Democracy in Iraq is under threat again. Prime Minister Nour Maliki’s obvious attempts to undermine the already fragile political process shows no sign of abating as Faraj al-Haidari, the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), and Kareem al-Tamimi were jailed last week on charges of bribery.
The allegations, which were initially made last year and rejected by the courts, centre around the payment of around $100 made to people working overtime at the IHEC in 2010; money, it is accused, taken wrongfully out of the electoral commissions’ coffers. In a country ripe with corruption, where billions of dollars from oil deals get passed surreptitiously from dubious politicians to dodgy businessmen, these are such minor charges that they cry a political motive.
Haidari, speaking from his cell in Baghdad, said that the initial court ruling was only overturned once Hanan al-Fatlawi approached the court last year. Al-Fatlawi is a member of Maliki’s political bloc. It is no wonder that such apparent meddling in this case has taken place. The IHEC is centrally important to the democratic process. It is the largest independent electoral commission in Iraq, and was integral in overseeing the 2010 elections in a climate of violence and intimidation; IHEC workers were constantly threatened in their work.
Hairdari and Maliki clashed then, over the issue of vote counting. Maliki wanted thousands of votes for Iraqiya discredited, Haidari stood his ground. But now he has been made a scapegoat in the continuing attempts by Maliki to shore up his power. Having failed in taking the IHEC under Parliament’s power (Maliki faced strong Parliamentary opposition from the other blocs in his attempt), he is looking to fell Haidari on minor corruption charges.
The country already faces a political power struggle, with Vice President Tarek al-Hashemi hounded by Maliki on murder charges, his bodyguards tortured to death. Hashemi, who initially hid in Kurdistan before fleeing the country, has insisted that he is being pursued by the security forces and not the judges. At a NCF working group lunch Hemen Hawrami, President Barzani’s right hand man, accused Maliki of politicising the case. Maliki will face a mounting opposition from the other political parties over these issues. Hashemi has said that he will discuss with the Kurdish and Shia parties to form an alliance to topple Maliki before the 2014 elections.
A recent NCF blog highlighted the need for Western media to report Iraqi sectarianism with care. What should also be reported are Maliki’s clear attempts to delegitimize the fragile political process in Iraq as he drags the country towards an authoritarian and sectarian state.