President Bush may have assurances that Nouri al-Maliki will not tolerate sectarian violence in Iraq, but the prime minister’s refusal to publicly confront his militant backers suggests he may be more interested in consolidating Shiite power than fostering stability.
Announcing his vision of the new security plan last Saturday, al-Maliki said he would fight against “safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of (their) sectarian or political affiliation.”
He said the same in October, but then he ordered U.S. forces to pull back from attacks on Sadr City, headquarters of the Mahdi Army. The violent Shiite militia is headed by his key political backer, radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Al-Maliki instead has encouraged the Americans to go after rival Sunni insurgents, especially in the territory west of Baghdad where few Shiites live.
Experts say that even if al-Maliki assures Bush of support, his behavior illustrates that he’s not as Bush described, a man whose primary concern is bringing peace and prosperity to his country.
“The Bush administration has one view of Iraqi reality in which Maliki is ... an honest broker,” said W. Patrick Lang, a former head of Middle East intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency. “In my view, Maliki is one of any number of Shiite Arab activists who are seeking to consolidate Shiite control.”
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