Why the Summit Offered Iraqis Little Comfort

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U.S. President George W. Bush shakes hands with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki following a joint press conference in Amman, Jordan.

For most Iraqis, the Amman summit was not a letdown — only because they had no great expectations of it to begin with. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Bush offered very little in the way of new ideas and workable solutions, only familiar rhetoric and vague promises.

The rhetoric was so far removed from reality it sometimes seemed almost deliberately ironic. Bush pronounced al-Maliki "the right guy for the job," claiming the Iraqi leader had made great efforts to reconcile sectarian groups responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iraqis in recent weeks. In truth, the Prime Minister has done little to bridge the sectarian gap; if anything, he has occasionally contributed to widening the chasm. Many in Baghdad also found some unintended black humor in Bush's description of al-Maliki as "a strong leader." After all, just the previous day, a leaked memo from National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley had revealed how the Administration really views al-Maliki: as an isolated figure in the Green Zone with little demonstrable ability to affect the course of events outside.

Al-Maliki's aides, in turn, leaked to reporters that the Iraqi Prime Minister told President Bush that dealing with the Shi'ite militias would not be a "big problem." In reality, al-Maliki has been totally powerless against the militias, especially since they are loyal to his own political allies. So it was hard to believe Bush was being sincere when he declared he was "reassured by the Prime Minister's commitment to a ... a society in which people are held into account who break the law — whether these people will be criminals al-Qaeda, militia, whoever."

There was some deliberately vague talk of the U.S. military giving the Iraqis more responsibility for security, but no indication of how much or how soon. Al-Maliki pronounced the Iraqi forces "capable enough of protecting the country and its citizens against those who seek to undermine their safety," but many of those very citizens — especially the Sunni minority — feel threatened by the men in uniform.

In short, the Amman summit did little to persuade Iraqis that things are about to get better anytime soon. But if there was a silver lining in the gloom — and you had to strain your eyes to find it — it was in President Bush's unambiguous thumbs-down to the idea of separating Iraq into three ethnic or sectarian enclaves. Partition may be an intriguing parlor game for foreign-policy wonks in Washington, but like most theoretical plans for Iraq, it was never likely to survive direct contact with ground realities. Save a few fringe figures and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, most Iraqis want their country intact, and will be reassured to hear that the American President feels the same way.

The only surprise to emerge from the summit was the news that it was al-Maliki who decided not to attend a Wednesday dinner with Bush and King Abdullah. Analysts say the Iraqi Prime Minister, a Shi'ite, doesn't trust Jordan's Sunni monarch and did not want to discuss sensitive issues with Bush in Abdullah's presence. Home to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi immigrants, including many of al-Maliki's political enemies, Jordan is unlikely to forget this snub in a hurry.