With US gone, Iraq's Maliki is setting the board for a power grab
Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has wasted little time since the US departure, with politically motivated terrorism charges against his Sunni vice president and moves to oust other opponents from the government.
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But almost exactly a year after Maliki's government was formed, defense and interior are directly controlled by the prime minister, something that is probably illegal under the new Iraqi Constitution that the US helped to write. The power sharing committee? It still doesn't exist. Sectarian tensions and fears? They have been heightened in the interim with the latest moves against Hashemi and the rest of Iraqiyaa the cherry on top.Skip to next paragraph
Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.
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Many in the United States continue to misunderstand what's been happening in the US-Iraq relationship for the past five years. The US desire to restore sovereignty to Iraq culminated in the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement signed by President George W. Bush that called for complete withdrawal by the end of this year. Many in the US establishment hoped that an extended stay would be worked out in the interim.
But in Iraq, the US occupation (widely described by that term there long after the US had given up governing powers) was deeply unpopular. Maliki and the Shiite Islamist politicians around him, who plotted the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime from Tehran, Amman, and Beirut for decades, were eager to see the back of America's army.
After the US troop surge in 2007 helped tamp down Iraq's tragic sectarian bloodletting, and with a reconstituted Iraqi Army and police force packed with Shiites and built on the US dime, they had little use for extended US influence in the country. So Maliki refused to give President Barack Obama extended permission for a large troop presence in the country.
This was not only predictable from an analysis of Iraqi politics and the preferences of men like Maliki, it was largely unavoidable. While those involved in the partisan punditry game, like The Washington Post editorial board – which argues today that the current crisis is Obama's fault (his administration "risked just such a breakdown when it disregarded the recommendation of its military commanders that some US forces remain in Iraq to help guarantee against a return to sectarian conflict") – suggest that US troops could have remained, they don't seem aware of the difficulties involved.
To stay without explicit Iraqi permission would be in effect another reoccupation, with an Iraqi prime minister transformed from ambivalence to the US to open hostility. Without the immunity protections of the old SOFA, US troops could be seized and tried under Iraqi law, the same law being wielded against Hashemi now. What then? Another war for regime change?
IN PICTURES: Leaving Iraq