In what appears to be the new Democratic strategy to end the war, Senator Carl Levin has declared Nouri al-Maliki and his government “non-functional” and demanded that the Iraqi National Assembly replace them immediately. The focus on Maliki as the ultimate villain comes as other Democrats concede that the military has made real progress on Iraqi security with the surge:
Declaring the government of Iraq “non-functional,” the influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday that Iraq’s parliament should oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his cabinet if they are unable to forge a political compromise with rival factions in a matter of days.
“I hope the parliament will vote the Maliki government out of office and will have the wisdom to replace it with a less sectarian and more unifying prime minister and government,” Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) said after a three-day trip to Iraq and Jordan.
Levin’s statement, the most forceful call for leadership change in Iraq from a U.S. elected official, comes as about two dozen lawmakers are traveling to Iraq during Congress’s August break to glean firsthand assessments before receiving a progress report next month from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander there, and Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador.
Not every Democrat has come back from Iraq supporting a drawdown of U.S. forces in the coming months, as party leaders have advocated. Staking out positions that could complicate efforts to achieve party unity in September, a few Democratic lawmakers have returned expressing support for a continued troop presence. One of them, Rep. Brian Baird (Wash.), said yesterday that he will no longer vote for binding troop withdrawal timelines.
This isn’t exactly goalpost-shifting, but it comes close. The surge intended to give the Iraqi government some breathing room from violence to institute reforms — reforms demanded by the US, specifically Congress. Progress on those reforms has been slow, and the August recess of the Iraqi parliament has annoyed many in both parties here.
However, the Iraqi Prime Minister has made some recent steps towards building the kind of coalition that could produce those reforms. He has dumped Moqtada al-Sadr in favor of Sadr’s opponents in the south, who have been more amenable to better sectarian relations than the Mahdi Army leader. He convinced that group, the Islamic Council, to sign a compact of cooperation with the Kurds. Maliki traveled to Tikrit last week to humble himself before Sunni tribal leaders in Saddam Hussein’s former power base, and apparently made good progress.
If the National Assembly removed the Maliki government at this point, who would ascend to the PM slot? Ayad Allawi, who couldn’t move the government towards reconciliation during his tenure, either? It will have to be someone that the Shi’ite parties will trust to protect their interests — and simply opening up the spot for contention may energize Moqtada al-Sadr’s party, which could easily play a kingmaker role with its significant voting bloc.
And even Democrats admit that the US demand for a replacement would leave the next PM with a reputation for being a US puppet, which is why Allawi couldn’t retain any credibility. Maliki at least is seen as mostly being his own man, and even with all his faults, that is a necessity in the region.
The last time the National Assembly had to form a government, it took five months to complete. During that time, Democrats demanded a withdrawal, complaining that the democratic process in Iraq had failed. Toppling Maliki would mean doing that all over again, which would give Democrats the same argument they used the last time if the replacement process took more than a few weeks. Maliki has not been very successful until just now, but in this case he’s a red herring, a bit of misdirection for Levin to create another excuse to demand complete and immediate withdrawal.