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Iraq's George Washington

BY RUSS WELLEN
09.06.2008 | POLITICS

For his New Yorker piece, "The General's Dilemma," subtitled "David Petraeus, the pressures of politics, and the road out of Iraq," Steve Coll discussed Iraq with top American and British officers. Since violence has decreased due to the Mahdi army standing down and the Sunnis we've been buying off, they "described the conflict as having recently entered a new phase. Iraq's government, they said, is increasingly animated by independent ambition."

Like that of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki? Not only is he mortifying us these days with his "don't let the door hit you on the way out" act, he's been a source of embarrassment since he came to power. Gareth Porter of IPS explains in his most recent analysis, "Why Its Iraqi 'Client' Blocked U.S. Long-Term Presence."

The "choice of al-Maliki as prime minister," he writes, "was the direct result of the mediation by Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force, in the negotiations within the coalition that had won the December 2005 parliamentary election." In other words, we "liberated" Iraq, only to have Iran designate its leader.

Nor can we forget how al-Maliki "angered U.S. officials in late October 2006 by intervening to call off a U.S.-Iraqi cordon and search operation against the Mahdi Army in Sadr City," Porter writes. Then, when "Bush met with al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan on Nov. 30, 2006, to discuss a possible U.S. troop increase, he had hoped to get approval for U.S. troops to occupy Sadr City. … however, al-Maliki told Bush he wanted U.S. troops to stay out of the centre of the capital."

Does Maliki see himself as the father of his country? Does he fancy himself the anti-Saddam, or –- God forbid –- the new Saddam? (My friend's friend, who's in the Special Forces, accompanied an admiral to meetings with al-Maliki, who drew maps on napkins directing Americans to individuals or groups he desired dead.)

As far as the surge goes, guess it's a case of be careful what you wish for. But when you're talking about democracy, no matter how tentative Iraq's is, that comes with the territory. As Coll says, "This gathering sense of Iraqi sovereignty and prerogative is, of course, the stated goal of U.S. policy, but it may prove to be no easier to manage on American terms than the insurgency was."

Speaking of the surge, this author always wondered why it was considered this innovative, new strategy. Wasn't it just a case of "send in the reinforcements"?

Coll clarifies. "These days, when 'the surge' is employed as a shorthand label, it is usually intended to refer also to the application of new battlefield tactics by Petraeus and his commanders, and to the political work carried out by the General and Ambassador Ryan Crocker."

Will the "ceasefires and political accommodations fashioned by the surge" hold? Petraeus maintains his priority was to stop the bleeding "right here, right now." But Coll quotes experts who are concerned that relying on local deals that have a built-in obsolescence enables tribalism and solidifies the power of war lords -- the hallmarks of failed states like Somalia.

"Indeed," Coll writes, "how sturdy Iraq's patchwork calm will prove to be, and how it might best be reinforced … are questions that await the next President -- as well as Petraeus [when he becomes CENTCOM commander]."

But what if we're just "midwifing the dissolution of the country," as Steven Simon, a one-time senior director at the National Security Council, told Coll? Then Petraeus, far from the reincarnation of General Grant, and Maliki, far from the father of his country, will just turn out to have been bad nannies, who couldn't straighten out a holy terror of a state.

About the Author
Russ Wellen is an editor at Freezerbox who specializes in foreign affairs and nuclear deproliferation.
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