April 30, 2007

Iraq: Perhaps al-Maliki is the biggest problem

Nuri al-MalikiAccording to senior U.S. military officials, the Iraqi prime minister's office is exerting undue influence over Iraqi military and security forces not to put too much pressure on Shi'a militias, despite earlier commitments to pursue all illegal militias. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a devout Shi'a Muslim and close confidant of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sadr is the leader of probably the most notorious Shi'a militia, the jaysh al-mahdi (Army of the Mahdi), which is directly supported by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force. (See my Iranian Qods Force in Iraq: Treat them like al-Qaida.)

Of note is the fact that al-Maliki is the deputy head of the Islamic Dawa' (Call) Party. The head of the Party, Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, was al-Maliki's predecessor as prime minister, and the Party's founder was the uncle of Muqtada al-Sadr. There were rumors that just prior to the current "surge" al-Maliki warned al-Sadr to leave the country and to order his militia to lay low.

Now we have reports that al-Maliki's office is directly influencing the crackdown on illegal militias by firing commanders who are being too effective in the effort. There is an office in al-Maliki's administration called the "Office of the Commander in Chief," headed by a close ally of al-Maliki. As soon as a military, security force or police commander shows results in going after Shi'a militias, especially the al-Sadr militia, they are removed or marginalized.

This is typical of the protectionist practices of al-Maliki prior to the recent surge operations. When the American command announced its intention to surge troops beginning in January, one of the key conditions was that al-Maliki had to agree that there would be no meddling when American and Iraqi forces pursued the Mahdi Army and conducted operations in the group's stronghold in the Sadr City section of Baghdad.

It would appear that al-Maliki has found a low-key, behind-the-scenes way to impede progress, this time by removing effective Iraqi commanders. Perhaps al-Sadr is not the biggest problem in Iraq - perhaps we need to remove al-Maliki along with al-Sadr.