August 29, 2007


The war against Iraq's prime minister: Sens. Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin are calling for Nouri al-Maliki's ouster as a way of attacking Bush's Iraq policy. But do they understand the consequences? (Juan Cole, Aug. 29, 2007, Salon)

Levin started the latest round of Maliki bashing a week ago Monday, saying, "I hope the parliament will vote the Maliki government out of office and will have the wisdom to replace it with a less sectarian and more unifying prime minister and government." Clinton piled on two days later, saying that the Maliki government "cannot produce a political settlement, because it is too beholden to religious and sectarian leaders." She added, "I share Senator Levin's hope that the Iraqi parliament will replace Prime Minister al-Maliki with a less divisive and more unifying figure when it returns in a few weeks."

By the time Clinton spoke, President Bush had worsened the situation with some injudicious, impromptu remarks, admitting, "I think there's a certain level of frustration with the leadership in general, inability to ... come together to get, for example, an oil revenue law passed or provincial elections." Journalists understandably thought he might be giving up on Maliki -- not at all his intended message, according to what I was told by someone with inside knowledge of the administration's Iraq policy. The president was constrained to clarify later that he thought Maliki a "good man" with "a difficult job" and said he supported him. He underscored his support with Tuesday's laudatory speech before the American Legion.

Some of the charges against the prime minister are true. Maliki had neglected to reach out to the Sunni Arabs in his national unity government. But Sunni demands, which included the rehabilitation of Baathists and the release of large numbers of detainees suspected of involvement in guerrilla actions, were often unpalatable to Maliki.

Some of the charges are based on a misreading of Iraq. Sen. Warner, for one, made several misstatements about Maliki during his appearance on "Meet the Press." "You've got to remember," he insisted, "that the Maliki government, Shia interests, are very closely aligned with Iran." He added that the Shiites, having gotten to the "top of the hill," are "[reluctant] to give up a fair share to the Sunnis, to the Kurds ... Unless you have a unity government between those three factions, Iraq will not become a strong sovereign nation."

Warner is wrong to imply that Maliki's Shiite government has bad relations with the Kurds. In fact, the Kurdistan Alliance is what keeps Maliki in power, given that two major Shiite factions have quit his governing coalition. Likewise, Warner doesn't grasp the role of Iran. Maliki is less close to Iran than his predecessor, Ibrahim Jaafari, was. Warner does not understand the Islamic Call Party or its history as an Iraqi nationalist organization with a Shiite emphasis.

And the pressure now coming from Congress to replace Maliki is also unlikely to produce positive change. Although any 55 parliamentarians may introduce a vote of no confidence, at this point it's hard to see how Maliki's Iraqi critics could overcome their own divisions to form the majority vote needed to unseat him. Nor is there an obvious, tested alternative who would have more chance of achieving Bush's benchmarks, which include provincial elections, changes in the harsh de-Baathification laws that have excluded many Sunni Arabs from public life, and a new law specifying equitable distribution of oil income. Former appointed interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has hired a fancy Washington public relations firm and is among four politicians aiming to bring down Maliki and take his place. But Allawi, an ex-Baathist, Shiite secularist and old-time CIA asset, only has 25 seats in parliament and does not have the popularity to come to power by democratic means.

If parliament brought down Maliki, it would not choose his successor directly. By the constitution, President Jalal Talabani would have to go to the single largest bloc in parliament (still the Shiite fundamentalist United Iraqi Alliance) and ask it to choose a prime minister. The new choice would come either from Maliki's Islamic Call Party or from the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council of Shiite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. SIIC is much closer to the ayatollahs in Tehran than Maliki is, and much less likely to compromise with the Sunni Arabs.

...that the Left and the Realists are indeed pro-Baath and anti-Shi'ite?

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 29, 2007 8:36 PM

Seems like an out-of-character piece by Profesor Cole, who can usually be counted on for a bracing shower of BDS.

Posted by: ghostcat at August 29, 2007 9:27 PM

It is the so-called, self-preclaimed "realists" who are pro-Baath and anti-Shiite.

The real realists want confusion and destruction to the enemy in all his variations, ending in final reformaton.

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 30, 2007 4:15 AM

I think the simpler explanation is that the Left and the Realists are just anti-democratic.

Posted by: Brandon at August 30, 2007 10:33 AM

Democracy is unRealistic, which is why the Shi'a are democrats.

Posted by: oj at August 30, 2007 10:36 AM
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