Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sorting out al-Maliki

I'm an amateur, so don't expect this post to actually clarify the muddle surrounding Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki. It does appear to me that he's being set up as the scapegoat for the failures in Iraq:

NEW YORK (AP) - A new assessment on Iraq may shed some negative light on Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The New York Times is reporting on its Web site that U.S. intelligence agencies will issue a new assessment Thursday expressing doubt about al-Maliki's ability to end the violence that's tearing his country apart.

The assessment will also reportedly show doubt in the fledgling government's ability to meet benchmarks toward achieving political unity. The Times' story cites unidentified officials.

It comes just a day after President Bush scrambled to show his support for the embattled Iraqi leader. Bush called him a "good man with a difficult job," after expressing frustration with the ongoing political tensions in Iraq.

Our shrub has a bad habit of sending out mixed messages, and al-Maliki has had his share of interesting responses:

"No one has the right to place timetables on the Iraq government. It was elected by its people," he said at a news conference in Damascus at the end of the three-day visit to Syria.

"Those who make such statements are bothered by our visit to Syria. We will pay no attention. We care for our people and our constitution and can find friends elsewhere," al-Maliki said. [emphasis added]

While al-Maliki's status is shaky, I think that Hillary Clinton should be a little more careful about choosing her words.

"During my last visit to Iraq in January, I expressed my reservations about the ability of the Iraqi government, led by Prime Minister Maliki, to make the tough political decisions necessary for Iraq to resolve its sectarian divisions. Since my visit, Iraqi leaders have not met their own political benchmarks to share power, modify the de-Ba'athification laws, pass an oil law, schedule provincial elections, and amend their constitution. During his trip to Iraq last week, Senator Carl Levin, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee on which I serve, confirmed that the Iraqi Government’s failures have reinforced the widely held view that the Maliki government is nonfunctional and cannot produce a political settlement, because it is too beholden to religious and sectarian leaders. I share Senator Levin’s hope that the Iraqi parliament will replace Prime Minister Maliki with a less divisive and more unifying figure when it returns in a few weeks.

Because there is a real possibility that al-Maliki could remain as PM, and should she end up as President, negotiations could be tense.

But there are a lot of rumors swirling around (this via

A rumor is circulating among well-connected and formerly high-level Iraqi bureaucrats in exile in places like Damascus that a military coup is being prepared for Iraq. I received the following from a reliable, knowledgeable contact. There is no certitude that this plan can or will be implemented. That it is being discussed at high levels seems highly likely.

"There is serious talk of a military commission (majlis `askari) to take over the government. The parties would be banned from holding positions, and all the ministers would be technocrats, so to speak. . . [The writer indicates that attempts have
been made to recruit cabinet members from the ranks of expatriate technocrats.

The six-member board or commission would be composed on non-political former military personnel who are presently not part of the government OR the military establishment, such as it is in Iraq at the moment. It is said that the Americans are supporting this behind the scenes.

The plan includes a two-year period during which political parties would not be permitted to be part of the government, but instead would prepare and strengthen the parties for an election which would not have lists, but real people running for real seats. The two year period would be designed to take control of security and restore

And another old neo-con favorite may be trying to make a comeback. Think "Saddam-light":

Republican lobbyists with close ties to the Bush administration are aiding and supporting the efforts of an Iraqi opposition leader who is calling for the ouster of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The anti-Maliki crusader is former Iraqi interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, and the Washington firm retained to spearhead U.S.-focused efforts on his behalf is the Republican powerhouse group of Barbour, Griffith, and Rogers (BGR).

BGR International's president is Robert Blackwill, the one-time White House point man on Iraq, holding the title of Presidential Envoy to Iraq in 2004.

Blackwill worked closely during that time with Allawi, who was appointed Iraq's interim prime minister with the U.S. government's blessing.

This may be the absolute worst idea I've read in a long time. Allawi is seen as an American puppet and has no base of support amongst Iraq's. While al-Maliki's support is dwindling, Allawi would be violently opposed by the vast majority of the populace. The escalation in the violence would be horrific.

One of the wild-cards in play is a result of al-maliki's recent contacts with Iran, Turkey, and Syria. It doesn't make the administration very happy to read things like this:

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that, as expected, the deal offered to Iraqi Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki was more security in return for greater economic cooperation. (See also the OSC press summary below).

UPI reports that the cooperation focused on reviving the oil pipeline from Iraq through Syria, and on linking Iraq to the Syrian (and Arab) gas pipeline
network. It should be noted that if the Syrian oil pipeline could be
reopened, the tolls would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars a year
for Damascus. In a good year, the Iraqi petroleum pipeline was worth a
billion dollars a year to Turkey.

Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani has overseen the building of a new pipeline to
through northern Iraq, which will be guarded by a new protection force, and Iraq hopes also to begin pumping from the Kirkuk fields again soon. I suppose the success or failure of this effort would tell us whether the revival of the Syrian pipeline is feasible.

In reality, Iran, Turkey, and Syria are in a position to help stabilize Iraq. The question is how willing they are while America is occupying Iraq.

al-Maliki is quite weak in parliament, with his new four party coalition controlling only 104 of the 237 seats. He might pick up enough small party votes to survive a "no-confidence" vote, but it's by no means certain. He's ineffective, but it's doubtful whether anyone else could be effective in the current chaos. There is no "non-sectarian" candidate waiting in the wings.

And if our shrub decides to bomb Iran, all bets are off.

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