Former Iraqi PM Nouri Al Maliki appears in court over contested audio leaks

A Baghdad judge has summoned former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki to court on Tuesday over leaked audio recordings in which he is overheard sarcastically mocking his rival Moqtada Al Sadr and plotting to arm a militia group.

Ali Al Fadhil, an American blogger and activist, leaked the audio tapes in early July as political rivals became increasingly combative over the formation of a new government. The veracity of the tapes is being contested.

The Iraqi Prime Minister has dismissed rumours that he recorded a telephone call with Mr Bush in which he begged for American help. Politicians linked to Mr Al Sadr filed a legal action against Mr Al Maliki in September, who was Iraq’s prime minister from 2006 to 2014.

Senior Sadr loyalist Jaafar Al Mousawi said that the investigative judge recorded Mr Al Maliki’s remarks and granted him bail. A trial date would be set if charges are filed, Mr Al Mousawi said.

Husham al-Rikabi, who runs Mr. al-Maliki’s media office, confirmed that he was at Baghdad court on Tuesday, providing no other information. No immediate reply was given by the Iraqi Judiciary Council. An unknown date and location are mentioned in the tapes in connection with a meeting between Shiite militia representatives and Mr. Al Maliki.

An audio recording, which the person said to be Mr Al Maliki is heard accusing Mr Al Sadr of kidnappings and murder campaigns after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, mainly during sectarian warfare in 2006 and 2007.

An Iraq-based Shiite cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, has garnered a large following since his father’s 2003 downfall. On Friday, his supporters gathered in Tahrir Square in Baghdad to demand his release from custody.

The recording, in which Mr Al Maliki’s voice is said to have declared Mr Al Sadr to be backed by foreign states seeking to divide Shiites who came to power in Iraq after 2003, is said to have expressed his desire to resist Mr Al Sadr.

Senior leaders of the government-sanctioned Popular Mobilisation Forces, a largely Iran-backed militia force, are described as “cowards” by him, because he believes they are corrupt.

He suggested that members of the militia group should ally with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, a part of Iran’s armed forces, and provide them with weapons.

The head of the Sadrist bloc, Nassar Al Rubaie, requested authorities in September to issue an arrest warrant and travel ban against Mr Al Maliki, alleging that he was threatening peace and security in the country.

Mr al-Maliki is also seeking to cause sedition and sectarian fighting, he said.

In 2014, after serving two terms as prime minister, Al Maliki sought a third term. However, he was ousted from office as ISIS invaded northern and western Iraq, resulting in a disintegration of security.

The deadlock in forming a new Iraqi government is due in large part to bitter feuding between Mr Al Sadr and Mr Al Maliki.

In October 2021 elections, Mr Al Sadr won 73 of the 329 seats, but he needed coalition partners to form a government. He sought to reduce the number of seats won by Mr Al Maliki’s State of Law coalition to less than 30. The two men have been enemies since 2008, when Al Maliki launched a military operation against Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia

Image Credit: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP.