Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Fakhri Karim: Nouri al-Maliki Saw Mosul as ‘Dagger in the Side’

Fakhri Karim during his interview with Editor-in-Chief of Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt Ghassan Charbel. (Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt)
Fakhri Karim during his interview with Editor-in-Chief of Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt Ghassan Charbel. (Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt)
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Fakhri Karim: Nouri al-Maliki Saw Mosul as ‘Dagger in the Side’

Fakhri Karim during his interview with Editor-in-Chief of Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt Ghassan Charbel. (Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt)
Fakhri Karim during his interview with Editor-in-Chief of Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt Ghassan Charbel. (Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt)

Last February, Iraqi politician and publisher Fakhri Karim narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Baghdad, sparking many questions about the motive behind the attack.

Some speculate Karim was targeted for his role as a senior advisor to the late President Jalal Talabani between 2006 and 2014. Others think it might have been due to his efforts in managing the relationship between Talabani and Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani.

There is also speculation that the attack could have been a reaction to his newspaper, Al-Mada. Known for supporting the Iraqi uprising, Al-Mada has strongly campaigned against widespread assassinations and the uncontrolled spread of weapons.

The recent attempt on Karim's life recalls a similar incident in Lebanon in 1982. During the Israeli siege of Beirut, while the city was seeing off Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters, Karim was injured in the face in an assassination attempt.

Karim had a close relationship with then PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, who supported thousands of communists escaping Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

Born in 1942 in Baghdad to a Shiite Kurdish family, Karim joined the Communist Party in 1959. His activism led to multiple imprisonments, escapes, and living under aliases, including Ali Abdul Khaliq.

Karim worked in the party’s media and was once the deputy head of the journalists’ syndicate.

In an interview with Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt, Karim recounted a significant episode from 1970.

The Communist Party, through leader Makram Talabani, informed President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr about a coup plot orchestrated by outspoken Iraqi officer and politician Abdel Ghani al-Rawi, with support from Iran.

Al-Bakr appreciated the intelligence and reportedly said: “We will not forget this for the party.”

Karim also mentioned that al-Bakr had previously proposed that the Communist Party join the Baath Party in the coup that brought the Baathists back to power on July 17, 1968, but the party declined.

Karim disclosed that he personally received a call from US officials urging President Jalal Talabani not to run for a second term, labeling him as “Iran’s man.”

Karim then revealed that President Barack Obama was involved in a scheme to persuade Talabani to step down in favor of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. The aim was to keep Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister to appease Iran.

Karim admitted that supporting al-Maliki for the position of prime minister over Allawi, who had won the majority in parliament, was a blunder.

He stated that al-Maliki ignored Barzani’s warnings about extremist activity near Mosul that eventually culminated in ISIS’s capture of the city.

Before Mosul fell, al-Maliki reportedly said in front of President Talabani: “We need to cooperate and bring Mosul closer to the Kurdistan region because it is a hub for terrorists, nationalists, and Baathists, a dagger in our side.” Talabani reportedly found the comment inappropriate.

Karim spoke about missions assigned to him by Talabani in Tehran and Damascus, including meetings with Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were both killed in a US airstrike in early 2020.

He expressed concerns about the future of Iraq and Kurdistan amidst political instability.

Moreover, Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s exit from politics has emboldened minorities to challenge the constitution and institutions, according to Karim.

Some Iraqis now see the Federal Court as straying from its original role, comparing it to the Revolutionary Command Council.

Moment of decline for Iraq’s political process

Karim responded to comments by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari to Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt previously, where Zebari stated that Talabani was prepared to support the no confidence of al-Maliki’s government, but he changed course after receiving a threatening message from Qassem Soleimani.

Karim noted that months into al-Maliki’s second term, he started to act independently, even from Shiite factions. This trend worried the highest religious authority in the country.

A meeting in Erbil gathered opposition forces, including the Iraqi List and Kurdish factions, later joined by al-Sadr. Talabani proposed withdrawing confidence from al-Maliki's government. Karim expressed concerns, but Talabani seemed unbothered. Karim also worried about potential resistance from Soleimani, prompting Talabani to suggest contacting him in Tehran.

As the plane prepared to depart, Soleimani indicated a messenger would deliver a message. The severe message demanded Talabani’s resignation if he wasn't up to the task and that he follow Soleimani’s approach. This led to a change of course and very dangerous consequences. Karim believed this marked the beginning of the decline in the political process in Iraq, leading to current events.

Al-Maliki and the Mosul dilemma

In Karim’s personal opinion, al-Maliki understood the gravity of the situation but likely thought it was a minor breach that could be rectified. Karim doubted that al-Maliki anticipated the situation turning into a major disaster leading to the occupation of a third of the country by ISIS, plunging both the people and the state into a costly predicament, the effects of which they are still grappling with.

