Iraq’s al-Maliki Pushes Back Against the U.S.

Tensions between the Iraqi and U.S. government comes to a head.

What happened

Growing tension between the U.S. and Iraqi governments broke into the open this week, when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded that U.S. troops remove their checkpoints from the streets of Baghdad. The checkpoints had been set up to help search for a kidnapped U.S. soldier. But Shiites complained that they were blocking the movement of Shiite militias, which they now see as the best defense against Sunni insurgents. 'œI am a friend of the United States,' al-Maliki declared, 'œbut I am not America's man in Iraq.' The U.S. military agreed to abandon the checkpoints. Tensions between the two governments were raised further when militant Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr blamed U.S. troops for a security lapse that allowed Sunni insurgents to detonate a bomb in a crowded square in Baghdad, killing at least 33 Shiites.

During a 50-minute teleconference with al-Maliki, President Bush vowed to move quickly to turn over control of the Iraqi army to the Iraqis. Bush and al-Maliki pledged to 'œwork in every way possible for a stable, democratic Iraq.' But sectarian violence continued unabated, with at least 83 Iraqis killed in a single weekend. In October, 103 Americans were killed in Iraq, the highest monthly total since January 2005.

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What the editorials said

Al-Maliki is forcing President Bush to walk a treacherous tightrope, said the Los Angeles Times. Shiite death squads control much of Iraq, and it has become obvious that the majority Shiites 'œwant to use their democratically acquired power to settle scores with a long-dominant minority.' So Bush must figure out a way to pressure al-Maliki to rein in al-Sadr, but 'œwithout appearing to dictate to his Iraqi counterpart.'

Even if al-Maliki wanted to crack down on al-Sadr, said the San Diego Union-Tribune, it's not clear that he could. The radical cleric controls 30 seats in the Iraqi parliament, and al-Maliki needs his support to maintain power. Everyone agrees that 'œthe most urgent task of U.S. forces is to bolster the performance of Iraq's security forces.' The army and police are heavily Shiite, though, and are reluctant to engage in firefights with their co-religionists. If Iraqis are determined to keep killing one another, there's not much the U.S. can do.

What the columnists said

President Bush 'œhas one grave flaw,' said Ralph Peters in the New York Post: 'œHe's a poor judge of character.' Bush has placed his trust in al-Maliki, 'œa man who has decided to back our enemies.' He and his countrymen, sadly, have proven too corrupt and vengeful to carry the weight of this democratic quest. Our best recourse may be to let the Iraqi military stage a coup, oust al-Maliki from power, and finally take control of the country. As a supporter of the war, I never thought I'd say this, but 'œSaddam's starting to look good.'

'œWhy is Moqtada al-Sadr still alive?' said Jack Kelly in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Al-Maliki clearly has no intention of neutralizing al-Sadr, now the most powerful man in Iraq and a sworn enemy of the West. To have any chance of bringing order to Iraq, U.S. forces have to eliminate him. Once he's killed, his followers will engage in a bloody uprising, but it's a fight we have no choice but to take on. 'œContinued inaction pretty much guarantees slow-motion defeat.'

Defeat is inevitable no matter what we do, said Ari Melber in the Philadelphia Daily News. That's why we should start bringing our troops home as soon as possible. Bush says a U.S. withdrawal would amount to a victory for the terrorists. 'œBut who cares what the terrorists want?' What's important are American interests, and they are not served by letting our soldiers die in vain on the streets of Baghdad. Turning our troops into sitting ducks, in fact, is actually 'œinspiring new terrorist enemies around the world.'

What next?

A congressional audit reported that hundreds of thousands of U.S. weapons intended for Iraqi security forces were unaccounted for, and may have fallen into the hands of Iraq's warring factions. Because the Pentagon failed to record the serial numbers of most of the 500,000 weapons shipped to Iraq, it cannot track where they've ended up. The report raises the disturbing possibility that weapons purchased by American taxpayers are now being used to fuel the violence and to kill U.S. troops.

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