How to Save Iraq From Civil War
By AYAD ALLAWI, OSAMA AL-NUJAIFI and RAFE AL-ESSAWI
Published: December 27, 2011
IRAQ today stands on the brink of disaster. President Obama kept his campaign
pledge to end the war here, but it has not ended the way anyone in Washington
wanted. The prize, for which so many American soldiers believed they were
fighting, was a functioning democratic and nonsectarian state. But Iraq is
now moving in the opposite direction — toward a sectarian autocracy that
carries with it the threat of devastating civil war.
Since Iraq’s 2010 election, we have witnessed the subordination of the state
to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s Dawa party, the erosion of judicial
independence, the intimidation of opponents and the dismantling of
independent institutions intended to promote clean elections and combat
corruption. All of this happened during the Arab Spring, while other
countries were ousting dictators in favor of democracy. Iraq had a chance to
demonstrate, for the first time in the modern Middle East, that political
power could peacefully pass between political rivals following proper
elections. Instead, it has become a battleground of sects, in which identity
politics have crippled democratic development.
We are leaders of Iraqiya, the political coalition that won the most seats in
the 2010 election and represents more than a quarter of all Iraqis. We do not
think of ourselves as Sunni or Shiite, but as Iraqis, with a constituency
spanning the entire country. We are now being hounded and threatened by Mr.
Maliki, who is attempting to drive us out of Iraqi political life and create
an authoritarian one-party state.
In the past few weeks, as the American military presence ended, another
military force moved in to fill the void. Our homes and offices in Baghdad’s
Green Zone were surrounded by Mr. Maliki’s security forces. He has laid siege
to our party, and has done so with the blessing of a politicized judiciary
and law enforcement system that have become virtual extensions of his
personal office. He has accused Iraq’s vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, of
terrorism; moved to fire Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq; and sought to
investigate one of us, Rafe al-Essawi, for specious links to insurgents — all
immediately after Mr. Maliki returned to Iraq from Washington, wrongly giving
Iraqis the impression that he’d been given carte blanche by the United States
to do so.
After Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. urged all parties to maintain a
unity government on Dec. 16, Mr. Maliki threatened to form a government that
completely excluded Iraqiya and other opposition voices. Meanwhile, Mr.
Maliki is welcoming into the political process the Iranian-sponsored Shiite
militia group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, whose leaders kidnapped and killed five
American soldiers and murdered four British hostages in 2007.
It did not have to happen this way. The Iraqi people emerged from the bloody
and painful transition after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime hoping for a
brighter future. After the 2010 election, we felt there was a real
opportunity to create a new Iraq that could be a model for the region. We
needed the United States to protect the political process, to prevent
violations of the Constitution and to help develop democratic institutions.
For the sake of stability, Iraqiya agreed to join the national unity
government following a landmark power-sharing agreement reached a year ago in
Erbil. However, for more than a year now Mr. Maliki has refused to implement
this agreement, instead concentrating greater power in his own hands. As part
of the Erbil agreement, one of us, Ayad Allawi, was designated to head a
proposed policy council but declined this powerless appointment because Mr.
Maliki refused to share any decision-making authority.
After the 2010 election, Mr. Maliki assumed the roles of minister of the
interior, minister of defense and minister for national security. (He has
since delegated the defense and national security portfolios to loyalists
without parliamentary approval.) Unfortunately, the United States continued
to support Mr. Maliki after he reneged on the Erbil agreement and
strengthened security forces that operate without democratic oversight.
Now America is working with Iraqis to convene another national conference to
resolve the crisis. We welcome this step and are ready to resolve our
problems peacefully, using the Erbil agreement as a starting point. But
first, Mr. Maliki’s office must stop issuing directives to military units,
making unilateral military appointments and seeking to influence the
judiciary; his national security adviser must give up complete control over
the Iraqi intelligence and national security agencies, which are supposed to
be independent institutions but have become a virtual extension of Mr.
Maliki’s Dawa party; and his Dawa loyalists must give up control of the
security units that oversee the Green Zone and intimidate political
The United States must make clear that a power-sharing government is the only
viable option for Iraq and that American support for Mr. Maliki is
conditional on his fulfilling the Erbil agreement and dissolving the
unconstitutional entities through which he now rules. Likewise, American
assistance to Iraq’s army, police and intelligence services must be
conditioned on those institutions being representative of the nation rather
than one sect or party.
For years, we have sought a strategic partnership with America to help us
build the Iraq of our dreams: a nationalist, liberal, secular country, with
democratic institutions and a democratic culture. But the American withdrawal
may leave us with the Iraq of our nightmares: a country in which a partisan
military protects a sectarian, self-serving regime rather than the people or
the Constitution; the judiciary kowtows to those in power; and the nation’s
wealth is captured by a corrupt elite rather than invested in the development
of the nation.
We are glad that your brave soldiers have made it home for the holidays and
we wish them peace and happiness. But as Iraq once again teeters on the
brink, we respectfully ask America’s leaders to understand that unconditional
support for Mr. Maliki is pushing Iraq down the path to civil war.
Unless America acts rapidly to help create a successful unity government,
Iraq is doomed.
Ayad Allawi, leader of the Iraqiya coalition, was Iraq’s prime minister from
2004-5. Osama al-Nujaifi is the speaker of the Iraqi Parliament. Rafe
al-Essawi is Iraq’s finance minister.
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on December 28, 2011, on page A23
of the New York edition with the headline: How to Save Iraq From Civil War.
Connect with The New York Times on Facebook.