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Saddam footsteps
Protesters chant pro-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki slogans as they carry a huge Iraqi flag during a demonstration to show support for Al-Maliki's government, in Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Protesters chant pro-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki slogans as they carry a huge Iraqi flag during a demonstration to show support for Al-Maliki's government, in Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
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Events in Iraq in recent weeks suggest the country is sliding toward irreparable civil conflict, unless its causes are addressed.

In the past couple of weeks of seemingly nonstop violence, the sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shiites in the country has risen to the surface. This is thanks in no small part to the decisions of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose policies have raised fears among the Sunni population of him and his leadership.

It appears to not be enough for Maliki and his people that the country has already lost thousands of lives and billions of dollars since the U.S. invasion. They are willing to risk losing more.

At this stage all efforts should be focused on reuniting Iraqi society and bringing the country back into the 21st century. Iraq has suffered not only material damage, but also damage to its social fabric which requires intense effort to repair. That damage was the cost the country paid for the removal of one dictator. Now it is at risk of being subjected to another.

The danger of this is obvious to all, except apparently Maliki himself. Even moderate Shiite leaders have cautioned against his government’s current path because they see it is a recipe for more violence.

The situation in the country is delicate. Maliki now faces protests and calls to step down in Sunni areas, in addition to the many conflicts over oil resources and other disputes with Kurds in the north. Meanwhile, Turkey has launched an aerial campaign against Kurdish rebels. External forces also put Iraq in a dangerous position. It shares volatile borders with Jordan and Syria and risks creating animosity with Gulf states. Events in Syria also present a serious threat of strengthening sectarian divides in its neighbor.

While Iraq’s security situation deteriorates, it is being led by an administration that has a mini-Saddam Hussein in the making, a state of affairs which is so far dangerously unchecked.

Yet this regime is little more than a puppet for its bigger neighbor, Iran. And if Iran is sanctioning the current path Maliki is set on, then it is shooting itself in the foot.

Iran is already involved in events in Syria, while suffering from sanctions and the consequences of being the region’s black sheep. It is also confronting its own internal challenges to power. It is therefore within its own interests to rein in Maliki.

Iraqi people of all sects have had enough. This is a country with colossal potential wealth that should be spent on the welfare of its people.

If Maliki and his leadership insist on continuing in the footsteps of Saddam Hussein, it will be down to the political forces of both sides who actually believe in the future of a unified Iraq to insist the government change its approach and address national issues.

Should Maliki be allowed to continue on this path, the resultant chaos will not stop at Iraq’s borders.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 17, 2013, on page 7.
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