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Situation Assessment 18 June, 2014

Crisis in Iraq: Is It al-Maliki’s Policies and Miscalculations or Is It ISIS?

The Unit for Political Studies

The Unit for Political Studies is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Unit for Policy Studies draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Situation Assessment, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 


A number of interpretations have arisen in response to the rapid collapse of the Iraqi military and police in Mosul and their refusal to fight. These include a conspiratorial reading that sees a well-orchestrated plan by al-Maliki to ensure a third term in office with the backing of the United States and Iran; another that places the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) at the center of events as an ascendant terrorist force; and one that sees the events as the natural outcome of the popular protest movement in the Sunni provinces. None of these interpretations, however, suffices to explain the events in Iraq over the last few days.

Al-Maliki and the United States: Limits to Conspiracy

The conspiracy reading of events is based on the belief that al-Maliki wants to ensure a third term by imposing a state of emergency. The chances of a political solution have dwindled following his coalition’s less than overwhelming victory in the elections held on April 17, 2014, and in light of the escalation in violence in the country. Following the dawn assault on Mosul on June 10, 2014, and the announcement by the governor of Nineveh, that Mosul had fallen into the hands of ISIS, al-Maliki asked parliament to “declare a state of emergency in the country” as per Iraqi Emergency Law. This would allow al-Maliki to suspend the constitution and rule of law, and impose martial law on the grounds of restoring security.

Conspiracy theories are also fueled by the recent accusation made by the prime minister of the Kurdish regional government Nechervan Barzani, claiming that al-Maliki’s government did not respond to his calls to coordinate protection for civilians two days prior to the fall of Mosul. Theories are further spurred by statements made by Iraq’s minister of justice, Hasan al-Shamri, who had previously stated that senior Iraqi officials were aware of the arrangement for the escape of hundreds of prisoners, mostly al-Qaeda affiliates, from Abu Ghraib and al-Taji prisons on July 29, 2013. Such a move was allegedly made in a bid to convince Washington to drop its plan to strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by magnifying the role of al-Qaeda and ISIS. Proponents of the conspiracy theory also rely on the fact that the US and Iran still prefer al-Maliki to lead, to the detriment of Sunnis, who have been marginalized, isolated, and treated as a minority.

The US and al-Maliki are united by the fight against terrorism, a partnership based on a military-security approach that deals with the results of the corrupt and authoritarian system, as well as the lack of transparency and justice, without heed for the causes and underlying conditions creating this violent extremism termed terrorism. Al-Maliki has used the anti-terror law to get rid of his political opponents and bolster his dictatorial power. He has also manipulated the law for accountability and justice, which replaced the de-Baathification law in order to marginalize and exclude prominent Sunni politicians on the pretext of supposed links between them and senior figures in the former Baath party.

The US chose to disregard the clear sectarian marginalization and exclusion carried out by al-Maliki under the pretext of fighting terrorism to ensure its interests and guarantee security. Following the outbreak of the Syrian Revolution in mid-March 2011, the appearance of Sunni jihadi groups, and the rising influence of al-Qaeda, fighting terrorism began to dominate thinking. This encouraged al-Maliki to persist with his reckless policies in dealing with the non-violent Sunni protest movement at the end of 2012, when he resolved to avoid responding to the demands of the peaceful sit-ins, but chose to forcefully disperse them. The protests led to the deaths of 50 demonstrators and more than 110 injured in Hawija, located in Kirkuk province, on April 23, 2013. Before this, security forces twice clashed with demonstrators, in Fallujah on January 25, 2014, when seven people were killed, and in Mosul on March 8, 2014, when one person was killed. Al-Maliki dismissed these incidents, describing them as rebellions led by “Saddamists, Baathists, and terrorists”. He also resorted to riskier tactics in dealing with non-violent protests by claiming that the protestors were sponsored by Turkey and Gulf states, and that they were harboring terrorists from the former Baath party or were driven by sectarian hatred toward Shiites. The result was a radicalization of the Shiite community, which only convinced the protestors that non-violence was ineffective. ISIS capitalized on this by recruiting more widely and intensifying the scope of its armed operations.

The leaders of the Sunni tribes warned al-Maliki of the consequences of an attempt to retake al-Anbar, but he did not listen. It seemed that al-Maliki felt that acceptable politicians were those who acquiesced to Shiite political dominance and served its interests. The Sunni population expressed their exasperation and despair at the political process, as well as with their representatives’ weakness, who lost their popular base as a result.

During al-Maliki’s visit to Washington in November 2013, despite al-Maliki’s sectarian policies, the US agreed to sell his government large quantities of advanced weapons, including reconnaissance planes and hellfire missiles, on the grounds of counterterrorism and the prevention of chaos spreading to neighboring states. Washington was also negotiating with Baghdad over training joint Special Forces and setting up drone bases on the pretext of confronting al-Qaeda.

When the non-violent protests took up arms, starting in Ramadi and culminating with control over Fallujah, the tribes and the population at large formed military councils. Al-Maliki dealt with these as terrorists led by al-Qaeda and ISIS. The United States backed this approach, and then on January 11, 2014, the UN Security Council expressed its support for the efforts of the Iraqi government in al-Anbar against violence and terrorism, and condemned the attacks by ISIS, failing to acknowledge the just demands of the people from these areas.



This report was translated by the ACRPS Translaiton and English editing team. To read the original Arabic version, click here.