|Iraqi political analyst Ahmad al-Sharifi and a map showing Iraq's provinces|
Iraqi Premier Nouri al-Maliki’s drive to sideline the country’s Arab Sunnites, his harassment of ethnic Kurds in autonomous Kurdistan, his subservience to Iran and his support of the Syrian regime risk fragmenting Iraq and embroiling Jordan.
The arrest of bodyguards assigned to Finance Minister Rafei al-Essawi, one of Iraq’s most prominent Sunnite politicians, while searching his home and offices on December 20, sparked week-long mass protests in western Iraq's Sunnite province.
The protests in the predominantly Sunnite provinces of Anbar and Salahuddin have blocked the country’s highway to neighboring Syria and Jordan.
Demonstrators torched pictures of Maliki and the Iranian flag and flown the banner of the Free Syrian Army.
“Why doesn't Maliki go after criminals and outlaws among the Shiites who sit in parliament and government, and are well-known for their atrocities over the years?
“The answer is clear. He wants to shut the mouths that criticize him to turn this country into a pure Shiite one affiliated to Iran,” a protester charged.
Essawi said Maliki was deliberately seeking to stoke sectarian strife between Sunnites and Shiites by targeting Sunnite national figures.
The incident was essentially a replay of a similar crackdown in December 2011 targeting Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, also a leading Sunnite politician.
Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government charged Hashemi with running death squads. He has been sentenced to death multiple times in absentia.
Iraq has an estimated population of 31 million, roughly including 15 million Shiites, nine million Sunnites and five million ethnic Kurds.
The move against Essawi also came amid growing tensions between the Maliki government and Kurdistan, which have seen Iraqi troops and the Kurdish Peshmerga militia facing off against each other in disputed territory in the autonomous Kurdistan region north of the country.
Ahmad al-Moussawi Makki reporting today for the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar under the title, “The Anbar war: Gateway to partition,” suggests the most alarming aspect of the ongoing Sunnite protests are the calls for regional autonomy in Anbar and other provinces in the northwest where the Sunnites are in majority – a status similar to that of the Kurds in autonomous Kurdistan.
Makki says some of the protesters are even clamoring for setting up the “State of Western Iraq.”
He quotes Iraq’s respected political strategy analyst Ahmad al-Sharifi as telling him: “These sit-ins and demonstrations are meant to pave the way for Iraq’s partition. It’s an objective shared by many Iraqi political leaders. You can tell by the flags raised by demonstrators – the flags of the Iraqi Free Army and the Kurdistan region. All this heralds the so-called New Middle East.”
Sharifi says Maliki’s whistle-stop visit earlier this to Amman, where he offered to prop up the cash-strapped Jordanian economy, was aimed at preempting the empowerment of Islamist forces in the Hashemite Kingdom “because the Islamists’ advent to power in Jordan would lay the cornerstone for declaring the State of Western Iraq.”
Sharifi adds, “In addition to a vast oil field discovery, an enormous field containing as much as 53 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was found in western Iraq lately.”
The finds, together with the intractable problems between Baghdad and Kurdistan, are the harbingers of Iraq’s dismemberment – “perhaps six months from now,” according to Sharifi.
Iraq’s fragile power-sharing government has been lurching from crisis to crisis. Should today's protests in Anbar provide a mass show of force, it may add to concerns that Syria’s increasingly sectarian war, where majority Sunnites are battling a quasi-Shiite ruler backed by Iran, will push Iraq back to the Sunnite-Shiite butchery of 2005-07.
When fugitive Vice President Hashemi was asked in an interview with Thursday’s pan-Arab daily al-Hayat if he had evidence Maliki supports President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime, he said:
“There is conclusive evidence. Maliki acknowledged in a statement weeks ago that the Iraqi government is no longer able to inspect Iranian planes [overflying Iraq] after the pledges he made to the Arab League and the United Nations.
“Since he first made the pledge to the U.S. administration, I said this man is lying and would only inspect aircraft carrying medicine and medical equipment. This happened on two occasions. He inspected a plane coming from Iran and a second one coming from Syria, after it unloaded its full cargo of militias, explosives and other weapons. He called it a search.
“The media is focusing on aviation, but the main problem is land corridors. According to my information, there are endless means of overland transportation, from Zurbatiyah on the Iraq-Iran border to the al-Waleed port of entry [between Syria and Iraq]. There is a stream of civilian convoys with tinted windows heading from Iran towards Syria... These convoys don’t stop at checkpoints, and no one knows what they are carrying. I think this is part of the scenario to support the Syrian regime and increase the suffering of the Syrian people, regretfully.”
Hashemi added, “When the reference of the officials in Maliki’s sectarian regime is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, what do you expect…?
“I suspect the war machine killing the Syrian people is run by Iran.”