Iraq's deputy prime minister was in London over the weekend, trying to head off a
change in strategy by the U.S. and Britain that could undermine his government.
"I'm obviously concerned about the debate in both the U.S. and Europe...because
there is too much of a pessimistic tone...even I would say in certain circles a
defeatist tone," Barham Salih told the BBC.
As Mr. Salih met with senior British officials, British newspapers published stories
likely to increase his anxiety.
The U.S. is considering ending its heretofore open-ended support for the Iraqi
government, the London Telegraph reported Monday. The U.S. would set "benchmarks"
for the government to meet, and impose penalties if it doesn't.
The U.S. is secretly negotiating an amnesty with Sunni insurgents, including those
who have killed American troops, the London Times reported yesterday.
It is understandable why the U.S. and Britain are losing patience with the hapless
government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. As of this writing, 87 American
service members have been killed in Iraq in October, making this with more than a
week still to go the bloodiest month of the year for U.S. troops. Nearly 100
Iraqis have died every day this month.
The death toll has been high and the chaos great chiefly because Mr. Maliki has been
unwilling, or unable, to crack down on Shia militias, chiefly that of the
Iranian-backed radical Moqtada al Sadr. Mr. Maliki insisted Oct. 19 that the
Americans release a key Sadr aide, Sheikh Mazen al Saedi, who'd been arrested two
days before for involvement with death squads.
Sadr's Mahdi Army attacked Iraqi police stations in the southern city of Amarah Oct.
20, and in Suwayra, 30 miles south of Baghdad, a day later.
"The situation in Iraq today resembles that of the fall of 2004, when Sadr conducted
his second uprising in Najaf just as al Qaida in Iraq was in control of Fallujah,"
wrote Web logger Bill Roggio. "It is believe an informal alliance existed between
Sadr and al Qaida as each struck at American and the nascent Iraqi government
forces. Now, Sadr's forces are probing Iraqi police and army units in southern
Shiite regions, as al Qaida in Iraq is vying for control of Ramadi and Baghdad is
the focal point of sectarian violence."
Mr. Maliki is reluctant to move against al Sadr because he depends upon the 28 votes
in the 275-member Iraqi parliament al Sadr controls to maintain his tenuous hold on
But as sectarian violence sparked mostly by the Mahdi army increases, Mr. Maliki's
hold on power has become more tenuous. Baghdad, London and Washington are rife
with rumors he soon could be overthrown by a nationalist general, or forced to
resign in favor of an emergency "government of national salvation."
A Sunni member of parliament traveled to Arab capitals last week to seek support
for replacing the Maliki government with a five man junta, reported Marie Colvin
in the London Sunday Times.
No coup could occur without (at least) the tacit support of the U.S. military, and
that is unlikely to happen. But American officials would be ecstatic if Mr. Maliki
were forced out in favor of a prime minister willing to confront al Sadr.
The key to a "democratic" solution is a breakup of the United Iraqi Alliance, a
coalition of Shia religious parties which together control 47 percent of the seats
in the Iraqi parliament.
The leading bloc in the UIA is the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in
Iraq (SCIRI), headed by Abdul Aziz Hakim, a bitter enemy of al Sadr. If SCIRI and
some of smaller parties in the UIA could be pried away, a national unity government
could have solid majority support.
Dr. Salah al Mutlak, the Sunni politician who was seeking support for a coup last
week, heads the fifth largest party in parliament. He told Ms. Colvin he had the
support of four other parties, including Fadila, a Shiite party based in Basra which
is a member of the UIA.
President Bush continues to show patience with and to offer rhetorical support for
Prime Minister Maliki, but that's likely to change after the election.
"Maliki has got until Christmas, in my judgment," retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey
said on MSNBC's "Hardball" program Friday.
Gen. McCaffrey, a frequent critic of U.S. policy in Iraq, but a supporter of the
mission there, said U.S. troops will be required to break the Mahdi army.
I think Christmas is too long to wait. If Maliki won't move against al Sadr, then
the U.S. should move against Maliki, hard and fast.