Two Takes on Maliki
Here is what I wrote in my column today, A Dangerous Lineup.
And below are some segments from David Ignatius’ revealing piece on the same subject published today in the Washington Post. What is strikingly surprising about David’s piece is that Khalilzad basically takes personal authorship for this new government with Nouri Al-Maliki at its head. He even considers it a personal victory, as Ignatius insinuates. The thrust of Khalilzad’s supposed rejection of Ibrahim Jaafari is supposed to be the latter’s good standing with the regime in Iran, which Khalilzad claims went out to bat in order to get their man back in the saddle, even going to the extent of issuing veiled threats.
As someone who has closely watched this situation (see my previous column two weeks ago, Abu Omar vs. the Shias), I think that Khalilzad is either being misled or is not telling the truth. He is now on the record saying that the Iranians pressured key players—including SCIRI’s Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim—to hold on to Jaafari and that Sistani also came down against Jaafari. These two claims are a serious distortion of how events played out, and I really wonder how Khalilzad thinks he can get away with this. Maybe he is betting that no one will challenge him on these claims, but he is gravely mistaken, and he will be surprised at to where this challenge comes from. It will begin with SCIRI and Hakim, and it will continue through Talabani. The Iranians hold too many cards in this game, and they will not let it pass; they cannot leave the impression that their clout and long-term investment in the Iraqi political scene had come to naught. Furthermore, Khalilzad distorted the stance of Sistani, and he did this on the record. I think Najaf will challenge his claims.
Plus, Jaafari will not allow an accusation as heavy as libeling him as an Iranian toady to fly. He will come out swinging.
I really do not know what compelled Khalilzad to go on the record, and say things that are blatantly contradictory to the line from Washington, namely that the United States government did not interfere in the political process. Khalilzad, in today’s piece, admits to cobbling together a parliamentary block to challenge the UIA. He has taken authorship for this, and had done so on the record.
This interview will come back to haunt Khalilzad.
"His reputation is as someone who is independent of Iran," explained Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad. He explained that although Maliki initially went into exile in Iran, "he felt he was threatened by them" because of his political independence, and later moved to Syria. "He sees himself as an Arab" and an Iraqi nationalist, Khalilzad said…
“…The Iranians "pressured everyone for Jafari to stay," Khalilzad said. One senior Iraqi official said the gist of Iran's letters was "stick with him, or else." The phrasing was more subtle, including warnings that replacement of Jafari could "create instability" and damage the political prospects of those who opposed Iran's diktat. The decisive blow came from Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who let it be known in the final days that Jafari had to go.
“Maliki's selection is something of a victory for Khalilzad, who has been a match for the Iraqis in his wily political wrangling. The American ambassador viewed Jafari as too weak and sectarian. When Jafari was renominated by the Shiite alliance in February, Khalilzad warned, initially in this column, that the United States wouldn't support a government that did not put unity first. Khalilzad helped organize a rival coalition of Kurdish and Sunni politicians that represented 143 seats in parliament, more than the 130 seats of the Shiite alliance that had nominated Jafari. Meanwhile, he began holding marathon meetings with all the Iraqi factions to hammer out the political platform for a unity government.
“Khalilzad explained that the logjam on Jafari was broken by two political forces. First, the Shiite alliance realized that the non-Shiites, with their 143 seats, were serious about creating an alternative government. The second was pressure from Sistani to resolve the dispute. The rejection of Jafari "showed great courage on the part of key Shia leaders," Khalilzad said. "It showed that Sistani doesn't take Iranian direction. It showed that [SCIRI leader] Abdul Aziz Hakim doesn't succumb to Iranian pressure. He stood up to Iran. It showed the same thing about the Kurdish leaders."