Iraq’s Maliki and the siege of Kurdistan and al-Anbar

By Abdulrahman al-Rashed — Asharq al-Awsat

“The government [of Iraq] has obtained high-level intelligence information about plans to carry out terrorist attacks against protestors.”You have to be ignorant about geopolitics to believe the story of this alleged intelligence, made public by an anonymous government source to justify the closure of the border crossing with Jordan and the subsequent damage inflicted upon the residents of al-Anbar.

Had the Maliki government enjoyed any credibility, we would have never doubted its reasons for closing the vital crossing to Jordan, for terrorism is a painful reality that still threatens Iraq. But Maliki’s government has decided to punish the people of al-Anbar, the province raging with anger against him and leading the popular opposition movement in Iraq.

Because a large number of al-Anbar’s residents live off trade to and from Jordan and because this crossing connects them to the outside world, the sudden closure which coincided with the Anbar uprising is nothing but a personal political decision to besiege the province and inflict collective punishment on its people in order to crush the opposition through exclusion and economic blockade. In the past, Maliki’s government used to send aid to Bashar al-Assad and turn a blind eye on the tremendous support others provide for his regime while diligently guarding the border against any smuggling in favor of the Syrian revolutionaries. But after the Bu Kamal border crossing to Syria was seized by the revolutionaries last June, the government of Baghdad changed its policies and blocked movement. Here appears the problem and importance of al-Anbar, the biggest of Iraq’s provinces and through which the 500-kilometer-long border with Syria passes.

Maliki blocked the way with a high wall and his forces chased whoever thought of crossing. By closing this strategic passage, he harmed the interests of this part of the province and impoverished Iraqi people living in it as well as Syrians on the other side. On the other hand, Turkey has been allowing international aid to reach Syrians through its borders and refugees to cross to the other side without changing its position according to which party controls the crossing. Maliki’s government closed the crossing and marginalized this area in which Syrian refugees fleeing the hell of Assad’s forces are chased back. Maliki did the same with Kurdistan when he sent troops from Nasseriya to Mosul last summer under the pretext of guarding the borders with Syria, while in fact he wanted to open a passageway for sending aid to Assad’s regime. However, Kurds refused to comply and he is now trying to punish them like the people of al-Anbar. He wants to prevent them from producing their own oil and declared security and military alert while threatening to besiege the region and hunt down its people. The relationship between Maliki and the Kurdistan government has hit rock bottom even though it had been his strongest supporter and it was thanks to the votes of Kurdish MPs that he was able to become prime minister.

The tactic of exclusion and siege practiced by the Baghdad government is part of a broader policy that aims at increasing the powers of Maliki and eliminating the opposition against him even though this opposition is legitimate, for some of its members come from rivaling parties while others were former allies of his and who he turned against following disputes over interests and powers.

Maliki is playing a game that surpasses his capabilities through kicking out the state’s most senior figures in order to take control of all three powers. He wants to banish or imprison his rivals among senior politicians and now he is imposing an economic blockade on the people of al-Anbar through closing the border with Jordan and blocking movement along the Syrian crossing that is no longer under Assad’s control. He completed his war through declaring Kurdistan a “rebel area” and threatening to sue oil companies that work in the region. He placed his troops on high alert at the region’s borders for the first time since Saddam Hussein deployed his forces there in the late 1980s.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.)