Perils of the Prime Minister

November 21, 2011

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s recent suggestion that Iraqi parties set the constitution aside and deal with each other through political consensus is a sign of his growing confidence in his own rule. Maliki has become an all-knowing “strong man” who has politicized every issue and forced most people to be with him or against him.

Last week, while receiving a delegation from Karbala governorate, Maliki criticized parties for being selective in applying the constitution and said that if they don’t want to abide by the constitution, the document should be frozen and political consensus embraced instead. He framed this as if he is a master of politics, and that political consensus is an alternative to a situation where the constitution already isn’t respected.

This way of thinking should serve as an alarm bell for everyone who is not and ally or a partner of Maliki. The danger in this statement is that he did not see anything wrong with himself or his adversaries, instead blaming the current state of affairs on the constitution.

This is deeply troubling because as prime minister, he is supposed to be the guardian of the constitution rather than offering to set it aside. It’s disconcerting because standard practice is that when there is political crisis, the first thing that’s changed is the person in charge.

If this doesn’t work, then the political body that is ruling is changed. If all efforts fail, then amending or freezing the constitution would be a last resort. Our prime minister wants to start with the constitution to solve Iraq’s issues.

Unfortunately, Maliki’s statement was not a one-off that he retracted later. His reaction to the Salahaddin provincial council’s proposal to create their own federal region was also a strong indication that he is turning into Mr. Right and that everyone else is wrong.

The Salahaddin council’s demand was legal and constitutional, but Maliki dismissed on the grounds that it wasn’t being proposed at the right time — without saying clearly or setting a benchmark for what would be the right time.

Not only that, but he immediately jumped to the conclusion that the new Sunni region would be sectarian, would oppose him politically and would be driven by the Bathists. The irony is that Baath Party leader Izzat al-Douri is also opposed to the Salahaddin region!

The ongoing saga over the Kurdish oil contracts and the recent opposition to Exxon Mobil’s contract in Kurdistan is another symptom of that tendency by Baghdad.

Despite the secretive nature of the oil industry in Kurdistan, Baghdad’s reaction has always appeared intent on stopping any development in Kurdistan. The Kurds should be aware that Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussein al-Shahristani is only window dressing; the real person is Maliki. Shahristani cannot say anything without Maliki’s consent.

Every step for Maliki is a move away from what he is supposed to be. He politicizes and views with a sectarian and ethnic eye every case put before him. His inability to view things differently has turned him into a paranoid politician whose aim is to create a strong central government and a strong man.

The new Iraq isn’t supposed to be this way. The people of Iraq and Maliki’s friends and foes should be aware of and understand this, and should do whatever they can to stop Iraq from sliding into the era of the strong leader who knows everything.

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