International request for politician's arrest draws US into Iraqi political crisis

U.S. ally Turkey on Wednesday rejected an international police request to arrest an Iraqi politician who's being tried in absentia in Baghdad on terrorism charges, drawing renewed attention to the growing political crisis since U.S. troops left Iraq in December.

Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni and leader of the country's main opposition group, says the charges are bogus. He has accused Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of consolidating power and drifting into Iran's orbit.

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“We will not extradite someone whom we have supported since the very beginning,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said Wednesday, according to the AFP wire service.

Meanwhile, in a lengthy statement sent to The Hill, al-Hashemi's representative in the United States urged Obama to intervene.

“Iraq needs the president and Congress of the United States to help see the democratic process through peacefully and we ask them to take decisive diplomatic action immediately,” writes Mark Alsalih. “As an ally and friend, the United States can send a strong message that a democratic government is one where power is shared, not monopolized.”

The deepening crisis has prompted the Iraqiya List, a self-described non-sectarian coalition of which al-Hashemi is a leading member, to hire a D.C. public-relations firm to make the Iraqi crisis an election-year issue, The Hill reported last week. Republican hawks Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in particular have lambasted President Obama for failing to keep a contingent of troops in the country.

"Anytime the vice president of a country is on the run and he's claiming sectarian reprisal, that's not good," Graham told The Hill. "I think we're going to see more of this."

Bozdag's statement comes after the international police agency Interpol issued a “red alert” for al-Hashemi's arrest on suspicion of "guiding and financing terrorist attacks." A red alert is not a formal arrest warrant but asks for Interpol member countries' voluntary cooperation.

The red notice “represents a regional [and] international alert to all of Interpol's 190 member countries to seek their help in locating and arresting him, following the issue of a national arrest warrant by Iraq's Judicial Investigative Authority as part of an investigation in which security forces seized bombing materials and arrested individuals," Interpol said in a statement.

The full text of Alsalih's statement is below:

In Iraq, democracy still hangs in the balance

The last official presence of the U.S. combat troops in Iraq may have ended four months ago, but Americans cannot forget the people – and government – they left behind. 

The situation in Iraq is dire. 

As the last American convoy prepared to roll out of Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki started what is effectively a coup against the power-sharing Erbil agreement that led to the formation of an inclusive national government. Maliki started by brazenly arresting some 615 alleged Baathists, many of whom he considered his biggest political foes. The Prime Minister pressed on, using the Ministry of Interior that he unconstitutionally controls to issue bogus and politically motivated terrorism charges against Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, who in 2005 was the leading proponent of the Iraq constitution. 

Mr. Hashimi is a ranking member of the secular cross-sectarian Iraqiya List Coalition and a man who knows firsthand the horrors of terrorism, having lost three siblings to acts of terror in 2006. Contemporaneous to his attacks against the Iraqi vice president, Maliki moved to orchestrate a parliamentary no-confidence vote to oust Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, another prominent member of the Iraqiya List. None of the Prime Minister’s political opponents have escaped his aggressive and strategically designed power grab. It is not uncommon for Iraqi politicians and their families to awaken to the unsettling site of tanks surrounding their homes, but what they now fear is a reversal of the democracy they have fought hard to secure over the past decade.

Iraq’s march towards democracy has been arduous. The Iraqi and American service members and their families who sacrificed everything in the name of a shared vision for Iraq’s future share the burden of its transition. But together, we have come startlingly close to realizing this vision. Yet Prime Minister Maliki has signaled something entirely different. Instead of reaching out to Western allies, he has turned to perhaps our greatest common foe―Iran.

Maliki returned last week from a two day trip to Tehran, where his own website carefully documents his meetings with key Iranian leaders including President Ahmadinejad, Saeed Jalili, Ali Larijani and Ayatollah Khamenei. While in Tehran, the Prime Minister also met with Grand Ayatollah Mahmud Shahrudi, a member of the Iranian Guardians Council of Iraqi origin and former head of Iran’s Judiciary System. Not surprisingly, the meeting was left off Maliki’s official agenda and hidden from Western audiences. 

The meeting, which was covered by the Iranian news agency IRNA, was different. Shahrudi has a strictly domestic role in the Iranian government, focused on internal power-broking. While we can only speculate, rumors that Maliki’s Daawa party may adopt Shahrudi as a spiritual leader have been rampant since 2011. As Reidar Visser correctly reported, Shahrudi belongs to the school of the Iranian revolution and advocates a leading role for the clergy in government, saying “if Shahrudi should succeed in emerging to prominence in Najaf with the help of the Daawa it would transform the outlook of the city entirely.” Let me be clear; Iraq needs the influence of the U.S., not the Iranian clergy. 

The closer Maliki aligns his policies with Iran, the further Iraq moves from our dream of a nonsectarian democracy. While the U.S. and most of the world denounce the brutal atrocities taking place in Syria, Mr. Maliki is moving Iraq closer to the regime that’s arming Assad and endorsing terror. After his meeting with the Prime Minister, Ahmadinejad boasted, "If Tehran and Baghdad are strong, the region will have no place for the United States and the Zionist regime.”  

I hope this frightens Americans as much as it does most Iraqis. The question is, what is our way together forward?

Our unified opposition party, Iraqyia has welcomed the opportunity to convene another national conference to resolve the crisis. Contrary to aggressive and divisive maneuvers by the Prime Minister, we seek to resolve this issue in the spirit of cohesiveness. Regardless of religious or ethnic affiliation we are Iraqi, and our democracy should work to the benefit of us all. 

Iraq needs the President and Congress of the United States to help see the democratic process through peacefully and we ask them to take decisive diplomatic action immediately. Iraq is ready to continue forging its own unique democracy, separate from the influence or interference of anyone else. However, as an ally and friend, the United States can send a strong message that a democratic government is one where power is shared, not monopolized. A democratic government is the only viable option for Iraq if it is to be a reliable U.S. ally and a contributor to prosperity and stability in a region vital to U.S. interests. 

We ask President Obama and Congress to make it known that American support of Maliki, and the implementation of the Strategic Framework Agreement, is contingent on his sincere willingness to transition Iraq into its democratic future. This begins with fulfilling the Erbil agreement, which the U.S. played a leading role facilitating. For over a year, the Prime Minister has reneged his end of the agreement. Iraq has endured so much in our search for freedom and democracy; our leadership should not be stifling our people’s forward progress. In keeping with the democratic ideal, we call on the U.S. and other free world powers to pressure Maliki to dissolve the unconstitutional and repressive entities through which he now rules.

Make no mistake, Iraq is caught in the middle of a tug-of-war between the democracy we all have endeavored to build and outside forces that seek to disrupt and inhibit egalitarianism from taking root. The people of Iraq have spoken. We need peace; we need democracy; and we need the U.S. to see its mission through. 

Mark Alsalih is the U.S. representative of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a prominent Iraqi politician and a senior leader of the political party Iraqiya. As a party, Iraqiya won the most seats in the 2010 election and it represents more than a quarter of all Iraqis.