At Jordan summit, Bush and Maliki search for allies
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Just as he ignored similar Sadr threats prior to a visit to Washington in July, Maliki is going to meet with Bush anyway. And it seems unlikely that Sadr's supporters will bring Maliki's government down. But Sadr's followers are effectively sending a message that their continued support for the government is contingent on leaving the Mahdi Army, Sadr's militia, alone.Skip to next paragraph
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It's clear now, too, that Maliki hasn't been able to do much better than his predecessor. When Maliki replaced outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari earlier this year, US officials hailed his appointment. They acknowledged he was from the same Dawa Party (Dawa roughly translates as "Islamic Call"), but predicted he would be a take charge leader who would quickly disarm the sectarian militias who kill dozens of Iraqis every day.
"He's told us that he's serious about disarming militias, and we're confident that he will do exactly that,'' a senior US official in Baghdad said at the time of his appointment.
But in the seven months since, Iraq's militias have continued to proliferate and grown more brazen. US officers and Sunni officials say members of the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias have been packed into the police forces, and that many of the sectarian attacks in Baghdad appear to be carried out by moonlighting police officers. On Monday, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters traveling with Bush in Latvia that the president will tell Maliki that "things are not proceeding ... fast enough,'' in terms of disarming militias.
What Maliki can realistically do at this point is uncertain. The worst single terrorist attack since 2003 hit Sadr City at the end of last week. A string of suicide bombs killed more than 200 people, generating not only anger but support for Sadr's Mahdi Army, which many residents of the area say will do a better job of protecting them than the government.
"Nothing can be done to [Sadr's] death squad central in Baghdad because Maliki owes his job to him,'' says Wayne White, former head of the Middle East desk for the State Department's bureau of Intelligence and Research and now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington. "Maliki is surrounded by infuriated Shiites who, even before the Golden Mosque bombing in Samarra, were being plastered by Sunni Islamists and Al Qaeda types."
The destruction of the revered Shiite shrine by suspected Sunni militants last February touched off the worst round of reprisal killings by Shiite militias of the war. Mr. White says there is still some hope that the Iraqi Army can get on course, he says, but "the police are broken, they're smashed on the floor. How you fix that escapes me."
Maliki's chances of serving his full five-year term are looking increasingly tenuous as Iraq's mounting problems are blamed on his government. After visiting Sadr City Sunday in a memorial for the victims, his motorcade was pelted with stones by angry residents, who complained both of the burgeoning bloodshed and the government's failure to restore electricity or basic infrastructure.