(3 of 5)
Iraq: Our Way, or Maliki's Way
Even since the U.S. gave Iraqis the right to democratically elect their own leaders, Iraq has been governed by Shi'ite Islamist parties arguably closer to Tehran than to Washington, and reluctant to govern according to the American script. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who succeeded Ibrahim al-Jaafari in April 2006, has proven adept at outfoxing rivals and building the foundations of a strongman regime rooted in the loyalty he has cultivated in the security and intelligence services. But his electoral power base remains rooted in the Shi'ite majority, and he has largely declined to implement the U.S. benchmarks for national reconciliation deemed essential for ending the civil war by strengthening the Sunni political stake in Baghdad. The oil law governing distribution of revenues has not been passed, nor have restrictions been significantly eased on former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist organization (the party remains popular among Sunnis) serving in government. Most alarming, perhaps, has been Maliki's departure from the U.S. strategy of putting former Sunni insurgents on the payroll through the "Awakening" militias that drove al-Qaeda out of many communities. (See pictures of post-surge life in Baghdad)
Maliki sees many of the Awakening leaders as unreconstructed Ba'athists, and his government appears to have declined to keep paying most of the fighters once Washington handed over responsibility for the program to the Iraqi authorities. Instead, the Maliki government has been arresting key Awakening leaders and unleashing military power when those actions provoke resistance. Maliki's determination to strip the Awakening of its power to challenge the government may not be unconnected with the recent uptick in violence in Iraq, as Awakening members abandon their posts or in some cases, return to the insurgent fold. Having concluded a Status of Forces Agreement with Washington last December that will have all U.S. troops out of his country by the end of 2011, Maliki appears less willing than ever to accept Washington's political tutelage. But the way he's doing things may not be the way the U.S. would want them to be done to allow for a satisfactory outcome in Iraq.