x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Iraqi security is the casualty of partisan politics

To stop the shootings and bombings in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki must keep his promise to share power with the country's Sunnis.

The series of car bombings and shootings that swept through Iraq over the last few days recalled the dark days of 2006 when daily suicide attacks became a way of life for so many Iraqis. The new attacks were a reminder, and also a warning.

The bombings and shootings targeting Shia communities in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq yesterday claimed the lives of 50 more people, with dozens injured. The attacks appeared to be coordinated, with car and roadside bombs targeting security posts and gunmen opening fire on police. The cities of Tikrit, Taji and Hilla were all targeted as well as the capital.

There was also a spike in attacks on civilians in December as US forces withdrew. That withdrawal may have been abrupt, but it was time for Iraqis to take full control of their country. So far, they have yet to do so.

The increase in attacks on Shia communities also corresponded with Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, the leader of the Shia State of Law coalition, consolidating power at the expense of the opposition Iraqiyya party and accusing leading Sunni politicians of planning the violence. Vice President Tariq Al Hashimi, a Sunni who fled to the Kurdish Autonomous Region, again maintained his innocence this week after Iraq's top judicial court formally accused him of sectarian violence.

Whether Mr Al Hashimi is guilty or not (and it is difficult to judge in this poisoned political atmosphere), the political feuding and sectarian murders are closely related. As long as Mr Al Maliki's government continues to marginalise non-Shiites, there will be no lasting security solution in Iraq.

The irony here is that this type of sectarian violence has, at least in part, been successfully dealt with before. The worst days of the civil war were brought to a close when US forces reached out to Sunni tribes. The Awakening Councils that were formed as a result in provinces such as Anbar cut off support for Al Qaeda and marked a turning point in the war.

Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the December attacks, and the coordination of the recent violence fits the group's tactics. After being smashed in the past couple of years, Al Qaeda seems to be regaining some strength. The solution, just as with the Awakening Councils, is to convince Sunni communities to turn against the terrorists, in their own interests and in the country's.

But there is little incentive to work in partnership with Baghdad when that same government systematically marginalises and persecutes Sunnis. Mr Al Maliki and Mr Al Hashimi do not need to have a direct hand in the violence for their feud to nonetheless be partly responsible. It is only Mr Al Maliki and his cohort, however, who have the power to offer a compromise.