The American military is fed up with Maliki. The ground commanders in Iraq felt betrayed by him this summer when he undermined a push to get control of the streets of Baghdad. The Iraqis failed to deliver on a promise to put enough troops on the ground. A four-star general who declined to be identified discussing a confidential conversation told of this encounter with Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who was in charge of day-to-day ground operations. “Do you have enough forces? Enough to clear an area and stay there to secure it 24/7?” Chiarelli replied, “Of course not.” The four-star recalls replying, “It’s going to fail, it’s absolutely going to fail.” The Americans never had enough forces to sweep even half the city, much less secure it. Maliki made their job tougher by in effect forbidding the U.S. military from taking on Shiite fighters; ordering them to lift roadblocks around Sadr City, the Shiite slum, and ordering them to release prisoners suspected of running death squads.
It’s not clear whether the military made its frustrations known to the White House. Generals tend to salute and say can-do; if anything, the military has not been accurately portraying the dismal events on the ground, at least in the eyes of some White House aides. But with Donald Rumsfeld’s departure, the Pentagon is entering a new era of leadership, in hopes it will be one in which the uniformed brass and their civilian bosses will communicate better. Gen. John Abizaid, the overall theater commander, and Gen. George Casey, the ground commander, are exhausted and overdue for replacement. (“There might be a sense that a fresh perspective is needed,” said a senior White House aide.) Rumsfeld’s former right-hand man, Stephen Cambone, has announced that he is stepping down. Others are expected to follow, stripping the Pentagon leadership of the group around Rumsfeld whose neocon certainties led to such catastrophic miscalculations in Iraq.