Thursday, May 10, 2007

Picking the wrong leader in Iraq

If there is anyone to blame for the worsening sectarian violence in Iraq, it should be Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who appointed Nouri Jawad Al-Maliki as the country’s Prime Minister after Saddam Hussein was toppled a few years back.

It comes as a surprise that the Iraqi Parliament has picked someone from Kurdistan Province, if only to make the political landscape in Iraq look neutral to the local population and the world. But things have turned negative because the outcome did not seem compatible with the aspirations of the Iraqi people considering that Maliki is a hardline Shia himself, wherein majority of the Sunnis do not trust him as their prime minister.

If we take a look at the political set up in Iraq, it is clear that most of the government officials Maliki appointed to sensitive posts were mostly Shias, a move that was viewed by the Sunnis and the Kurdish as favorable to their political interests.

How did Talabani came into the Iraqi political circle? Well, Talabani, a symbolic head of state, was the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) prior to his re-election by the Iraqi parliament on December 2005. As the first non-Arab, Talabani was expected to work closely with all ethnic and religious factions to rebuild Iraq, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, who was hanged to death.

However, the above expectation didn't come true as planned because a few months after Maliki was sworn in as prime minister, everything was mixed up. How did it happen?

Reports said that after Talabani's re-election, he immediately asked Shia politician Jawad al-Maliki to form Iraq's first full-term government. Maliki was the compromise candidate of the Shia-led United Iraqi Alliance, the winners of the parliamentary polls in 2005. But this development was opposed by the Kurdish and the Sunni leaders. Records showed that Mr. Maliki, who spent many years in exile when he led an anti-Saddam campaigns in the 70s, is the deputy leader of the Dawaa Party, a Shia Islamist grouping.

It is hard to understand why Talabani and those close to him failed to assess the political situation prior to Maliki's appointment. It hadn't crossed his mind that the appointment of a Shia-leader would stir up the political situation considering the various political and religious groupings in Iraq.

Worse is that Iran was allegedly dipping its hands into the chaotic situation in Iraq by channelling logistical and financial support to the Shia militant groups, which many viewed as interference in a sovereign state like Iraq. Perhaps, Iran wanted Iraq to be ran by a group that is loyal to its political aspirations.

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