The sectarian drift of the Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, needs to be reversed. Al Maliki is a leading Shiite politician, but in his position as the head of a government, he needs to serve the entire Iraqi population and his government must work to be inclusive of all Iraqis — be they Shiite or Sunni; Kurdish or Turk; Christian or Muslim.
Last week, noisy demonstrations took thousands of Sunni protestors on to the streets of Al Anbar province three times, as they marked their concern with the pro- Shiite preference of the government.
These protests could easily trigger sectarian violence and Iraq’s history of violence during the civil war leaves a sense of deep unease when sectarian concerns come to the fore, since everyone remembers that Al Anbar was at the heart of the deadly Sunni insurgency that emerged after the 2003 US-led invasion.
The demonstrations last week followed various accusations by Prime Minister Al Maliki against Finance Minister Rafia Al Issawi, who comes from Al Anbar and is one of the central government’s most senior Sunni officials.
Earlier, the prime minister ordered the arrest of 10 Al Issawi’s bodyguards and in one of the marches last week, Al Issawi was carried on the shoulders of the protesters. This case follows another attack last year by the prime minister on Vice-President Tariq Al Hashemi — another leading Sunni politician — who fled and is now living in exile in Turkey after being sentenced to multiple death sentences for allegedly running death squads — a charge that Al Hashemi dismisses as politically motivated.
Al Maliki needs to prove to the Iraqi people that his government will work for the entire population, regardless of sect or ethnic origin, and will stamp out any injustice and discrimination and ensure that there are no double standards. He should make clear to all his officials that the government of Iraq is a government for all Iraqis and not just a faction that has won power for itself.