The Bush Administration in the past has rightly decried the leaking of classified information from intelligence sources whose motives may or may not have been largely partisan in nature. But the deliberate leak yesterday of a classified analysis of Iraqi’s embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley should be seen in the context of statecraft and not necessarily the typical Washington bureaucratic game of “gotchya” – a difference that may be lost on some but is telling nonetheless.
The audience targeted with this leak is extremely small. In fact, it is an audience of one – the Iraqi Prime Minister. The President will meet with Maliki on Wednesday in Jordan and the timing of this leak will not be lost on the PM nor will the words of Hadley, who makes up for a lack of elegance in language with a series of triphammer verbal blows that questions Maliki’s fitness for the job:
The memo presents an unvarnished portrait of Mr. Maliki and notes that he relies for some of his political support on leaders of more extreme Shiite groups. The five-page document, classified secret, is based in part on a one-on-one meeting between Mr. Hadley and Mr. Maliki on Oct. 30.
â€œHis intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change,â€ the memo said of the Iraqi leader. â€œBut the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.â€
It has been apparent since June that the situation on the ground was getting beyond Maliki’s control. That’s why in August, CENTCOM proposed the current redeployment of tens of thousands of US troops to Baghdad, a strategy that has not worked, is not working and will not work until Maliki gives the go ahead for the United States army to crush Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Militia and until Maliki’s promises about sending more Iraqi troops to assist the Americans in holding areas cleaned and swept by our forces are realized.
As for al-Sadr, the radical cleric has carved out an independent role for himself and it is becoming clear that he has little interest in cooperating with Maliki in tamping down the violence. Nor does he have any interest in having Shias share power with Sunnis and Kurds – something he has made no secret of from the beginning:
In describing the Oct. 30 meeting between Mr. Hadley and Mr. Maliki, it says: â€œMaliki reiterated a vision of Shia, Sunni and Kurdish partnership, and in my one-on-one meeting with him, he impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so.â€ It said the Iraqi leaderâ€™s assurances seemed to have been contradicted by developments on the ground, including the Iraqi governmentâ€™s approach to the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia known in Arabic as Jaish al-Mahdi and headed by Moktada al-Sadr.
â€œReports of nondelivery of services to Sunni areas, intervention by the prime ministerâ€™s office to stop military action against Shia targets and to encourage them against Sunni ones, removal of Iraqâ€™s most effective commanders on a sectarian basis and efforts to ensure Shia majorities in all ministries â€” when combined with the escalation of Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) killings â€” all suggest a campaign to consolidate Shia power in Baghdad.â€
Needless to say, these actions are 180 degrees in opposition to what the Iraqi government needs to be doing to assure the Sunnis that they will have a place at the table in any Iraqi power sharing arrangement. In effect, Maliki’s actions are fueling the insurgency while he asks more and more of his American allies in helping to snuff it out.
And the aforementioned failure of Maliki to deliver Iraqi troops to the capitol to assist the Americans is just one indication of how tenuous Maliki’s hold on power actually is:
The memo refers to â€œthe current four-brigade gap in Baghdad,â€ a seeming acknowledgment that there is a substantial shortfall of troops in the Iraqi capital compared with the level needed to provide security there, in part because the Iraqi government has not dispatched all the forces it has promised. An American brigade generally numbers about 3,500 troops, though Iraqi units can be smaller. While Democrats have advocated beginning troop withdrawals as a means of putting pressure on Mr. Maliki, the memo suggests that such tactics may backfire by stirring up opposition against a politically vulnerable leader.
â€œPushing Maliki to take these steps without augmenting his capabilities could force him to failure â€” if the Parliament removes him from office with a majority vote or if action against the Mahdi militia (JAM) causes elements of the Iraqi Security Forces to fracture and leads to major Shia disturbances in southern Iraq,â€ the memo says.
Not mentioned in the memo is one of the big reasons for that “four-brigade gap:” Iraqi troops refusing to serve in Baghdad by either mutinying against their commanders or going AWOL.
If the Prime Minister cannot even control his own armed forces, how much power does he really have? Couple this weakness with his accommodation of both the Mahdi Militia and the even larger Badr Brigades and it may be time to start asking why we should prop someone up who doesn’t have a leg to stand on in the first place?
Good intentions don’t mean squat. We have heard this empty suit of a Prime Minister talk for more than a year about what needs to be done to curb the insurgency, bring the militias to heel, clean up the rampant corruption in the ministries (where taxpayer monies are being shoveled down a black hole), affect a political settlement that includes a sharing of oil revenues with all parties, and bring the Saddamites who terrorized the Iraqi people for more than a quarter of a century to justice.
He has accomplished none of it. He has barely started most of it. He has, in fact, been an obstacle to achieving many of those goals. He has tried to play both ends against the middle with al-Sadr on one side and the Americans on the other and has satisfied neither and disgusted both. His efforts to reform the Interior Ministry to ferret out the independent death squads and militia members who have infiltrated the Iraqi Police Force have been for naught. And his efforts to unite the country politically have consisted largely of grandiose rhetoric with little in the way of concrete proposals that could be the basis for negotiations with the Sunnis and Kurds.
He gives off no sense of urgency, no realization that the patience of the American people is nearly at an end and that he and his government are in mortal danger of not only becoming irrelevant but also extinct. He continues to try and muddle through. And in the meantime, Iraq bleeds.
But he’s all we’ve got at the moment. So the President will trundle off to Jordan and see if he can impress upon the Iraqi Prime Minister the absolute necessity for him to start acting. The time for pleasantries about uniting Iraq in brotherhood are over. It’s time for the Prime Minister to get on his hind legs and fight: Fight the insurgents. Fight the militias. Fight the crime, the corruption, the sense of utter futility that has infected the population and has caused so many to lose hope.
I am not hopeful that any of Hadley’s prescriptions will help the patient because what he really needs is a spinal transplant. But somebody has to get through to this man or Iraq will continue to devolve until it is a place fit only for gravediggers and gravemakers.