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iraqi PM plans to address nation weekly
but syria speech falls on deaf ears

Haider Najm
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has decided he should address his nation every week. And his latest speech was all about his plan to halt the conflict in Syria. However it hasn’t gone down very…
12.09.2013  |  Baghdad

Did he really say that? In mid-August the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki decided to start giving a weekly, televised address to the nation. The idea is apparently modelled on the way the US president works. And al-Maliki’s most recent speech was all about his ideas to solve the Syrian crisis next door.

Al-Maliki’s initiative contained nine points. These involved calling for an immediate ceasefire in all of the Syrian territories as well as a halt to the supply of weapons and financial means to parties fighting in Syria. Al-Maliki also called for continued support of the United nations as it investigates the use of chemical weapons in Syria and rejected the idea of any overt, foreign interference in Syrian affairs.

Suffice to say, the initiative was roundly criticised by both locals and external parties. That is, if anybody even paid any attention to al-Maliki’s ideas – which are mostly considered completely impossible because of the complexity and pitch of the Syrian conflict. Even many Arabic-speaking television channels and commentators ignored it.

A source from inside one of the European embassies in Baghdad reported that his masters were not taking the suggested initiative seriously. Apparently the head of the embassy was told to procrastinate over a response.

And while Shalal Kado, a member of the Syrian Kurdish council, thought the initiative was a nice idea, he told NIQASH that: “everyone – the opposition, the Syrian government and all regional actors – are really only waiting for the response of the US or Russia”.

Only Iraq’s other neighbours, the Iranians, said anything nice about al-Maliki’s speech. Iranian media outlets praised al-Maliki’s “noble ideas” and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who arrived in Baghdad on Sunday also seemed to support al-Maliki’s words, by making statements about “joint concerns with our Iraqi brothers on war-waging in the region”.

Iran is one of the Syrian regime’s strongest supporters. Officially Iraq is supposed to be neutral about the Syrian conflict, Unofficially, it seems as though al-Maliki’s government, which has close ties to the Iranian government, may well be supporting the Syrian regime, headed by Bashar al-Assad, too.

"Al-Maliki\'s initiative is clearly biased toward the Syrian regime,” Haitham al-Maleh, a well known Syrian activist, said. “The things he said cannot be accepted from a party which is actually involved in the Syrian crisis.”

This was a reference to the fact that al-Maliki and his government are ignoring the transport of Iranian weapons and fighters into Syria, across Iraqi land and airspace.

Critics also pointed out the hypocrisy in al-Maliki’s speech where he demanded the withdrawal of foreign fighters from Syria, who are “fuelling this crisis” as he put it. Yet many say that al-Maliki’s government is certainly not preventing Iraqi fighters from crossing into Syria to fight alongside al-Assad’s forces.

It is well known that Iraqis belonging to the Sunni Muslim extremist groups associated with al-Qaeda are in Syria fighting against al-Assad’s forces, while Shiite Muslim fighters from Iraq are also known to be in Syria. And there is some suspicion that the Iraqi government is, if not helping them get there, then certainly not preventing them from leaving Iraq.

The almost-useless Syrian initiative was not the only reason that al-Maliki came in for criticism after his third weekly speech. The Prime Minister had completely failed to address important internal issues for Iraqis – one of these was the number of protests around the country against what are seen as extravagant pensions for retiring MPs. Neither did he mention the ongoing series of bombings that are claiming hundreds of lives in Iraq every month – even though the Prime Minister is ostensibly still in charge of the country’s security.

“The weekly speech is a nice idea,” says Abed al-Zahra Zaki, a former media adviser to Baghdad politicians, who also used to run the government-sponsored Al Sabah newspaper. “But it requires more thought and a special way of presenting ideas.”