Iraq: Switching One Dictatorship For Another?

By Jay R.

As recent events in the region have shown, democracy may not ensure the stability that leaders like Maliki need to rule in countries as complicated as Iraq. 

An American soldier waves as his convoy crosses the border into Kuwait. (AP)

On the morning of December 18, the last convoy of American forces crossed the border into Kuwait, effectively ending their nine year presence in Iraq. The troops arrived nearly a decade ago to oust then President Saddam Hussein, quickly completing their mission following a blitzkrieg invasion kicked off by a massive bombing campaign.  Since that time, lawlessness, sectarian fighting, mass terrorism, and calls for autonomy have painted a glaring picture of the kind of strong leadership required to keep Iraq from descending into chaos. The question now is what kind of leader are they leaving behind in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and does the possibility exist that the United States deposed a Sunni authoritarian leadership to install a Shiite one in its place?

If they were not before, Maliki’s attempts to solidify his grip on the country are becoming ever more apparent. One could have attributed such action to a preemptive strategy to maintain security in the country amidst sectarian divides, Shiite militias, and a Sunni insurgency – a strategy that Maliki currently claims. But one must ask if this preemptive strategy is actually an attempt to consolidate his power while eliminating opposition entities and their chances of garnering greater influence.

Maliki has allegedly developed a quasi-secret police apparatus, much reminiscent of the Saddam-era. We saw this force swing into action, when it conducted a widespread sweep in the predominately Sunni Sallahuddin province to arrest over 600 former Baath party members. Maliki is also employing his son, Ahmad, much like Saddam did, to conduct evictions of Western companies from Baghdad’s Green Zone – the most secure area of the city.

One may have said that the recent evictions are no more than a fairly new leader attempting to display that he is no puppet of the West, which has been propping his leadership since coming to power. But secular-Iraqiyya party leader, Iyad Allawi, would likely disagree with this sentiment. He has become increasingly vocal in his criticism of Maliki’s dictatorial tendencies and as a show of protest, has withdrawn his party members from the Council of Ministers.

But what should be more alarming are the claims of abuse by many human rights organizations. The Prime Ministers’ administration over clandestine prisons, the abduction and detainment of journalists and detractors, while professionally terminating over 100 university professors, has no doubt raised suspicions of the West.  But the West is out, and therefore influence is now at a minimum, despite the many arms deals that are currently in process.

What will be the real test of Maliki’s intentions is whether or not he will hold true to his previous statements, which indicate he will not seek reelection for a third term in 2014. As recent events in the region have shown, democracy may not ensure the stability that leaders like Maliki need to rule in countries as complicated as Iraq.