Iraqi PM Nuri Maliki comes To Town

Is Iraq At Turning Point?

Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki was in Washington asking for help from the Obama administration.  He tried to refurbish his image, which has never been high in the US media. Unpopular from the beginning because the US media greatly preferred the Ba’athi thug Iyad Allawi whose English and his long time residence in the UK has given him the ability to be at ease in a western environment.

Al-Maliki has no such skill with English and never had a sojourn in the West. His time outside Iraq was spent in Syria and Iran. Uncomfortable with Western press, Al-Maliki was initially termed a weak puppet of various Shi’a politicians, then accused of being Saddam II, and now simply an incompetent leader influenced by Iran.


In fact, Al-Maliki has done about as well as he can, considering the environment of the region and the multitude of enemies both outside and inside Iraq.

With the exception of Syria, all the Arab regimes and most of the Arab world Sunni population considers Al-Maliki as a menace. The Arab Gulf regimes and many rich individuals have never accepted the Iraqi government as fully legitimate.  The Gulf Gulf regimes as well as wealthy are pouring money into the insurgency in the Anbar province of Iraq and the Syrian Sunni fight against the Alawi Syrian regime.   Moreover in a seemingly strange coordination of former enemies, the Barzani Kurds are acting as a conduit (as well as furnishing money themselves) for Turkish government money flowing to the Sunni radicals in Iraq. It is another example of the rapid shifting of alliances so common in the Arab world. The tactical alliance between Kurdish warlord Barzani and his ancient enemy, the  Turks, as well as the Sunni Arabs, who only a few decades ago under Saddam were laying waste to Kurdistan can only be explained  by the rapidity of how quickly enemies become friends and friends enemies. As Hafez Assad explained once, “when I sit across the table from an ally today, I view him as tomorrow’s enemy.

For a social media look at the intricacies of the Arab-Kurdish relationship check out this blog entry by my colleague, Samah al Momen.

Al Maliki at Lunch

Al Maliki at Lunch

Despite the fact that the Iraqi government is seemingly supportive of the Assad regime and is most likely turning a blind eye to war supplies being funneled to the Assad regime from Iran, there is no love lost. The Assad intelligence apparatus facilitated terrorists from all over the Arab world to enter Iraq and attack Shi’a neighborhoods for years. There is no love for Syria among the Shi’a leadership and it is only that the Assad regime is seen as less of an evil than a possible radical Sunni victory in Syria.

People who know Al-Maliki says he personally hates the Assad regime that continually humiliated him in previous years. Moreover he has no love for the Iranians as well. His Arab identity, like most Shi’a in Iraq, outweighs his Shi’a  affiliation.

Despite the constant platitudes in the American press exhorting the Iraqi government to be more “inclusive” and continually blaming him for creating a Shi’a regime oppressing the Sunni Iraqis, the truth is really quite different.

Convincing the Shi’a population that the Sunnis are being oppressed rings more than a little hollow, given the centuries of Sunni dominance and often oppression of the Shi’a community and their religious practices. It is indicative of the journalistic and academic ignorance. In short, Sunni- centrism that permeates the elitist Middle East scholarly community.

There are very few real American experts on Shi’ism, and even fewer of prominence.  Perhaps the only one is Fouad Ajami.  For example the Washington Post, a few days ago, opined in an editorial that the US should not provide any military help to Iraq unless, the magic word again, the Al-Maliki government becomes more “inclusive.” Senator McCain who has managed to be on the wrong side of every conflict in the Middle East, together with other senators blamed Al- Maliki for the violent environment in Iraq.

Since the time of Gertrude Bell, the West has seen the Shi’a as “mysterious and fanatic.” Certain Shi’a practices such as term-marriage and self-flagellation has embedded itself in to Western view of Shi’ism.  On the contrary, there are features of Shi’a doctrine that lends itself to modernism far more than the political Islam inundating the Sunni Arab world.

The domestic issue Al-Maliki must face has two facets. One is the general attitude of the Iraqi Sunnis, continually promoted by their clerics and politicians, that the Sunnis constitute far more than 20% of the Iraqi population and secondly they rule by something akin to divine right – an attitude inculcated by the centuries of their dominance and view of the Shi’a as inferior people.  The Sunni regularly refer to the Shi’a as rafida ( rejectionists), which a very pejorative term. In fact because of the Shia inexperience with leadership, many of the problems facing Iraq today is the result of Sunni policies, which kept the Shi’a from leadership positions.

Ironically it is a fact that Al-Maliki has actually reached out to the Sunni population as much as his Shi’a constituency will allow.  There are a number of Shi’a militia leaders who see al Maliki as soft on the Sunnis and are advocating a return to the Muqtada al Sadr death squads that brought havoc and death to Sunni neighborhoods. Probably more than the “Awakening” or the “surge” this retaliatory strategy convinced the Sunnis that condoning or actively supporting the Sunni terror against the Shi’a neighborhoods entailed a high price, especially since it resulted in many Baghdad Sunnis being driven from their homes. . The calls for greater Shi’a reprisals against the Sunni grow louder as the terror attacks on Shi’a shops and neighborhoods continue unabated.

In conclusion it is easy to point out mistakes make by a inexperienced prime minister trying to hold together a country  created by colonialist powers and with a history of violence and sectarian conflict, but identifying solutions and better leadership is much more complicated than continual blather from Western leaders urging “inclusiveness”

maliki and O

As a postscript, Iraqi social media is describing an unsuccessful meeting with Obama, which was short and apparently so upsetting to Al Maliki that he cancelled a state dinner at the Iraqi embassy in Washington. Hopefully this is not a true depiction of the meeting, but given the ineptness and unbroken record of failure by the Obama foreign policy team, a rejection of an Iraqi bid for help for defeating the Al Qaeda and Ba’athist insurgency spilling across the Levant would not be surprising. To anyone with a passing interest in the Middle East and the dangers of political Islam should realize that defeating the radical Islamists in the Arab world is as much in our interests that of  the Iraqis .

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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