‘Provincial Saddam’ Goes, Finally

BAQUBA — The surprise removal of the Diyala police chief has brought new hope of a more secure future.

The decision by members of the ruling council of Diyala governorate to discharge provincial police chief Ghanim al-Quraishi brought celebrations in its wake. In Baquba, 40 km northeast of Baghdad, and capital of Diyala province, Quraishi has long been a controversial figure.

“Police chief Ghanim al-Quraishi gave orders to organise the fighting in this district (Hwaider) very secretly,” a policeman in the 2nd battalion told IPS on condition of anonymity. “The 2nd battalion of Iraqi police moved to Hwaider, whose people witnessed severe military clashes between the Mehdi Army and police.”

Quraishi has been accused of supporting the U.S. and Iranian backed Badr militia, which has clashed with Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi army militia, as well as the U.S.-backed Sahwa forces, which are dominated by Sunni Muslims.

“A big verbal quarrel took place earlier (in the governor’s office) between al-Quraishi, who is a Badr (Organisation) member, and followers of Sadr,” a second policeman, also speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. “The Sadrists accused Quraishi of targeting the Mehdi.”

And so the majority of people in Baquba, whether they are sympathetic to the Sahwa, the Mehdi army, or to non-affiliated Iraqi security forces, are happy to see the removal of Quraishi.

After the announcement was first made Aug. 11, neither Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki nor the ministry of interior affairs acted on the council’s recommendation. People were told by the ministry of interior affairs that Quraishi continued as chief of police regardless of the council’s decision.

The next day, Aug. 12, several policemen led by Quraishi demonstrated outside the building of the ruling council, and insulted members who had supported his expulsion.

The orchestrated demonstration was filmed by a local cameraman, who sent a tape to Prime Minister Maliki in Baghdad. It was then that Maliki ordered the discharge of Quraishi. Ministry of interior affairs spokesman Abdul-Kareem Khalaf was named acting police chief.

About the same time as the demonstration, a suicide bomber attacked the convoy of the governor of Diyala, Raad Rasheed, in Baquba. The governor escaped unharmed but at least one civilian was killed. Iraqi officials immediately imposed a curfew over the city that lasted until Wednesday morning.

Later Tuesday night, about 8pm, Quraishi surrendered his responsibilities and left office.

People of Baquba, Shias and Sunnis together, congratulated one another on the removal of a “post-occupation dictator.” Quraishi, a Shia, had his own militia called the ‘Khirnabat men’.

Quraishi’s convoys consisted of 120 fighters as his protection group and 20 armoured vehicles. Few could challenge his authority, not even the governor.

Quraishi, who was a general in Saddam Hussein’s military, was backed by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), the most powerful Shia group in the Baghdad government.

“The second Saddam has gone,” a trader who referred to himself as Abu Ali told IPS. “We look forward to better times.”

(*Ahmed, our correspondent in Iraq’s Diyala province, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who has reported extensively from Iraq and the Middle East).