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Maliki and the surge



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The administration has been describing the surge as basically a Maliki plan. It’s not true. David Brooks blew the whistle yesterday. There’s more in the Times today here.

On the different conceptions of the way forward:

While senior officials in Washington have presented the new war plan as an American adaptation of proposals that were first put to Mr. Bush by Mr. Maliki when the two men met in the Jordanian capital of Amman in November, the picture that is emerging in Baghdad is quite different. What Mr. Maliki wanted, his officials say, was in at least one crucial respect the opposite of what Mr. Bush decided: a lowering of the American profile in the war, not the increase Mr. Bush has ordered.

These Iraqi officials say Mr. Maliki, in the wake of Mr. Bush’s setback in the Democratic sweep in November’s midterm elections, demanded that American troops be pulled back to the periphery of Baghdad and that the war in the capital, at least, be handed to Iraqi troops. The demand was part of a broader impatience among the ruling Shiites to be relieved from American oversight so as to be able to fight and govern according to the dictates of Shiite politics, not according to strictures from Washington.

On the delicate matter of Sadr City:

If this fell a long way short of the plan for full Iraqi control in Baghdad that Mr. Maliki set out in November, his officials were at pains to say that the prime minister would decide the issue of most concern to the Iraqi leader: whether, and when, Iraqi and American forces would be allowed to move in force into Sadr City. That Shiite working-class district in northeast Baghdad is the stronghold of the Mahdi Army, the most powerful of the Shiite militias, and the main power base of Moktada al-Sadr, the Mahdi Army leader, whose parliamentary bloc sustains Mr. Maliki in office.

“It’s been agreed that in order to succeed they have to consult,” Mr. Dabbagh said — a bland requirement as he stated it — but some distance from the formula put forward at Washington briefings on the new plan. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, at a news conference on Wednesday, said that American and Iraqi troops would be free to go into “all parts of Baghdad, including Sadr City” and that one benchmark in the plan was that there would be no “political interference” with military operations or attempts to protect death squad leaders.

On whether the administration really expects Maliki to follow through:

A Shiite political leader who has worked closely with the Americans in the past said the Bush benchmarks appeared to have been drawn up in the expectation that Mr. Maliki would not meet them. “He cannot deliver the disarming of the militias,” the politician said, asking that he not be named because he did not want to be seen as publicly criticizing the prime minister. “He cannot deliver a good program for the economy and reconstruction. He cannot deliver on services. This is a matter of fact. There is a common understanding on the American side and the Iraqi side.”

Views such as these — increasingly common among the political class in Baghdad — are often accompanied by predictions that Mr. Maliki will be forced out as the crisis over the militias builds. The Shiite politician who described him as incapable of disarming militias suggested he might resign; others have pointed to an American effort in recent weeks to line up a “moderate front” of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political leaders outside the government, and said that the front might be a vehicle for mounting a parliamentary coup against Mr. Maliki, with behind-the-scenes American support.



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