x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Maliki’s criticism of the Gulf is one-sided

The Iraqi leader should not be pointing the finger of blame at others.

Even allowing for the fact that this is an election year in Iraq, the recent statements by prime minister Nouri Al Maliki are both astonishing and astonishingly tone-deaf.

Mr Al Maliki told a French television station that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were backing militant groups in Iraq. The two countries, he said, “are attacking Iraq, through Syria and in a direct way ... and unfortunately it is on a sectarian and political basis”.

Such wilful rewriting of history might just be understandable, if not excusable, were Mr Al Maliki a young political upstart, seeking to make a name for himself ahead of this year’s elections. But he is not. He is Iraq’s prime minister and has been for more years than anyone else this century.

Indeed, if there is any single person responsible for Iraq’s naked sectarian bias since the invasion of Iraq, it is Mr Al Maliki himself. It is he, after all, who has sought to capitalise on the tensions between Iraqi Sunnis and Shia; it is he who has systematically enfranchised one group at the expense of the other; and it is he who has refused to listen to Sunni grievances. That such a politician would go so far as to accuse Gulf countries of fomenting sectarian division is astonishing.

Mr Al Maliki needs to understand that he does not own Iraq. He is, as the legitimate leader of the country, entitled to govern in the way he thinks is best. What he is not entitled to do is undermine the security of the country and the region, allow an opening for Al Qaeda, continue to support a barbaric regime in Damascus and do all he can to offer one of the most important Arab countries to Iran. He cannot imagine that the Gulf states will stand idly by while their security and safety is compromised and while his policies bring sectarian conflicts to their very borders.

When Mr Al Maliki talks about terrorism, he would be wise to recall the roots of it in his own country and in neighbouring Syria. The Gulf did not create the war in Syria, Bashar Al Assad did. The Gulf did not ignore demonstrations in Sunni areas of Anbar province and then attack a peaceful demonstration; that was done on the orders of Mr Al Maliki.

Tough talk is all very well, as is politicking ahead of elections. But coming out and attacking neighbouring countries on spurious charges is not acceptable. The Gulf states are on the side of the Iraqi people. Mr Al Maliki should ask whose side he himself is on.