Iraq parliamentary probe says former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should be tried for responsibility in Islamic State takeover of Mosul last year. But analysts doubt Maliki will go to court
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, pictured here in June 2014 in Baghdad, is among dozens of political and military officials accused of being responsible for the fall of Mosul to Islamic State fighters.
By: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours Staff Reporter, Published on Mon Aug 17 2015

A damning parliamentary probe has called for Iraq’s former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to face trial for the fall of Mosul last year to Islamic State fighters.

Maliki is among nearly three dozen top Iraqi generals and politicians that were named in the investigation, including Babaker Zebari, the military’s former chief of staff, Bloomberg reported Monday.

The Islamic State’s rapid takeover of Iraq’s second-largest city in June 2014 dealt a strategic blow to the Iraqi army, several units of which fled as the extremist group closed in. ISIS fighters even seized Iraqi military equipment that was left behind.

Many accused Maliki of withdrawing the army and failing to defend the city. This parliamentary report seemingly confirms those long-standing accusations.

The probe found Maliki failed to adequately equip or train the army to defend Mosul, and accused the former leader of leaving soldiers without proper instructions to retake the city, Zaid al-Ali, author of the book, The Struggle for Iraq’s Future, told the Star.

The officials named in the investigation came across as being “very incompetent and very corrupt,” he said.

The takeover of Mosul, now the Islamic State’s de facto centre of operations in Iraq, was the group’s largest success at the time, and stoked fears as it violently pushed through large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

But it remains unclear whether Maliki will be held accountable. If he does not face charges, Ali said it would deal a serious blow to current Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the Iraqi parliament and judiciary, and the country’s citizens, who are demanding accountability.

“If no charges are brought against Maliki, and it’s painfully obvious that he has a lot to answer for . . . that will establish a really terrible precedent,” Ali said.

“Maliki is a very big fish who has a lot of friends and a lot of clout and a lot of power. It will be difficult to bring him to trial, but it will equally be very difficult to just let him go. The implications will be very serious.”

Maliki was prime minister from 2006 until his resignation last year after the fall of Mosul.

The former leader has also been accused of pursuing divisive, sectarian policies that alienated Iraq’s minority Sunni community, and in turn aided ISIS’ advance. About 60 per cent of Iraqis are Shiite Muslims, while 30 per cent are Sunni Muslims.

“The reason why the Iraqi army collapsed like a house of cards (is that) it really was not a professional army. The top leadership and the commanders were basically political appointees,” explained Fawaz Gerges, chair of Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies at the London School of Economics.

Gerges told the Star he expected second-tier military commanders to face charges in relation to this week’s report, but expressed doubt Maliki would go before the judiciary.

“Let’s not underestimate and minimize the difficulties and the obstacles because the system is bunk. It’s a broken, dysfunctional system . . . It’s an elite that has been nourished on systemic corruption.”

Still, he said the report sends “a powerful message” to Maliki and his allies.

Renad Mansour, non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut who specializes in Iraq, told the Star the report’s timing is important as it comes amidst a series of reforms by Abadi to cut down on corruption.

These steps include investigating military commanders for abandoning their posts as the city of Ramadi fell to ISIS in May, and reducing the number of government positions, including the vice-president post currently held by Maliki. Last week, Maliki said he supported Abadi’s government changes.

The report’s release “is part of this move by Abadi to strengthen the parliament, to strengthen institutions, and to also begin to show that he is a competent leader,” Mansour said.

Abadi is currently supported by two strong currents in Iraq, Mansour said: protesters in the streets who are demanding an end to corruption, and Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highly revered Shiite religious leader.

Mansour said while the Mosul report has largely been welcomed by local people as an important first step towards accountability, it should be taken with a grain of salt.

“It’s difficult to see how the judiciary and the parliament . . . will be able to really bring Maliki under court at the moment,” he said.

“It is at least a positive development in so far as it’s showing that there is progress being made and that if you are all the way up (to commander in chief), the rule of law is still applicable.”