A series of leaked audio recordings attributed to former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki insulting and criticizing influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has sparked vast outrage among Sadr loyalists and threatened to plunge the fragile country into a deeper political instability.
Iraqi journalist Ali Fadhil on Wednesday published the first secret audio message on Twitter depicting a man alleged to be Maliki insulting his longtime rival, Sadr, labeling him as a “murderer” and “coward.” Three episodes were posted after, the latest being on Saturday.
In the first series of the leaked recording, Maliki made claims of a British project seeking to overthrow Shiite dominance in Iraq.
“The issue is that there is a British project aiming to put Muqtada in control of the Shiites and Iraq, then they would kill him and hand over Iraq to the Sunnis … That project exists, but I am fighting it, and it is to be fought politically and militarily,” Maliki said about his longtime rival, Sadr.
“Muqtada is a murderer, how many did he kill in Baghdad? The kidnappings, the car bombs, he is not a master, he is a coward, a traitor, an ignorant who knows nothing,” the voice alleged to be of Maliki said. “I know the Sadrists, I have fought them in Basra, Karbala, and Baghdad, we had no weapons and the Iranians had given them advanced missiles and we still won.”
The recordings come amid a deep political crisis grasping Iraq, with the country’s government yet to be formed a staggering nine months after early elections were held. The Coordination Framework, a pro-Iran Shiite parliamentary alliance that Maliki is a leader in, has been trying to pick a candidate for prime minister and elect a president before the end of this month.
However, the former prime minister was quick to hit back at the leaks and profoundly denied the authenticity of the audio recordings, calling them fake and saying they were made up to incite “chaos.”
Sadr for his part urged his supporters to dismiss the recordings, and noted that they mean nothing to him.
The Shiite cleric was not the only target of Maliki’s audacious words, as he also took a dig at the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi), whom he called “cowards.” The vast group of militias was formed in response to call-to-arms from Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to take the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) as it swept across northern Iraq in 2014.
Videos circulating on social media showed raging PMF loyalists setting fire to the headquarters of Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party in Baghdad’s Sadr City.