The issue of Mosul was raised between Talabani and al-Maliki at the onset of discussions about forming the government. It was discussed in several meetings between the two leaders.

One day, al-Maliki proposed an idea that seemed strange to Karim. He suggested paying attention to the situation in Mosul and seeking a remedy for it.

“I hope we can cooperate and bring Mosul closer to the Kurdistan Region as much as possible because Mosul is a hub for terrorism, nationalists, and Baathists, hence a dagger in our side,” Karim recalled al-Maliki as saying.

Karim then responded: “We are talking about a future where we address the shortcomings we face, and you are talking about a Sunni component that is part of the political process!”

Al-Maliki then replied: “How can you speak to me like this? These are Baathists and nationalists, and, with all due respect, Sunnis.”

Karim then pointed to Talabani and said: “This man in front of you is Sunni.”

At that point, Talabani told al-Maliki that this conversation was inappropriate.

Al-Maliki: Mosul situation is under control

Karim’s words matched what Barzani, the former President of the Kurdistan Region, said at the time when he personally led the confrontation against ISIS.

Barzani said: “Before the fall of Mosul to ISIS, we received information that extremists were establishing bases in the urban area southwest of Mosul, near the Syrian border. I sent messages to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki through Sayyid Ammar al-Hakim, Dr. Roj Shaways, and US Ambassador Stephen Beecroft.”

“I told them: Inform him that he’s preoccupied with Anbar and indifferent to Mosul, which has become an open arena. I proposed a joint operation to prevent the extremists from taking over Mosul and its surroundings,” recounted Barzani.

This was in December 2013, seven months before Mosul fell to ISIS. Barzani added that al-Maliki showed no interest: “I called him at the beginning of 2014 and said, ‘My brother, the situation in Mosul is dangerous. Let’s conduct a joint operation. I cannot send the Peshmerga alone’.”

“The matter is sensitive between Kurds and Arabs, and government forces are present in the area. There's the 2nd Division of the Iraqi Army, Federal Police, and other units. We’re ready to bear the heavier burden, but let it be a joint operation,” argued Barzani.

Al-Maliki then replied: “My brother, you watch over your region, don’t worry about what’s beyond it; the situation is under control.”

Barzani indicated that ISIS had not dreamed of taking control of Mosul, nor had it anticipated its fall into their hands.

The terrorist group wanted to distract army units to release their members detained in the Badush prison west of the city.

“ISIS launched shells towards the Ghazlani camp to cover the prisoners’ escape. The officers sent by al-Maliki (the ground forces commander and deputy chief of staff) fled, and the division commander joined them... This is a big and terrible issue,” said the Kurdish leader.

“The army didn't resist. Senior officers sought refuge with the Peshmerga. We rescued them and sent them to Baghdad at their request,” Barzani recounted.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Hamdok Optimistic for Burhan-Hemedti Meeting

Abdullah Hamdok, Sudan’s former Prime Minister and leader of the Sudanese Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum)
Abdullah Hamdok, Sudan’s former Prime Minister and leader of the Sudanese Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum)
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Hamdok Optimistic for Burhan-Hemedti Meeting

Abdullah Hamdok, Sudan’s former Prime Minister and leader of the Sudanese Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum)
Abdullah Hamdok, Sudan’s former Prime Minister and leader of the Sudanese Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum)

Abdalla Hamdok, Sudan’s former Prime Minister and leader of the Sudanese Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum), is optimistic about a potential meeting between Sudan’s army leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) commander Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo “Hemedti.”
Speaking to Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt on the sidelines of a Cairo conference for Sudanese political forces, Hamdok said: “A meeting between the two sides is possible through the African Union’s Presidential Committee led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.”
Hamdok highlighted that this committee “is a positive step, providing a mechanism to bring the conflicting parties together, which didn’t exist before.”
In late June, the African Peace and Security Council formed a committee led by Museveni to bring together Sudan’s military and RSF leaders promptly. They proposed an urgent African Union summit to address Sudan’s situation.
Hamdok called it a historic step, noting it’s the first mechanism at the presidential level. He hoped the committee could influence both sides and achieve peace.
He praised the recent African Peace and Security Council meeting for showing Africa’s concern for Sudan.
At the Cairo conference for Sudanese political forces, Hamdok highlighted it as a crucial gathering since the crisis began, focusing on ceasefire strategies and a sustainable political resolution.
He emphasized there’s no military solution to Sudan’s conflict and advocated for political negotiations.
The Cairo conference united Sudanese political and civilian forces under the theme “Together for Peace,” addressing ceasefire, humanitarian aid, and a political roadmap.
Hamdok pointed out that Sudan is undergoing the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, with 25 million people inside Sudan facing famine.
“Starvation is claiming more lives than bullets,” said Hamdok, highlighting the urgent need to reach war-affected populations.
The former premier urged action to deliver aid across Sudan’s borders and ensure it reaches those in conflict zones.