Interviewed by Reuters fugitive Iraqi former Vice President Tarek Al-Hashemi accused Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, a Shiite, of conducting a political witch-hunt against Sunni politicians and persecuting Iraq’s Sunni population. Al-Hashemi fears that the current conflict in Anbar, which borders Syria, could spread to other regions, and blames the Prime Minister’s treatment of Sunnis. In his own words:
“I’m not optimistic about the future… I think this spark in Anbar will spread to other provinces… Al-Maliki is targeting Arab Sunnis (in Iraq) in different provinces, with the use of army forces, or handing them death sentences in a way that has never been seen in Iraq’s modern history, and therefore it’s the right of these individuals to defend themselves in every way possible.”
Hashemi, who has not lived in Iraq since a warrant was issued for his arrest, for running death squads, in 2011, said that it would be ‘disastrous’ if Maliki won a third term in Parliamentary elections set for April 30th. Hashemi’s comments come in the wake of violent conflict in Anbar, notably Fallujah, and the arrest of prominent lawmaker and anti-Maliki Sunni Ahmed Al-Alwani, taken from his home in the same province. This is the latest high profile Sunni arrest. In 2012 it was former finance minister Raffi el-Essawi. Many Sunnis believe Maliki is marginalizing the Sunni population. They complain that federal forces have been disproportionally deployed in Sunni neighbourhoods, random arrests have increased, and Sunnis feel left out of the decision making process.
Many Sunnis, some of whom fought with the US and government forces against al-Qaeda insurgents in 2008, are finding themselves caught up in a three-way conflict between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the government, and tribal militias. The solution to the problem, as many see it, is for Maliki to radically alter his approach to Sunni opposition. Up until now he has responded to Sunni protest and dissatisfaction with military force. Maliki must start to include Sunnis in the political process and reach out to the community to heal the wounds of the last few years.