The Bush Administration has effectively signed Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s Death Warrant. The memo from National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley that undermined the Bush-Maliki summit in Jordan has now made Nouri al-Maliki a marked man in Iraq. Whether that was the intention of the leaked memo is unclear, but it will certainly be its effect, regardless of whether Maliki meets Mr. Bush or not.
Most of the reporting on the memo has focused on the aspects which have called into question Mr. Maliki’s commitment or his competence. Those parts of the memo may have been designed to embarrass Mr. Maliki, however the parts that deal with what the United States wants Mr. Maliki to do are the most explosive. It is these latter parts that most likely contributed to Mr. Maliki’s snub of Mr. Bush.
The memo proposes that Maliki create a new political support base independent of the Dawa party and Moqtada al-Sadr. The memo proposes steps that Maliki should take, as well as support that the United States will provide, to achieve this end:
There is a range of actions that Maliki could take to improve the information he receives, demonstrate his intentions to build an Iraq for all Iraqis and increase his capabilities. … Maliki should:
Bring his political strategy with Moktada al-Sadr to closure and bring to justice any JAM actors that do not eschew violence;
If Maliki is willing to move decisively on the actions above, we can help him in a variety of ways. We should be willing to:
If it is Maliki’s assessment that he does not have the capability — politically or militarily — to take the steps outlined above, we will need to work with him to augment his capabilities. We could do so in two ways. First, we could help him form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other communities. Ideally, this base would constitute a new parliamentary bloc that would free Maliki from his current narrow reliance on Shia actors. (This bloc would not require a new election, but would rather involve a realignment of political actors within the Parliament). In its creation, Maliki would need to be willing to risk alienating some of his Shia political base and may need to get the approval of Ayatollah Sistani for actions that could split the Shia politically. Second, we need to provide Maliki with additional forces of some kind.
This approach would require that we take steps beyond those laid out above, to include:
Actively support Maliki in helping him develop an alternative political base. We would likely need to use our own political capital to press moderates to align themselves with Maliki’s new political bloc;
Consider monetary support to moderate groups that have been seeking to break with larger, more sectarian parties, as well as to support Maliki himself as he declares himself the leader of his bloc and risks his position within Dawa and the Sadrists;
We should waste no time in our efforts to determine Maliki’s intentions and, if necessary, to augment his capabilities. We might take the following steps immediately:
Tell Maliki that we understand that he is working his own strategy for dealing with the Sadrists and that:
• you have asked General Casey to support Maliki in this effort
• it is important that we see some tangible results in this strategy soon;
Nouri al-Maliki is being asked to sever his ties with the Dawa party to which he owes his loyalties for most of his life and to undercut his power base by throwing Moqtada al-Sadr under a bus. To add to this fanciful agenda, Hadley suggests this absurd gem at the end of the memo:
If Maliki seeks to build an alternative political base:
• Press Sunni and other Iraqi leaders (especially Hakim) [Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Maliki rival] to support Maliki
• Engage Sistani to reassure and seek his support for a new nonsectarian political movement.
I will just make two brief observations here. First, trading Moqtada al-Sadr for Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, SCIRI and the Badr Brigade is not exactly moving in the right direction. I should add that al-Hakim was the head of SCIRI’s Badr Brigade and that SCIRI is Iranian backed and believes that Iraq should be ruled as a Shia Islamic state. Second, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani does not exactly believe in a nonsectarian political movement. He believes that Iraq should be rightly ruled by the Shia majority.
The notion that Maliki wants to be Washington’s man in Baghdad is misplaced and it has been misplaced from the start. Maliki is a prominent member of the Dawa party which has a long history of anti-Western activities. When Maliki was first chosen as Prime Minister in April of this year, amid all the euphoria, I wrote the following:
Lost in all the euphoria at seeing progress in Iraq is whether or not this is progress in the right direction for Iraq or the United States. I had written in an earlier article that the likely replacement for al-Jaafari would either come from his own Dawa party or from the SCIRI. I had also suggested that neither outcome would be a positive outcome. We now have our answer. Ibrahim al-Jaafari has been replaced by another Dawa party member albeit one that is more hard-line. In fact while Ibrahim al-Jaafari has been the titular head of the Shiite alliance, al-Maliki has done all the heavy lifting. It is no surprise then that he would ascend to the Premiership.
Jawad al-Maliki has been the spokesman for the Dawa party and the Shiite alliance. He was involved in the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution and more significantly was a member of the de-Baathification committee set up by the United States. He has been a critic of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and has close ties with the Shiite militias, especially the Mahdi Army.
After pushing hard for al-Jaafari’s ouster, the United States has gotten a more pro-Iranian Dawa party member. We have certainly come full circle in the Middle East. We have put in power in Iraq a person Saddam Hussein had sentenced to death. We have put in power a person who was involved in terrorist activities against not only Iraq but also Western and American targets in the Middle East. We have put in power a party, the Dawa party, that invented the modern suicide car bombing – a party that was involved in bombing the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait and in the killing of 241 U.S. Marines in Beirut.
We have brought democracy to the Middle East. We have handed over Iraq to an Iranian nurtured and funded Islamist alliance (Dawa and SCIRI). I do not believe this is what the American people bargained for when we embarked on the invasion of Iraq. If we are holding out the hope that these Islamist parties whose stated goal is to bring about an Islamist revolution in Iraq will somehow smell the sweet scent of Democracy and become torchbearers of freedom and liberty, we are likely to be as disappointed as Dick Cheney was when we were not greeted as liberators. This is a far cry from the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction and the defeat of al Qaeda.
There was no reason to suspect, even back then, that Maliki would actively work against al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army. Unsurprisingly, the Bush Administration ignored reality in pursuit of a fantastical agenda of misplaced hope and ignorant ideology.
Today, having failed to ride Maliki to "victory" in Iraq, the Administration has chosen to undermine him. They have called him out as their patsy. They have designated him as their man to break apart the Shia hold on Iraq. I doubt that those who are the targets of Washington’s plan, the Dawa party and Moqtada al-Sadr, will take too kindly to Mr. Maliki upon his return to Baghdad. With the leaked memo, Washington has ensured Mr. Maliki’s political demise, and perhaps his death as well. Mr. Maliki’s demise will also ensure that future Iraqi leaders will keep their distance from Washington, lest they suffer the same fate.
So, it is unsurprising that Mr. Maliki had no appetite for dinner with Mr. Bush in Amman. When he finally does sit down to breakfast with Mr. Bush, it may very well be his last meal.