Is Iraq’s Finance Minister Next On Maliki’s Hit List?
28/12/2011 14:10

By Joel Wing*

Since the middle of December 2011, Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has targeted leading members of the rival list, the Iraqi National Movement (INM). This has included an arrest warrant for Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, and a move to hold a no confidence vote against Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq. Now there are reports that Finance Minister Rafi Issawi may be Maliki’s next target.

Finance Minister Rafi Issawi was signaled out right from the beginning of Prime Minister Maliki’s crackdown. On December 15, Issawi’s and Vice President’s Hashemi’s residences in Baghdad’s Green Zone were surrounded by the security forces, with the former placed under temporary house arrest. Three days later, the Finance Minister along with Deputy Premier Mutlaq attempted to board a plane heading for Irbil to meet with the Kurdistan Regional Government’s President Massoud Barzani, when they were temporarily detained. They were eventually authorized to leave. The next day, the confessions of three officers in the Fallujah police department were released as part of the arrest warrant against Hashemi. They claimed that the Iraqi Islamic Party created a militia in the city under the leadership of Khalid Alwani, the party boss for Anbar province, which was used to take out their opponents. Alwani allegedly regularly met with Hashemi and then Deputy Premier Rafi Issawi, who were two of the leading members of the Islamic Party. Finally, on December 22, government officials told the press that it would investigate Issawi based upon these allegations. There were reports that Issawi’s bodyguards had been arrested as well. A political adviser to Maliki said that a case could be brought against any politician who was involved in violence, while a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which is run by the premier, claimed that more confessions were forthcoming. This could bode ill for Issawi. The prime minister has already gone after two of his compatriots in the Iraqi National Movement (INM). Hashemi fled to Kurdistan as a result to escape an arrest warrant, while Maliki claimed he fired Mutlaq, and asked the National Movement to nominate a replacement for him. Issawi could face charges as well, and be driven off. This comes at a critical moment, because not only is his party already under fire, but the government is trying to put together the new 2012 budget, and as Finance Minister, Issawi obviously plays a major role in that matter.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has thrown the entire Iraqi government into disarray. Whether he felt that the Iraqi National Movement was posing a real threat to his power or he just wanted to take out his opponents is not known. Either way, he has united his friends and foes alike. Before, the premier was able to effectively divide and conquer the other parties, because they were either convinced to work with him or facing internal divisions. Now, the Iraqi National Movement has united, because of Maliki’s attacks, the Kurds are protecting one of the list’s leaders, Hashemi, and the Supreme Council, the Renewal List, and White Iraqiya have all offered to negotiate between the warring sides. Everyone but the prime minister’s State of Law list is calling for calm, but he seems intent on escalating the situation even more by threatening Finance Minister Issawi with a possible arrest warrant based upon confessions of three Fallujah policemen whose veracity is impossible to determine. It appears that Maliki is willing to push this matter as far as he can, even if it means his government coming apart in the process.

*With an MA in International Relations, Joel Wing has been researching and writing about Iraq since 2002. His acclaimed blog, Musings on Iraq, is currently listed by the New York Times and the World Politics Review. In addition, Mr. Wing’s work has been cited by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Guardian and the Washington Independent.