Middle East

Iraqi press divided over Maliki's handling of crisis

Local tribesmen brandish their weapons as they pose for a photograph in the city of Fallujah
Image caption The Iraq government has lost control of the strategic city of Fallujah

As Iraqi government troops continue to battle it out with al-Qaeda-linked militants in the province of Anbar, the country's papers are divided over Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's handling of the situation.

Papers with links to Mr Maliki and his allies tend to be supportive of the campaign to drive out the militants, but others say that the prime minister has bungled the operation and that the whole thing is a mistake.

"Just war"

Most papers are in no doubt as to the danger posed to the Iraqi state by the militants, and the independent daily Al-Dustur goes so far as to describe the campaign against them as a "just war". The paper insists on the necessity of "purging the Anbar deserts of Al-Qaeda's camps and hotbeds" but says that any victory achieved will be a victory for the whole country and not just for the current government, as "the Iraqi army will never be someone's property or the property of a particular government".

Al-Mu'tamar, the official organ of the secular Iraqi National Congress, dismisses the belief expressed in some quarters that Mr Maliki launched the operation simply in order to bolster his chances of re-election in national elections due to be held in April.

"The army is on a mission to protect the country, not Maliki," the paper says.

The independent daily Al-Sabah al-Jadid defends the government, saying that the outlawed Baath party has joined forces with Al-Qaeda in Anbar province with the aim of stirring up further conflict between Sunnis and Shias and provoking a civil war.

The paper argues that the "politically bankrupt" Baathists "are seeking to push the situation in the western part of Iraq towards sectarian strife, which is their last card".

Another article in Al-Sabah al-Jadid describes the situation in Anbar province as "sheer chaos" and warns its readers that this is not a one-off crisis, but one that could easily spread to the rest of the country if left unchecked.

Maliki blamed

A commentary in the independent daily Al-Mada says that Mr Maliki got things badly wrong by sending in troops to sort out what apparently started off as an anti-government protest camp in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar. Mr Maliki maintained that the camp had become a headquarters for terrorists, and that a military operation to break up the camp was the only possible course of action.

Al-Mada argues that both "the nature of the operation and the timing are wrong", and that it had turned into a trap for the security forces and the people of the province.

The paper accuses Mr Maliki of adopting a high-handed stance over the camp, saying that he refused to discuss the operation to disperse it even with his allies in the Shia State of Law coalition.

"He must now put his stubbornness and arrogance aside, and get down to earth so as to look at things realistically," Al-Mada says.

A separate piece in Al-Mada likens Mr Maliki to a guard who fails in his duty to protect those under his care. This writer says that with more than 18,000 people killed in Iraq between 2010 and 2013, the nation is now paying a "bitter price" for the failure of its "guard". And worse still, with Mr Maliki now seeking a third term in office, there was a danger that the his "contract" could be renewed once more.

An editorial in the daily Al-Adalah - owned by former Finance Minister Adil Abd-al-Mahdi, a rival Shia politician opposed to Mr Maliki's leadership - says that it was a mistake to anger the local community by using force to dismantle the predominantly Sunni protest camp in Ramadi. The paper warns that targeting groups that are not natural allies of the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) could allow ISIS to take advantage of the situation and consolidate its presence in the area.

Meanwhile, the independent daily Al-Alam makes no mention of the role played by government troops, but instead credits tribes in Anbar with offering the main resistance to the Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups. The paper predicts that these tribes will eventually triumph over Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and will then expect the government to reward them for doing this.

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