Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Friday, April 21, 2006

  "Abrasive and inflexible" is better than nothing

According to this new report in the New York Times, Iraqi Shiites have finally settled upon a candidate for Prime Minister, Jawad al-Maliki, who has gained the acceptance of Sunni and Kurdish political parties. So it has been a worthwhile few months of civil war. Iraqis finally will be able to form a government and move forward with the business of whatever the future may hold.

Unmitigated good news. Except that there are one or two small doubts nagging at me. There is the odd fact that until quite recently the Sunnis and Kurds both regarded al-Maliki (his real name is Nouri Kamel) as an extremist Shiite.

Just one day ago, Sunni Arab leaders and Kurdish officials had expressed a preference for the other Shiite politician who had been considered a strong candidate for nomination as prime minister, Ali al-Adeeb. They had described Mr. Maliki as too sectarian and inflexible to win wide support among other political groups.

Another description of al-Maliki caught my eye as well, in the NYT sidebar: "Some rival coalitions see him as abrasive and inflexible." Those qualities must be a great advantage in certain government positions, I have no doubt. Yet I do have to wonder whether they are quite the right qualifications for a prime minister. Given that the country is riven by sectarian divisions, his selection may have been a tad too hasty.

There's also the fact that al-Maliki was an exile for 23 years, who returned only after the invasion. That almost guarantees that personally he does not have a broad base of support in Iraq. In fact, until today he was also virtually unknown outside Iraq as well.

Before his return from exile, he was asked about what kind of society he wanted his country to become in the future.

Mr Maliki said he wanted to see a pluralist Iraq whose various ethnic and sectarian groups regarded each other as equals.

Even so, he has been among the most hardline Shiite politicians in resisting moves for local autonomy in Iraq, and insisting on retaining central power for the Shiites.

His rise to power began as he served on the De-Baathification Commission. That was a roaring success for Iraq from any number of perspectives.

Later, he was among the most hard-nosed Shiite representatives in drafting a hard-nosed Constitution, which then had to be shoved down the throats of Sunnis. When Sunnis turned out in large numbers last December to reject this Constitution, al-Maliki remarked

Democracy means accepting the opinion of the majority. They [Sunnis] should accept the other and the outcome of the ballot boxes. The Sunnis need to take this into consideration.

But those are after all the smallest of doubts. Surely from the perspective of the United States, an abrasive and inflexible al-Maliki in power was better than the alternative...allowing Ibrahim al-Jaafari to continue as Prime Minister. As Seymour Hersh noted on the Diane Rehm show on April 11, 2006, the Bush administration could not possibly permit Mr. Jaafari to be reappointed for fear that he would ask the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq. Now that really would not have done.


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