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12.20.11

Fugitive Iraq Sunni V.P. Tariq al-Hashemi Criticizes U.S.

Iraq’s embattled Sunni vice president tells Eli Lake he can’t return to his offices or his home in Baghdad after Prime Minister Maliki issued a warrant for his arrest.

Fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, ordered arrested this week by the country’s prime minister, said Tuesday the stability of his country is “really deteriorating” and that he now supports a move by three Sunni provinces to seek independence from Baghdad’s central government.

The United States has “left Iraq in a terrible situation. We are just very much closer to an autocratic system, this is the country America has left us,” Hashemi told The Daily Beast in an interview from Iraq’s Kurdish region where he is staying since his arrest warrant was issued over the weekend.

Asked if he believed Iraq could disintegrate into three countries—Sunni, Shiite and Kurdistan—as many analysts feared at the height of the Iraqi civil war in 2006, Hashemi said, “I hope not, but believe it or not, all options are in front of Iraqis.

“The situation is really deteriorating, all possibilities now could happen.  I hope this won’t happen. But if you ask my expectation, we have a gloomy picture,” Hashemi said. 

Hashemi, an influential leader among the Sunnis, has become a central figure in the current political crisis playing out this week inside Iraq. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a leader of the Shiite majority, issued over the weekend an arrest warrant for Hashemi. The move ignited tensions between the Shiite and Sunni factions of government.

Hashemi said Tuesday he is now supporting the moves of three Sunni provinces to declare their independence from Baghdad’s central government, reversing his earlier position. Hashemi was one of the last holdouts among major Sunni Arab politicians in Iraq for keeping a stronger central government despite the Shiite political majority in the country’s council of representatives.

In the last two weeks, provincial governments in Anbar, Diyala, and Salah ad Din have all said they would seek greater autonomy from the central government and pursue the kind of regional autonomy enjoyed by the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, that rules over the three Kurdish majority provinces in northern Iraq.

“I do feel sympathy about the people’s desires in these three provinces, and I understand why they have changed their minds,” he said. “They used to be close to the government system, now they want to be like the KRG.”

That provincial government is a nearly autonomous region in Iraq, issuing their own visas for passports and issuing their own contracts to develop oil fields in the Kurdistan region. 

“There is a wide-scaled corruption and there is too much interference from Baghdad into the internal security of these provinces,” Hashemi said. “The constitution gives wide scale autonomy.  People are fed up with the mismanagement and the wide-scaled interference from Baghdad.”

“We are really disappointed and frustrated with the Americans, they have done zero in terms of these problems. I am not betting on them to do anything. They tell us they will do their best, but we think this means nothing.”

Hashemi was one of America’s closest political allies in Baghdad, but he blames the Obama administration for failing to act more forcefully. “I talked to the ambassador,” he said. “We are really disappointed and frustrated with the Americans, they have done zero in terms of these problems. I am not betting on them doing anything. They tell us they will try their best, but we think this means nothing.”

The vice president has been on the run since the weekend warrant was issued. “Unfortunately I cannot go to Baghdad right now, my office is occupied, all of my computers have been seized by authorities loyal to Maliki,” he told the Beast. “My house is being investigated and all my computers and papers have been seized there. My office staff has been asked to leave.”

Hashemi said he has not even seen his arrest warrant, he has only seen the reports in the newspaper. He was nonetheless incredulous. “Three of my brothers have been killed because of my participation in building a new Iraq, regardless of all I have done, I am now accused by the prime minister who says I have a link to terrorism, this is really unbelievable.”