US 'declaration' a setback for Maliki

This from Asia Times. THe US does not seem to understand that being seen as a US puppet is not a positive in most areas of the Middle East. Yet the US continually praises Abbas as if this is going to help Abbas rather than make him look like a puppet in the eyes of many Palestinians. The same is true of this declaration of principles agreed to by Maliki. Maliki is likely to be in deep trouble right away.

US 'declaration' a setback for Maliki
By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS - Sometimes, frequently nowadays, one doubts the wisdom of decision-makers in Washington. The case was clear, for example, with Syria and Palestine. When President George W Bush comes out to praise political prisoners in Damascus, he completely ruins their credibility in the Syrian Street, projecting them as stooges for the United States. When he embraces Mahmud Abbas of Palestine, the same impression is made on ordinary Palestinians who immediately write off their president as

a puppet for Washington, making it difficult for him - if not impossible - to discuss peace with Israel.

The situation now applies to Iraq as well.

For four years, the Americans have been pushing for a security breakthrough in Iraq. The White House has been desperate for a "success story" to sell on Iraq to the American public. Chances seemed slim earlier this summer as an increasing number of Iraqi politicians walked out on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. By October, his government had lost legitimacy, since it no longer included Sunnis from the Iraqi Accordance Front or Shi'ites from the Sadrist bloc.

The Americans held on to Maliki, fearing a vacuum if he left. So desperate was the US administration that it began funding and arming Sunni tribesmen in Iraq to combat al-Qaeda. This caused uproar in the Iraqi street, particularly among Iraqi Shi'ites, who claimed that the Sunnis would train their guns on both the Americans and the Shi'ites the minute they were finished fighting al-Qaeda.

They cited how US support for Osama bin Laden backfired the minute he was finished fighting the Soviets in the Soviets in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. When Bush came to Iraq, he had his picture taken with Abdul-Sattar Abu Risheh, one of the cooperative Sunni tribal leaders. Maliki described him as a "national hero". Seventy-two hours later, Vice President Tarek al-Hashemi announced a "reward" (or as some would say punishment) for the Sunni provinces working against al-Qaeda.

A total of US$84 million would go to the reconstruction of Ramadi, with an additional $50 million in compensation for its residents, along with 6,000 job opportunities. Shortly afterwards, Abu Risheh was assassinated near his home in Ramadi. Maliki blamed al-Qaeda. It was a clear message as to how far the militants were willing to go to punish anybody working with the Americans. Abu Risheh had not only fought al-Qaeda, but lobbied relentlessly with government authorities to amend the de-Ba'athification laws that targeted the Sunni community, and restore senior Sunnis to posts in the Iraqi army. Without him, Maliki - and Bush - have one less friend in Iraq.

And now, the Americans have done the same thing to Maliki. Over the past 15 days, a lot of positive news came in from Baghdad. One was a significant improvement in local security, estimated by Maliki at 77% better. Cafes - abandoned by night since 2003 - were once again swarming with Iraqis, thanks to the improved security situation. An estimated 1,000 Iraqis were returning to Iraq per day from neighboring Syria, thanks to better security.

The reasons varied. One was improved US and Iraqi patrolling of Baghdad. Another was a pledge by Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to bring all military activities of his Mahdi Army to a six-month halt. He had been accused of creating major disturbances in Sunni districts. Also, armed Sunni militiamen (working with the Americans) were able to keep al-Qaeda at bay during the months of September-November. Maliki seemed to be doing increasingly well.

The Iraqi Accordance Front, a Sunni bloc with 44 seats in Parliament (out of 275) agreed to reduce its demands and restore its six ministers to the Maliki cabinet. The Sadrists decided to end their decades-long animosity with the Supreme Iraqi Council (SIIC) that is headed by Muqtada's archenemy, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Both groups, who control all Shi'ite militiamen in Iraq, forgot their rivalry for Shi'ite dominance and decided to unite in order to bring stability and security to Iraq.

There was even speculation that Muqtada would restore his ministers to the Maliki cabinet when and if the Accordance Front withdrew its August resignations. Iran, which has been accused by the United States of funding terrorism in Iraq, had seemingly also decided to cooperate and reduce violence.

Things seemed rosy for Maliki, until this week, when Bush convinced him to sign a "declaration of principles" with the United States. Among other things, the declaration pledged to disarm all militias in Iraq, without naming them, and fire all militiamen who had joined the police and security forces under the nose of the Maliki government.


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