The Corner

Our Good Friend Prime Minister Maliki

When I stepped back for a breather about a week ago, we were discussing (see, e.g., here, here and here) Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Iran-friendly prime minister of Iraq who supports Moqtada Sadr and Hezbollah and who had, controversially, been given the honor of addressing a joint session of Congress.  (Youssef Ibrahim’s dismay is detailed here.)

American forces are now risking their lives to bring stability to Iraq by purging Baghdad of terrorists – such as Sadr’s militia (the Mahdi Army) – who are fomenting sectarian civil war.  In the balance hangs the outcome in Iraq, since if Baghdad cannot be stabilized it is hard to see how this ends well. So, once again, Maliki has a choice of siding with us or siding with the Iran-backed Sadr.  Guess what he’s choosing?  The Wall Street Journal reports this morning:

Iraq’s prime minister sharply criticized a U.S.-led attack on a Shiite militia stronghold in Baghdad, exposing a rift with his American partners on security tactics, as 28 people were killed Tuesday in a series of bombings and shootings.Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s criticism late Monday was delivered hours after a pre-dawn air and ground attack on an area of Sadr City, the stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia. Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, said he was “very angered and pained” by the operation, warning that it could undermine his efforts toward national reconciliation. “Reconciliation cannot go hand in hand with operations that violate the rights of citizens this way,” he said Monday night. “This operation used weapons that are unreasonable to detain someone — like using planes.” He apologized to the Iraqi people for the operation and said “this won’t happen again.”

To be fair here, the differences over how to deal with the deteriorating situation are not limited to Maliki.  The Journal elaborates:

Concerned by the cycle of violence, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, met with the top U.S. commander in Iraq on Monday to discuss security operations in Baghdad. Mr. Talabani said he told , Gen. George W. Casey Jr. “it is in no one’s interest to have a confrontation” with Mr. Sadr’s movement. … The public position taken by Messrs. Maliki and Talabani signal serious differences between Iraqi politicians and both U.S. and Iraqi military officials on how to restore order and deal with armed groups, many of which have links to political parties.

Can Iraq really be won without having a confrontation with “Sadr’s movement” and other Hezbollah/Hamas-style armed “political parties”?  It’s doubtful that our military thinks so, which is obviously why operations like yesterday’s are underway.  If the terrorists are not to be brought to heel, what exactly is the Maliki/Talabani vision of the new Iraq? 

And if Maliki is serious that operations like yesterday’s — which our guys clearly thought was necessary to achieve American objectives — “won’t happen again,” isn’t it fair to ask what we’re doing here?  Americans already doubtful about this war are not going to warm to the notion that Maliki — not our commanders — decides what tactics will be used.

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