The televised confession, often taped less than 48 hours after the detention of a suspect, has become something of a gold standard in Iraqi judicial procedure in the post-2003 era.
In many ways, this way of presenting the evidence of the prosecution is a sorry sight. At similar instances in the past, accusations of torture and forced confessions have been rampant. The theatrical nature of these videos and the conspicuous timing of their appearance certainly do not instil confidence about due process and the independence of the judiciary vis-à-vis the political environment.
Hopefully, any case against Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi – who yesterday evening was formally accused of having abetted terrorism through his office – will be judged on its own merits. Before rushing to conclusions, it might perhaps also be useful to recollect a criminal case involving the security detail of another past vice president, Adel Abd al-Mahdi, back in 2009. Despite the serious nature of the charges against one of his employees (a bank robbery with alleged political motivations), Abd al-Mahdi eventually emerged unscathed from the whole affair.
Given the symbolic timing of the arrest warrant just days after the US withdrawal from Iraq, it is hard to ignore accusations that there are political dimensions to the case. The reputation of the Iraqi judiciary is already in tatters after a series of rulings of a rather blunt pro-Maliki character. On the whole, the atmosphere seems reminiscent of the arbitrariness and outright terror that characterised the pre-election de-Baathification process in early 2010 – except perhaps that the targeted politician in this case is someone with a Sunni Islamist rather than a Baathist past. Sunnis and secularists must begin wondering whether they can all be the next target in a politicised campaign.
As far as the politics of the affair is concerned, not that much has changed. The Kurds propose vague mediation attempts and “national conferences”. Symptomatically, perhaps, President Jalal Talabani – normally a Maliki ally – managed to say that “no one should interfere with the judicial process” before adding that the measures taken against Hashemi seemed to have been done “in great haste”! For their part, Iraqiyya leaders remain reluctant to give up their patronage assets entirely: They are now suspending their participation in cabinet meetings rather than withdrawing from their ministries altogether. In a trend echoing the previous experience of secularist leaders in the Iraqi football federation, Iraqiyya are now clearly signalling their perception of the Kurdish federal region as “neutral territory” and are calling for the investigation against Hashemi to take place in Arbil. (Hashemi is reportedly still in Kurdish territory.)
Two players could conceivably create some dynamism in what seems an otherwise static – if increasingly bitter – tug-of-war. Firstly, Ibrahim al-Jaafari of Maliki’s own State of Law alliance, a former premier, has tried to present himself as an intermediary in the conflict with Iraqiyya, at times portraying himself as more reconciliatory than Maliki himself. (Jaafari is however not particularly popular with the Kurds and is seen as closer to Iran than Maliki by some.) Second, Usama al-Nujayfi, the parliamentary speaker of Iraqiyya, has continued to chair parliament meetings and thus remains in contact with Shiite and Kurdish leaders perhaps to a greater extent than others in Iraqiyya are.
The reported appearance of CIA director David Patraeus at a meeting of Iraqiyya yesterday seems somewhat extraordinary. If true, it could be indicative of how Washington sees the situation in Iraq after the withdrawal. Critics will claim that after two years dominated by Joe Biden diplomacy, it is perhaps somewhat late in the day to begin sending competent special envoys to Iraq.