July 30, 2014 by Darius
Many people inside and outside of Iraq agree that it’s time for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to go. Maliki, who has been in power for eight years, is facing the prospect of putting together a ruling coalition which would grant him another four-year term, even as his country seems on the brink of civil war due in large part to his actions and inactions. His own party, as well as his patron Iran, recently began talking openly about the prospect of replacing him. Maliki, though, seems intent on clinging to power. Chief among his reasons is something that one wouldn’t immediately expect: Maliki feels the need to retain some sort of government position to ensure he remains immune from prosecution.
Maliki has good reason to fear prosecution. He has spent much of the last eight years hunting down Sunni tribal leaders and political opponents. According to an opposition politician in Iraq, “If [Maliki is] outside, and there’s a strong government, it’s 100 percent certain he’ll be prosecuted for his crimes.” (Source: “Maliki’s Party in Search of an Alternative Candidate to Lead Iraq,” The Washington Post, July 28, 2014, p.A5, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/malikis-bloc-says-it-is-willing-to-consider-other-candidates-for-his-position/2014/07/27/c2c56b9f-2eec-4853-9d03-96b4ad9d03a1_story.html)
Fortunately, there’s an easy solution: promise Maliki amnesty from prosecution. Then, in a few years, if necessary prosecute him anyway. It might seem cold-blooded, it would solve a number of Iraq’s problems. First and foremost, it would get Maliki out of power so that someone who is (a) more competent and (b) more acceptable to more Iraqis can try to fix Iraq’s massive problems, starting with the terrorist group occupying a large chunk of the country. Second, prosecuting Maliki in a few years preserves accountability and would give future Iraqi leaders cause to think twice before abusing power. Finally, it’s entirely possible that Maliki would be able to escape prosecution entirely by leaving the country.
Such a strategy has been used, at least partially, in places from Guatemala to Uganda in trying to balance the short-term need for stability and reconciliation against the long-term need for justice. To be sure, it is not ideal, but Iraq doesn’t have any ideal options right now. It’s not clear if Maliki would accept amnesty and leave power, but it would be a more attractive outcome than many others—even for Maliki.