Editorial: Iraq’s phoney election

Updated 21 March 2014

Editorial: Iraq’s phoney election

In just over a month’s time, Iraqis are due to go to the polls to elect a new government. The vote should be postponed. To go ahead now would be like stitching up a still seriously-infected open wound in the Iraqi body politic.
Real elections are supposed to be about real choices. The principle is that a Parliament will reflect the diversity of a country. It will also contain an opposition that is in a position to test a government’s policies by challenging it in debate. There is absolutely no sign that the outgoing administration of Nuri Al-Maliki is in a position to guarantee that the elections on April 30 will produce a spread of legislators that will represent all streams of Iraqi opinion. In large measure, Al-Maliki himself has been responsible for this disastrous state of affairs.
The three-term prime minister from the leading Shiite State of Law coalition block in Parliament, began his first term of office well enough, when he calmed Sunni fears by cracking down on radical Shiite militias. However, after inconclusive elections in 2010 which led to months of wrangling, before the formation of a third Al-Maliki-led government, his political position began to change. In December 2011, the same month that US forces finally completed their withdrawal from the country, Al-Maliki began the effective demolition of the National Unity government he headed by having an arrest warrant issued for Vice-President Tareq Al-Hashimi, a Sunni. Hashimi was accused of involvement in death squads. Helped by Kurds, he fled the country, only to be tried in his absence and found guilty.
Al-Maliki pretended at the time that the prosecution was important because no one should be able to escape punishment for past crimes. But this argument was fatally weakened by the presence in his government of Shiite politicians who were equally suspected of involvement in the inter-communal violence that had threatened to tear the country apart. Besides, however terrible the crimes committed by all parties in Iraq, the country’s future could only be ensured by reconciliation. Iraq desperately needed to put its dark past behind and look to a brighter and more prosperous future.
Unfortunately Al-Maliki hardly tried to convince skeptical Sunni politicians and voters that the prosecution of Hashimi was not motivated by the fact that the vice-president was a Sunni. That this was indeed the reality has since become even more apparent as Shia legislators have moved to exclude former and serving Sunni politicians, including former Finance Minister Rafie Al-Issawi from standing in next month’s elections. Former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a Shiite, and leader of the National Iraqi Alliance, has himself warned that in the light of these moves against Sunni politicians, as well as the deteriorating security situation in the country, the vote cannot go ahead.
Allawi may however be wrong about the security situation. For sure in Anbar province, the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah are currently largely in the hands of terrorists, including the brutal Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). These thugs have no interest in seeing the local Sunni community taking any part in any election. But it could be argued that sensible provision can be made for a later vote in Anbar, while the rest of Iraq goes to the polls. The upsurge in violence, over 700 people dead last month, largely in indiscriminate bombings, is also not of itself a reason to postpone. It should not be forgotten how in 2005, all Iraqis came together to defy the men of violence and take part in Iraq’s first ever free and fair elections. Despite an urgent campaign of savagery in the run-up to that vote, people from all communities turned out in their millions to express their views at the ballot box.
But that was then. The big difference now is that Iraqis no longer have much faith in a multi-ethnic country fairly run on behalf of everyone. Most Kurds are quietly happy at the failure of the Al-Maliki government to maintain consensus. They see it has giving them greater justification to opt out of centralized Baghdad politics. Meanwhile moderate Sunni and Shiite opinion is in despair. Many Iraqi Shias are deeply unhappy at what they see as the growing role of Iran in the direction of Al-Maliki’s government, not least in its quiet sponsorship of support for the Assad administration in Syria.
Thus is in the current climate, an election will be meaningless. Voters need real choices and this should mean the un-banning of excluded candidates and perhaps even the reversal of the verdict against Hashimi. Nothing will come out of a vote at the end of next month except more bitterness and division, which however is perhaps what Tehran and Al-Maliki actually want.

Editorial: Iran must not go unpunished

Updated 16 May 2019

Editorial: Iran must not go unpunished

  • Arab News argues that while war is always a last resort, an international response is a must to curb Iranian meddling
  • US strikes worked well when Assad used chemical weapons against his people

The attacks on Tuesday by armed drones on Saudi oil-pumping stations, and two days beforehand on oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah in the UAE, represent a serious escalation on the part of Iran and its proxies, should the initial conclusions of an international investigation prove to be accurate. 

Riyadh has constantly warned world leaders of the dangers that Iran poses, not only to Saudi Arabia and the region, but also to the entire world. This is something former President Obama did not realize until the Iran-backed Houthis attacked the US Navy three times in late 2016. The recent attacks on oil tankers and oil pipelines were aimed at subverting the world economy by hitting directly at the lifeline of today’s world of commerce. Tehran should not get away with any more intimidation, or be allowed to threaten global stability. 

It was in 2008 that the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz called upon the US to “cut off the head of the snake,” in reference to the malign activities of Iran. Nearly a decade later, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman referred to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the “new Hitler of the Middle East.” We are in 2019 and Iran continues to wreak havoc in the region, both directly and through its well armed proxies. Crown Prince Mohammed was therefore clearly correct when he argued that appeasement does not work with the Iranian regime, just as it did not work with Hitler. The next logical step — in this newspaper’s view — should be surgical strikes. The US has set a precedent, and it had a telling effect: The Trump strikes on Syria when the Assad regime used Sarin gas against its people.

We argue this because it is clear that sanctions are not sending the right message. If the Iranian regime were not too used to getting away with their crimes, they would have taken up the offer from President Trump to get on the phone and call him in order to reach a deal that would be in the best interests of the Iranian people themselves. As the two recent attacks indicate, the Iranians insist on disrupting the flow of energy around the world, putting the lives of babies in incubators at risk, threatening hospitals and airports, attacking civilian ships and putting innocent lives in danger. As the case always is with the Iranian leadership, they bury their heads in the sand and pretend that they have done nothing. Nevertheless, investigations indicate that they were behind the attack on our brothers in the UAE while their Houthi militias targeted the Saudi pipelines.

Our point of view is that they must be hit hard. They need to be shown that the circumstances are now different. We call for a decisive, punitive reaction to what happened so that Iran knows that every single move they make will have consequences. The time has come for Iran not only to curb its nuclear weapon ambitions — again in the world’s interest — but also for the world to ensure that they do not have the means to support their terror networks across the region. 

We respect the wise and calm approach of politicians and diplomats calling for investigations to be completed and all other options to be exhausted before heading to war. In the considered view of this newspaper, there has to be deterrent and punitive action in order for Iran to know that no sinister act will go unpunished; that action, in our opinion, should be a calculated surgical strike.