There used to be a joke Iraqis told about television: there are only four channels, and Saddam is on every one of them.
Now Saddam’s long dead, it’s a decade later, and Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has openly censored the media.
It’s just one in a long line of steps Maliki has taken to consolidate power.
Al Jazeera and 9 other stations have lost their licenses to broadcast in Iraq. The Maliki government indicates the recent spate in sectarian violence, and the media’s perceived stoking of such violence, as their reason for revoking the licenses.
Al Jazeera responded with astonishment, arguing that they cover “all sides” of every story.
“We urge the authorities to uphold freedom for the media to report the important stories taking place in Iraq,” the statement said.
Maliki’s aggressive political steps date back to his initial move toward power in 2006. He’s staffed the higher positions of government with Shia loyalists, and distanced his government from Sunni and Kurdish leaders.
He’s also created “extra-constitutional security bodies” designed to give him a direct chain of command over security forces, a command that conveniently side-steps the Ministries of Defence and Interior.
Such consolidations allowed him to take an unprecedented move: what many call a assassination attempt on Iraq’s former finance minister. Luckily, and predictably, Rafi Issawi was under the protection of the powerful Abu Risha clan.
Aside from being a long-time head of state, Issawi was a relatively new federal government’s olive-branch symbol to the Sunni minority. Issawi is part of that minority — notably, the ruling class beneath Saddam’s Iraq. Placement of religious leaders in state positions is common practice in the Middle East, and a sign of solidarity in religiously driven culture.
Issawi’s protectors, The Risha Clan, arose during the Sunni Awakening, largely credited with turning the tide of war in Iraq.
In the end, Risha smelled the attempt coming and fled.
His resignation and subsequent criticisms just days before the attempt could have been that proverbial straw to Maliki’s camel. During an interview with a local news affiliate in Ramadi:
“Unfair representation of Iraq’s diverse groups in ministries, government institutions and state security, the issue of security, detention policies … the fact that the most sensitive state institutions are today administered by proxy, the monopolization of all state security agencies (which are becoming more and more sectarian in nature), and the blatant persecution of the Sunni Arab community in the security sectors and elsewhere, such as in higher education.”
Several bombings have occurred in the last month, including the bloodiest day since last autumn, when 62 died on the anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq. Maliki says the bombings are pushing the country toward all-out civil war, and he may be right.
“Maliki is practically another Saddam. But Maliki surpasses Saddam because he is protected by Iran and he has double the funds of Saddam, who was besieged during most of his years in power,” Al-Rashed wrote.
A recent LA Times article about Maliki used the headline, “The Great Divider.”
The first line: “Iraq is on its way to dissolution, and the United States is doing nothing to stop it.”
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