Monday, January 15, 2007

Already, New Trouble With Sectarian Maliki Government Over Baghdad Plan

A comprehensive article in the New York Times this morning by its superb Baghdad correspondent, John F. Burns, shows that before President Bush's "surge" plan in Iraq even begins, and all new U.S. troop reinforcements arrive, we are already encountering the old problems with the haplessly Shiite-oriented regime of Nouri al-Maliki.

First, the concept of "partnering" control of military operations with Maliki's obscure new appointed commander of Iraqi forces, a man unknown to U.S. commanders, and other parts of his government has led to confusion over just who is in charge in Baghdad.

Second, there is tremendous doubt whether U.S. forces will easily gain authorization to go after the murderous Shiite militias, out there kidnapping, torturing and murdering their fellow citizens just as much or more than the Sunni insurgents. Maliki has proved complicit time and again with the Shiite killers, and the Shiite terrorist, Moktada al-Sadr, has 30 representatives inside the government. Just Monday, another hanging of former aides of Saddam Hussein, including his half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, was botched, with Ibrahim being decapitated in the process, outraging Sunnis and further embarrassing the government.

Maliki, the way he is going, is apt to either be deposed by coup, or end up hanging from the gallows the way Saddam did. Supporting him is like the Royal Navy supporting the Latin tyrant, El Supremo, in one of the Hornblower novels.

As even President Bush must realize, he is on a short leash on Iraq with the American people, with opposition even in his own political party, and some Democratic presidential candidates for 2008, such as former Sen. John Edwards, already beginning to exploit existing opposition to the war.

If the war is important for America to win, or at least not lose, and I believe it is, Mr. Bush is going to have to act quickly to bring Maliki and his so-called "government" into line. It is unfortunate that, publicly, he continues to talk about him with the same kind of praise he lavished on the now-ousted secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and FEMA executives in the Hurricane Katrina debacle. Either Mr. Bush doesn't know a bad apple when he sees one, or he is hopelessly insincere.

The trouble in Iraq fundamentally is that it is riven with ethnic conflicts that prevent anyone from ruling democratically. Everyone sooner or later seems to resort to brute force to bring competing groups into line. And in Maliki's case, he seems entirely too close to Iran, whose forces are subverting peace in Iraq. Iranian influence must be crushed militarily if the violence is to be curtailed, yet the foul Maliki government objects to everything American forces do in that regard.

Altogether, this remains a bad situation. I see in the Israeli press that before he suffered his stroke, indeed before the U.S. even launched the war, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned Mr. Bush that the Iraqis and the Arab world in general were not likely to become democratic. We now see this to be true.

And yet developments in that part of the world compel us to be there, mainly to protect ourselves. That is too important to allow Maliki to stand in our way.

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