Editorial: Still not too late for Al-Maliki

Updated 26 April 2013

Editorial: Still not too late for Al-Maliki

IRAQIS deserve better than this. The Shiite dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki seems bent upon destroying the already frail inter-communal cohesion and returning his country to bloody conflict from which the greatest winners will be the evil forces of Al-Qaeda.
Rising tensions with the Sunni community in Kirkuk province have broken out into open fighting. Neither side is entirely blameless — Sunni fighters have been seeking to interdict supplies heading for the Assad regime in Syria and have attacked Iraqi government convoys. But should the Al-Maliki administration be intervening on behalf of the tottering Syrian dictatorship, almost certainly at the prompting of Tehran? Iraq has wounds enough of its own to heal, without exacerbating its own divisions with this shortsighted policy. The Assad dictatorship is doomed. When it falls, it will leave the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad exposed and deeply unpopular with a significant number of its own people.
After four months of confrontation and simmering violence, the situation has reached the point where in the last 48 hours, where at least 27 people have been killed in Kirkuk in fighting between government forces and local protesters. The process of attack and revenge attack seems to be gripping the region. In response to an ambush on an army patrol, at dawn on Wednesday, government units attacked a group of Sunnis, near Hawijah, killing 13 of them and injuring dozens more.
The assault prompted the resignation of the local MP, Mohammed Ali Tamim, who was also the minister of health. This means three Sunni ministers have chosen to quit in just over a month. With each resignation the balance of Al-Maliki’s government between Sunni, Shiite and Kurd becomes ever more skewed. Besides which, Sunni politicians have complained that they had great difficulty in carrying out their portfolios, because officials below them, the majority of them Shiite, declined to back their projects. Moreover, in Cabinet meetings, Sunni ministers were often ignored.
This marginalization of a key component of the country’s political make-up is producing predictable consequences. Ordinary Iraqis, including many Shiites, are losing faith in their government’s ability to direct the country toward the peace for which virtually everyone longs. This level of partisan politics is severely damaging confidence and with this loss of certainty, all communities are turning inward and looking to their own local leaders to protect and guide them.
Perhaps the greatest failure of the Al-Maliki administration was to find a way to negotiate with the leaders of Sunni-dominated communities, not just in Kirkuk but elsewhere in the country. As tensions rose this year, there has been no real effort to talk. Indeed it almost seems as if Baghdad has aimed at confrontation, rather than talking and seeking compromise solutions. If this is indeed the deliberate policy, then it opens up some terrible possibilities.
It has been claimed within Al-Maliki’s administration that Sunnis are helping Al-Qaeda. There is certainly a few who are, just as former members of Saddam’s Baathist party allied themselves with the terrorists after the US invasion and occupation of the country. However the majority of Sunnis see Al-Qaeda as the vicious and heartless bigots that they are, and want nothing to do with them.
Yet it appears that the Shiite political leadership wishes to pretend that every Sunni is allied to terror. Such a lie would open the way to portraying all Sunnis as terrorists, perhaps giving a green light for greater Iranian interference in Iraq, under the pretense of “defending the legitimate elected government .” The specter of the return of the death squads and carnage in the night is too horrific to contemplate, but that is the way the Iraq seems to be heading, back into the dark times of the US occupation.
What is so alarming is that Al-Maliki now seems totally unsympathetic to the principles of reconciliation and unity upon which his government was supposed to be built. Its behavior is provocative. It is creating discord where is should be sowing amity.
There may still be a way back. It may not be too late. But Al-Maliki must stop the army assaults in Kirkuk and send in negotiators not soldiers. Violence will only breed more violence and lead to further division. Now is the time for the Iraqi premier and his fellow Shiite leaders to show statesmanship and re-extend the hand of friendship to the Sunni community, a hand that should never have been withdrawn in the first place.

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

Saudi drivers take a flooded street in Jeddah on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2017

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

It has happened again. The roads, streets and many underpasses in Jeddah were flooded with rainwater on Tuesday. Many areas were turned into lakes because of the heavy, though forecast, downpour. In some areas, water was knee-deep while in others it was chest-deep. People were stuck in their vehicles and many were seen pushing their vehicles to the side of the roads with great difficulty. In low-lying areas, citizens struggled to remove their belongings from flooded houses.

For the residents of Jeddah, rain has, more often than not, brought trouble and devastation. Whenever the skies open up, thoughts go back to that “Black Wednesday” of November 25, 2009, when more than 100 people lost their lives and property worth billions of riyals was destroyed. An investigation was opened into the disaster and some of the guilty were taken to court and tried; some of the small fry were even jailed. As has been the case in the past, the mighty arm of the law could barely touch those at the top who enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

And so it was business as usual until the rain began to wreak havoc again, reminding us that the laws of nature take their course and that hiding your head in the sand does not chase the clouds away.

Having said that, it must be admitted that, yes, lessons were learned. A disaster management team was set up. The weather forecast department became active in issuing alerts. In fact, Tuesday could have been far worse had it not been for the timely alert from the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) and a prompt decision by the Ministry of Education to suspend classes, schools and universities in and around Jeddah. That helped in keeping people and vehicles off the streets. At noon on Tuesday, it looked as if the city were under some kind of curfew.

The questions that are on everyone's minds right now are: Why is it that rain renders the city helpless and immobile at this time every year? Why have efforts to create effective rainwater drainage systems not borne fruit despite pumping billions of riyals into new projects such as dams and canals? Why is it that the authorities are found wanting whenever heavy rain occurs? More importantly, what is the solution?

Here is the answer. These floods are a stark reminder of why the current drive against corruption is so essential. It is required in order to instill the fear of law into high-ranking officials and heads of construction companies and civic bodies who have failed in their responsibilities. Those who have cut corners and have pocketed public money, those who have not delivered on the projects and who have provided substandard services must pay for their sins of omission.

This is exactly what is happening. No one is above the law. The guilty, whoever they are, however high up they are, will have to pay — and they are. In this new era of transparency and accountability — initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — word has gone down from top to bottom that no one is immune. If you are guilty you will be punished. Those responsible for the havoc of the floods on Tuesday will have no rest either.