Sunday, April 20, 2014

Truest statement of the week

In the early months of 2011, as popular uprisings raised hopes for democracy around the Middle East, Iraqis were inspired to make their own call for a more democratic government and for a time, it seemed possible that they might induce significant reforms. On February 25, 2011, when thousands of young Iraqis took to the streets in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and more than a dozen other cities, several local officials, including the governors of two Shiite provinces, were forced to resign. A few days later, Maliki, unnerved by the toppling of dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, announced a hundred-day deadline for the government to weed out corruption and improve the delivery of services. Maliki’s Sunni and Shiite critics seized upon the protests. Rather than come together to fix Iraq’s myriad problems, however, each political party saw the demonstrations as a way to pressure its rivals. It was a pattern that would repeat again and again over the next four years as politicians bullied and embarrassed one another at the country’s expense.
That summer, the prime minister responded with authoritarian tactics. During the second Friday protest in Baghdad that June, Maliki supporters and plainclothes security agents descended upon the protesters and attacked them with clubs and knives. These roving bands of pro-Maliki men, who identified themselves as victims of terrorism, waved pictures of Allawi with a giant red X slashed across his face, while shouting “death to Baathists.” Iraqi soldiers stood by and officials from Maliki’s office toured the square in praise of their armed supporters, ignoring the violence.
Maliki understood that the Americans were getting ready to leave and that the American-sponsored rules that had been imposed after 2003 were temporary. Vice President Biden, who traveled to Iraq four times between January 2010 and January 2011 to promote a successful democratic transition, had stopped coming as the American military prepared for its final withdrawal. And during the June crackdown, the US embassy—which is right across the river from Baghdad’s Tahrir Square—remained silent.
By the fall, Maliki’s office was insinuating that his own Sunni-vice president, Tareq Hashimi, was running death squads, and stories were circulating that Hashimi and his fellow Sunni politicians, including finance minister Rafaa Issawi and Parliament speaker Usama Nujafi, were conspiring with Turkey and the Gulf states to bring down the new Shiite-led order. Upon his return from a triumphant visit to the White House that December to mark the formal US withdrawal, Maliki sent security forces to arrest Hashimi, who fled to Turkey, and to surround the homes of prominent Sunni officials inside the Green Zone. 

--  Ned Parker, "Iraq: The Road to Chaos" (The New York Review of Books).

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