Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, April 11th, 2012
“The Emergence of the Maliki State in Iraq: The Undoing of Power-Sharing and the Reemergence of Izzat Ibrahim ad-Duri”
By LTC Joel Rayburn*
April 11, 2012 – Published on Syria Comment with the Author’s Permission
“The Recrudescence of Imray,” one of Rudyard Kipling’s more obscure stories, is the tale of a British political officer who, having gone missing for several weeks, returns to shock his successors when his murdered corpse comes tumbling from the ceiling of his home, where his malevolent servants have hidden him. I could not help thinking of Imray’s sudden reappearance as I watched the video last weekend of Izzat Ibrahim ad-Duri, Saddam’s former deputy, who made his first public appearance since 2003 in an hour-long speech dressed as a field marshal and ranting against the Maliki government, praising Saudi King Abdullah, and exhorting all Iraqis to unite against the Iranian menace. Our friend Reidar Visser has done some good thinking through of some important details, such as where ad-Duri might be, but I thought it might be worth discussing a few of the political trends that surround ad-Duri’s unexpected reemergence.
For some time now the political center of the Iraqi Sunni community represented by the Iraqiyah coalition has been under assault from the Maliki camp (or “Malikiyoun”). Ever since the reaching of the seemingly defunct Irbil Agreement, Maliki and his allies have sought to whittle Iraqiyah down to size, first by poaching Iraqiyah’s Shia members (thereby turning Iraqiyah into a virtually Sunni-only bloc, more easily attacked on sectarian grounds), then by giving preferential treatment to other Iraqiyah members willing to desert Ayad Allawi (i.e., “White Iraqiyah”), then by pushing Iraqiyah’s senior “hardliners” (e.g., Tariq Hashemi) out of power, and finally by reaching an accommodation with those remaining Iraqiyah notables that Maliki & Co. consider more reasonable—or malleable. The result, the Malikiyoun would hope, would be a rump Iraqiyah that has no viable Prime Minister alternative, is content to be a junior partner to Maliki’s State of Law coalition, and will not resist the consolidation of the Maliki state.
In recent weeks, the Malikiyoun have augmented this anti-Iraqiyah strategy by sponsoring new Sunni competitors to Iraqiyah. The first example was Misha’an Jabouri, the radical insurgent kingpin and former Saddamist whom I mentioned in my last note to you. For the Malikiyoun, Misha’an helpfully attacked Iraqiyah for promoting federalism in Sunni provinces and declared that he would be forming a bloc committed to a unitary Iraq. Last week saw another Sunni has-been return to the scene in this fashion when former parliament speaker Mahmud Mashhadani announced that he, too, would be forming a political bloc that would compete in upcoming elections. Like Misha’an, Mashhadani’s implied target is Iraqiyah, and also like Misha’an, Mashhadani clearly senses an opportunity to use the support of the Malikiyoun to carve out some of the political space that Iraqiyah now occupies.
The characteristic that Misha’an Jabouri and Mashhadani share is that neither has any real following in Iraq now. But both will be able, if they prove reliable to Maliki and his allies, to count on having some portion of the state’s resources that are designated for the Sunni-majority provinces flow through their hands, enabling them to dole out political largesse and begin to compete for some of Iraqiyah’s base. It remains to be seen how many Iraqi Sunni notables can be bought this way by two men, Jabouri and Mashhadani, who stand out as especially erratic loose cannons in an Iraqi political class not exactly known for steadiness. Mashhadani in particular will long be remembered for the bizarre behavior and lack of decorum he brought to the office of speaker of parliament (bizarre enough behavior that a few observers thought it had to be attributed to drug use).
Nevertheless, it seems clear that Maliki and Co. intend to open up political space in the Sunni constituency that Iraqiyah had virtually locked up in the 2010 elections. And this is where Izzat ad-Duri comes in, along with his Baathist and Naqshbandi followers. By fracturing the Iraqiyah coalition that has sat astride the Sunni political center for the past two years, the Malikiyoun will not just be opening up space for prospective Maliki henchmen like Jabouri and Mashhadani (and other willing tools who will emerge as time passes); they will also open up space for radical rejectionists. The Malikiyoun have likely succeeded in ending Tariq Hashemi’s career; but what will happen to the nearly quarter of a million Iraqis who voted for him? And if the Malikiyoun ultimately succeed In driving off Ayad Allawi, as they certainly aim to do, what will happen to the more than 400,000 Iraqis who voted for him? In which direction will this sizeable Sunni-majority constituency (constantly augmented by others who grow disenchanted with Iraqiyah) migrate? Will they drift, as the Malikiyoun wish, toward the Malikiyoun’s preferred Sunni proxies, like Misha’an Jabouri, Mashhadani, and the “rump” Iraqiyah? Or will they, having seen their chosen representatives destroyed by a Maliki government whose motives they perceive as sectarian, drift toward more radical options—like Izzat ad-Duri?
Unlike Imray, Izzat ad-Duri is not quite dead. But for most of the past nine years he was nearly irrelevant, and had no hope of attracting a Sunni following as long as Iraqiyah dominated Sunni politics. He has managed, however, to hang around long enough to see Nuri Maliki put the Sunni political base back into play—and this, I believe, is what explains the timing of his recent “proof-of-life” video after having lived in hiding since 2003.
I don’t personally believe many Iraqis will gravitate toward Izzat ad-Duri; the odds of a throwback septuagenarian windbag gaining a political foothold again seem long indeed in an Iraqi that has decidedly moved on from the twentieth century. But he will not be alone among the rejectionists in gauging that the Sunni base may soon be up for grabs again, and there will be others who have much better chances of carving out some political space: like the radical cleric Harith al-Dhari and his Association of Muslim Scholars, the demented Sunni supremacist Khalaf Uluyan and his ilk, or any of the myriad insurgent groups that once roamed the Sunni provinces—including Al Qaeda.
Simply put, once the Malikiyoun have cut the Sunni political base loose from its moorings, they will surely be unable to control the direction in which it drifts, and it may wind up following currents the Malikiyoun don’t like. If Iraq’s Sunnis become radicalized again, as they were from 2003 to 2007, it will be at least partially the result of the Malikiyoun’s determination not to deal on a partnership basis with the representatives the Sunni electorate has chosen, but to thrust upon the Sunni electorate proxy leaders that the Malikiyoun have chosen for them.