restraint in their handling of the demonstrations, because he didn't want to give what he called terrorist organisations a pretext for an armed confrontation.

    January 7, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Reply
  9. jim

    Iraq will always be a trashy third-world country. There will never be any technological advancement or social development. The majority that live there have a 3rd grade education at best, and believe that a Muslim Santa Claus is going to give them seven virgins and lots of gold once they die. Not a population worth saving. Please, someone give FIVE reasons why the world benefits from having Iraq and Afghanistan on this earth...still waiting.

    January 8, 2013 at 8:01 am | Reply
  10. Ralph in Orange Park FL

    Iraq is not actually a country. It is an artifact of early 20th century British foreign policy.

    January 8, 2013 at 11:29 am | Reply
    • Quigley

      Quite true indeed Ralph as Joseph has stated above. The idea of dividing Iraq into three different states is a very good one but try telling that to the right-wing thugs in Washington. They want to control everyone everywhere!

      January 8, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Reply
  11. rightospeak

    Iraq is an artificial creation of British interests early in the 20 th Century with a purpose to control oil in the Middle East, just as Czechoslovakia was after WW I to precipitate WW II so that Communism would flourish and Wall Street could control most of the world. The purpose was to divide people and subjugate them , not to have peace and prosperity. One needs to undo, what the British did in order for the Middle East to have peace and prosperity . Iraq divided into 3 countries : Kurds. Shiites and Sunni may be a better solution. With American puppet government it is not going to happen.

    January 9, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Reply
  12. blerb gary mgee face

    Herp derp

    January 10, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Reply
  13. blerb gary mgee face

    herp derp gerp

    January 10, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Reply
  14. Hate Wins

    Most of the posters here think that oil is the one and only reason for both Iraq wars. While this is to some extent true, why would Bagdad give the Kurds 80%+ of the oil reserves? NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Hell Turkey would go nuts over that deal. Giving the Kurds unlimited funds to attack then.
    All three sides hate each other and will never trust each other.
    The only way Iraq will become a stable and productive country is STOP KILLING EACH OTHER. Almost all 90%+ “MOSTLY WOMEN AND CHILDREN” of the deaths are from Shiite verse Sunni verse Kurd killings and had not one thing to do with western troops presents.
    THEY HAVE BEEN KILLING EACH OTHER FOR OVER 2000 yrs. AND WILL CONTINUE UNTILL THEIR MULLIAHS TELL THEM TO STOP.

    January 14, 2013 at 9:30 am | Reply
  15. ganha dinheiro

    http://www.patraoonline.com ganha dinheiro http://www.patraoonline.com/

    July 13, 2013 at 6:56 am | Reply

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