Watching the Cracks Widen in Iraq

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Iraqi Vice President Tariq Hashimi in a 2008 photo

“Al-Maliki is pushing my country to reach a turning point with deeply sectarian dimension.”

— Tariq al Hashimi, Iraqi vice president, January 29

Is Tariq Hashimi’s statements to Nuri Al Maliki a thinly veiled threat or a vision of the future? It’s a statement of fact either way. When I was in Iraq I had occasion to meet Hashimi a couple different times in 2008 as he solidified his tribal support throughout the Al Anbar Province in western Iraq. What I learned was that whether you like him or not, he’s an Iraqi patriot constantly at odds with the Shia majority.

Regularly accused by the Shia of running Sunni death squads, we had to do our due diligence and investigate whether or not he was really doing that or not. Turns out nothing in our battle space, which included large parts of the Sunni Triangle, indicated he was – and that’s where it would’ve come from. Also turns out he may be smarter than anyone guessed.

Hashimi has been in Irbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, ever since Maliki issued an arrest warrant for him in December. While we might expect “Dog the Bounty Hunter” to go get him, the reality is that Hashimi has played his cards brilliantly. There’s no way Maliki can send either Iraqi Army or Police to get him – the Kurds have experienced relatively little of the last decade of war in Iraq and there’s not a chance in Babylon that Maliki will risk starting a Kurdish secession over Hashimi — and the Sunni know it.

Hashimi has very strong ties to the Sunni dominated Al Anbar province and often traveled to Fallujah and Ramadi to shore up support of the Al Iraqiya bloc in Parliament, but note he didn’t run there. Al Maliki wouldn’t have had any problem sending Iraqi Army or the National Police to get him there and Hashimi knew it. I expect we’ll now see a rising “Nationalist” movement by the Sunni and they’ll be labeled terrorists by Maliki. What I think is that’ll be the quickest way to garner some international support for what will amount to revenge for what Saddam Hussein did to the Shia following Desert Storm.

Hashimi stated that Maliki’s actions will require the return of U.S. troops. Good luck with that. Even though we backed into a backyard brawl in 2003, there’s not a snowball’s chance in Riyadh/Tehran we’d purposefully insert ourselves in that again.

It’ll be interesting to watch what Saudi Arabia and Iran decide to do here. My guess is they’ll fight a war by proxy using the Iraqis as their surrogates while they claim innocence publicly. Once again, what’ll get lost is that there are some really great folks in Iraq, who are victims of circumstance, and a bunch of selfish “Schettino-like” cruise-ship captains at the helm of the country.