Three 'more' options for Bush and Maliki
A leaked memo suggests three ways the US might help the Iraqi leader: more troops, more money, and more diplomacy.
CAIRO — Even before President Bush was scheduled to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Jordan to talk about how to stop the spiraling violence in Iraq, the administration had already made clear many of the options.
As outlined in a Nov. 8 memo from national security adviser Stephen Hadley and provided to The New York Times, as well as in discussions among key advisers to the president, the ideas from the US can be boiled down to "three mores": More troops, more money, more regional diplomacy.
The first more is what some advisers to the Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker, are calling the "surge" option, essentially pouring thousands more American troops into the country in the hope that boots on the ground will translate into law and order. Baghdad, the religiously mixed capi- tal where death squads now roam, would be the principal beneficiary.
In his memo, Mr. Hadley refers to a "four brigade gap" in combat power in Baghdad, implying that US officials believe the city needs roughly 13,000 additional soldiers. While he says he hopes that local troops will be mustered to do the job, he writes that "we might also need to fill the [gap] ... with coalition forces if reliable Iraqi forces are not identified."
While that would be politically unpopular at home, with anger over the extended war in Iraq leading to the major Republican reverses in national elections this month, Bush could use his meeting with Maliki as a springboard to make this case, since Maliki himself has said he would welcome more troops and resources to pacify the country.
But Maliki, from the Shiite Islamist's Dawa Party, has also frequently complained that he has insufficient direct control of troops on the ground, arguing that it's unfair to expect him to deliver results when the US calls the shots on troop deployments.
He's expected to press Bush for more control during the summit in Amman. That's something the Hadley memo recommends – but contingent on Maliki first meeting US conditions, such as cutting off his close relations with Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, purging divisive Shiite leaders from his cabinet, and suspending the de-Baathification program designed to purge former loyalists of Saddam Hussein from the government.
While it's unclear if meeting these demands is within Maliki's power, Hadley's memo also provides reason for the US to worry about giving the prime minister more control over the Iraqi military.
It cites "repeated reports" from US generals on the ground of a failure to provide government services in Sunni Arab areas and "intervention by the prime minister's office to stop military action against Shia targets and to encourage them against Sunni ones."
That sort of behavior has fed Iraq's worsening civil war, creating the impression among Sunnis, who were a privileged class under Saddam Hussein, that they have little future in the new Iraq.
Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army has been blamed by the US and Sunni Arab politicians for a string of sectarian atrocities in and around Baghdad, while aides to Sadr counter that the force is largely defensive and is needed because of the Iraqi government and US failure to stop terrorist attacks on Shiites.
Sadr and his supporters are fervently anti-American and have been angry at recent US offensives to curtail his militia's power. Wednesday, 30 legislators and six cabinet members loyal to Sadr said they were temporarily boycotting the government to protest the meeting between Maliki and Bush. In a statement, they described Bush as "the world's greatest evil."
Hadley's memo also says the US can help Maliki by encouraging Saudi Arabia to encourage Sunni insurgents to give up violence, and to "lean on Syria to terminate its support for Baathists and insurgent leaders." Syria has denied it is playing any role in the fighting.
Then there is the question of money. US reconstruction spending in Iraq has largely run out, and some advisers to the Iraq Study Group, as well as outside analysts like Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, are urging that the US unveil a large aid package to act as a carrot to get Iraqi leaders of waring factions to sit at the negotiating table.
While Hadley's memo refers to providing Maliki with more money, it doesn't refer to an aid program. Instead, he appears to be advocating using US resources to try to split Maliki and other leaders described as moderate away from their Shiite power base.
The memo argues that if Maliki proves unable to take the steps the US asks of him, then the US would use money and its prestige to try to cobble together a nonsectarian parliamentary bloc that would effectively divorce Maliki from his own Dawa Party, which has close ties to Iran, and the other Islamist Shiite parties in the government.
But Malaki is not likely to abandon his Shiite political powerbase, including Sadr, says Chris Toensing, executive director of the Middle East Research and Information Project in Washington. "It's a calculus about his own protection, and for a future when the US eventually leaves," he says.
Excerpts from a memo by national security adviser Stephen Hadley that was leaked to The New York Times:
"Steps Maliki Could Take ... There is a range of actions that [Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] could take to improve the information he receives, demonstrate his intentions to build an Iraq for all Iraqis ...
"Compel his ministers to take small steps – such as providing health services and opening bank branches in Sunni neighborhoods – to demonstrate that his government serves all ethnic communities ... Bring his political strategy with Moktada al-Sadr to closure ... Announce plans to expand the Iraqi Army over the next nine months ... Declare the immediate suspension of suspect Iraqi police units ...
"What We Can Do to Help Maliki ... Continue to target Al Qaeda and insurgent strongholds in Baghdad to demonstrate the Shia do not need the [Mahdi Army] to protect their families ... Continue our diplomatic efforts to keep the Sunnis in the political process ... Seek ways to strengthen Maliki immediately by giving him additional control over Iraqi forces ...
"The above approach may prove difficult to execute even if Maliki has the right intentions. He may simply not have the political or security capabilities ... Pushing Maliki to take these steps without augmenting his capabilities could force him to failure ..."