Adam Ash

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Iraq: is the new prime minister a good choice for the country?

A Paper Lid On Iraq's Volcano -- by Robert Dreyfuss

The civil war in Iraq won't end with the naming of a hard-line Shiite fundamentalist as Iraq's next prime minister. President George W. Bush, desperate to find some progress in the violent chaos of Iraq, calls the designation of Jawad al-Maliki "awesome." Zalmay Khalilzad, putting on his game face, says of Maliki: "He is a tough guy," before adding, hastily, that he meant "tough-minded." But a man in Baquba, the war-battered city north of Baghdad, had a far more appropriate comment on Maliki. He told The Guardian: "He is a hateful sectarian who has made venomous comments about Iraq and Arabs. Jawad al-Maliki is the final nail in Iraq's coffin." And so he is. The Bush administration hopes that Maliki will lead a government of national unity. But in fact Maliki is just a paper lid on the volcano that is Iraq.

The Iraqi press is already filled with commentary that Maliki is weak, not tough. Among no faction is Maliki seen as a strong or intimidating presence. Even with the Shiite alliance, he is a secondary figure in one of the alliance's less powerful parties, Al Dawa. And his selection ratifies the descent of Iraqi into sectarian division.

Weakening Maliki further is the fact that he is prime minister only because Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Iraq at the beginning of April and, in public, for all Iraqis to see, demanded that Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari step down. Her demand, backed by a letter from President Bush that was given to Iraqi leaders, was - not surprisingly - carried out by the collection of exile politicians who were installed by Washington in the first place. But by its very nature, Rice's imperial ultimatum makes the replacement of Jaafari by Maliki look like the American diktat that it was. And that makes Maliki look even more like a water-carrier for the U.S. occupation, shredding his credibility among ordinary Iraqis.

Is Maliki a "hateful sectarian"? You be the judge. He is, first of all, the No. 2 official in the terrorist Al Dawa party, the Shiite fundamentalist sect-party led by Jaafari. Far from being a figure that can unite Iraq's warring parties, Maliki is a militant Shiite partisan. Like many of the Shiite fundamentalists who now dominate Iraq, Maliki spent many years in exile in Iran, and he has close ties to the Iranian leadership. Maliki was a main author of Iraq's divisive constitution and he was a leader (along with Ahmed Chalabi, the neoconservatives' pet) of the viciously excessive purge of Baathists in Iraq after the war in 2003, a move now seen as having seriously exacerbated the current civil war.

Last year Maliki pushed for a law that would have imposed the death penalty not only for insurgents but even their sympathizers, including anyone found to "finance, propagate, cover up, support, or provide shelter for the terrorists, no matter how involved they are." He has bitterly condemned not only the Sunni-led resistance that opposes the U.S. occupation, but also the two moderate, secular parties that hold several dozen seats in Iraq's parliament, led, respectively, by Salah Mutlaq and Iyad Allawi, the former a secular Iraqi nationalist who claims to maintain a dialogue with elements of the resistance and the latter a secular Shiite who spent years on the CIA's payroll as an opponent of Saddam Hussein. "It should be recalled that some of the electoral lists contain elements that were possibly part of the machinery of the old regime, i.e. Baathists who are subject to the de-Baathification law [and] intelligence agents or those who got involved in the Iraqi Intelligence Service immediately before the collapse of the regime," warned Maliki.

He enthusiastically endorsed the wholesale purge of the police force and the Interior Ministry that was imposed by Bayan Jabr, the hard-line official of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), saying, "Hateful elements have penetrated the security services and we must purge them." The result, of course, was the creation of a ministry whose commandos are heavily infiltrated by SCIRI death squads responsible for the murders of thousands of Iraqis.

In the deal that brought Maliki to power, the Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, deigned to make a deal with the two Kurdish warlord parties that control the Kurdish enclave in the north, and with the Sunni fundamentalist religious bloc, the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood secret society. But pointedly they excluded both Mutlaq and Allawi. By including the Sunni fundamentalists, whose leaders got both a deputy president slot and speaker of the parliament, Maliki and the Shiites put their stamp of approval on the Lebanonization of Iraq. And by excluding the secular Mutlaq and Allawi, they made it clear that Iraq has no place for anyone who wants a united state with a strong central government.

How can Maliki approach any sort of deal to quell the Sunni resistance? He can't. In fact, Maliki has denounced the off-again, on-again U.S. dialogue with the resistance as a plot to restore the Baath party to power. So how can Maliki offer anything to the growing Sunni-led insurgency other than war?

How can Maliki move to amend Iraq's constitution in a way that can right its obvious wrongs? He can't. As its author, he is committed to the constitution's provisions for radical federalism (i.e., the breakup of Iraq) and for giving the bulk of Iraqi oil revenues to the Shiites and Kurds. He is also committed to the constitutional provisions that enshrine Islam at the heart of the Iraqi legal system.

How can Maliki move to assure Sunnis that he will put an end to the Shiite death squads in the SCIRI-run Interior Ministry? He can't. He is on record asserting that the way to build the police is to integrate Shiite and Kurdish militia into the police, thus guaranteeing that police commandos continue to be seen as the armed wing of the Shiite movement.

All of this means that the Maliki-led government of Iraq will have little or no effect outside the Green Zone in Baghdad. Battle lines in the civil war are hardening, as exemplified by the unprecedented house-to-house street fighting last week in the north Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiya. There, in a mostly Sunni part of town, local neighborhood militia fought pitched battles with Iraqi government forces, led by the notorious Shiite-dominated police. It was the first recorded battle in which an entire Baghdad Sunni enclave fought against government troops and against U.S. forces. Meanwhile, even as Maliki's name was being announced, dozens of bodies continued to turn up in Baghdad morgues - including seven in Adhamiya - all victims of death squads. And nine more U.S. troops were killed in Iraq over the weekend.

The Bush administration cannot stanch the bleeding in Iraq simply by tinkering with the leadership of Iraq. First, the U.S. pushed for elections before the fractured country was ready - and against the advice of experts - and then publicly challenged the chosen prime minister. The chaos now engulfing Iraq is a direct result of the Bush administration's policy of pushing democracy on the cheap and by the barrel of a gun. But it's American troops and Iraqi civilians who are paying the price.

(Robert Dreyfuss is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, and a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va., who specializes in politics and national security issues. He is a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone. He can be reached through his website:


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