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January 09, 2008

A Surge Against Maliki?
Posted by Shawn Brimley

David Ignatius has an important piece in the Post today on what appears to be the gathering momentum to replace Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  The bottom line:

A new movement to oust Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is gathering force in Baghdad. And although the United States is counseling against this change of government, a senior U.S. official in the Iraqi capital says it's a moment of "breakthrough or breakdown" for Maliki's regime.

The new push against Maliki comes from Kurdish leaders, who, U.S. and Iraqi sources told me, sent him an ultimatum in late December. "The letter was clear in saying we are concerned about the direction of policies in Baghdad," said a senior Kurdish official. He described the Dec. 21 letter as "a sincere effort from the Kurdish parties to help the government reform -- or else."

The Kurds are upset that Maliki hasn't delivered on promises they say he made to them last summer, when he was trying to stave off an earlier attempted putsch. Maliki pledged then that his government would pass an oil law and a regional-powers law, and that it would conduct a referendum on the future of Kirkuk. None of these promises has been fulfilled, and the Kurds are angry.

The piece goes on to describe some of the possible scenarios whereby a vote of non-confidence could succeed in the Iraqi parliament, and the concerns of the Bush administration, who are sympathetic but worried that a change of government now would jeapordize any remaining hope of positive political movement. 

To me, it seems like this would be a good moment for the Bush administration to finally start using the leverage created by the "unsurge" of American troops to demand that Maliki begin to lead or get out of the way. The Declaration of Principles signed by Bush and Maliki clearly demonstrate that Iraq desires American help, but the U.S. needs to make such help contingent on demonstrable political progress.

Somewhat relatedly, this is part of the reason why O'Hanlon's oped in the WSJ was so poor.  In critiquing Obama on Iraq, O'Hanlon argued:

Mr. Obama's second Iraq problem is his insistence that, whatever happens
there during 2008, he would withdraw all our main combat forces in the
first 16 months of his presidency. Such a message may resonate with
Americans, and particularly Democrats, right now. However, it is
unlikely that centrist voters will support such a policy once they fully
consider its likely implications for Iraqi -- and American -- national
security. Given Iraq's fragile institutions, and the fresh wounds among
its Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, it is doubtful that Iraq can avoid
renewed civil warfare after a rapid U.S. withdrawal.
16 months after Obama might take office puts us in the middle of 2010, which is 2.5 years from now! I would think it unlikely that any centrist voters much less most conservatives would support a policy that keeps approximately 100,000 troops in Iraq through the middle of 2010 - especially on a blank check basis. 


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Despite US officials' protests, I can't believe we're not behind this as well. Mehdi was our PM candidate before Sadr stepped in and chose Maliki. Many administration officials think Sadr has been weakened -- one even called him "irrelevant" the other day -- and so they probably think that now's the time to get our preferred choice through.

This is also funny:

"Various candidates have been proposed to take over the Energy Ministry -- and halt what is said to be massive smuggling of oil from the southern Iraqi pipeline across the border to Iran.

Much of the the smuggling is being done by Mehdi's Islamic Council. So essentially he's saying: put us in charge of the government, and we can put a stop to all this illegal activity we've been doing.

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