Iraq

Cordesman: Iraqi Prime Minister Hampers Progress

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Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki i

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks to reporters after meeting with Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Shara in Damascus, Aug. 21, 2007. Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks to reporters after meeting with Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Shara in Damascus, Aug. 21, 2007.

Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images

Maliki Interview

In a recent NPR interview, the prime minister called the situation in Iraq "difficult," but said "we're succeeding."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office has been reluctant to support a tribal "awakening" against al-Qaida and to act against ethnic cleansing of the Sunni minority, military analyst Anthony Cordesman says.

Back from a visit to Iraq, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey says he was taken aback by U.S. military commanders' frustration with Iraq's prime minister. Casey's comments echo Sen. Carl Levin's, who also recently returned from Iraq.

The Michigan Democrat, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the Iraqi government "nonfunctional," and said it should vote Nouri al-Maliki and his Cabinet out of office.

Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, visited Iraq last month. He says he encountered many complaints about the prime minister.

"I think many intermediate commanders in the field that have been dealing with the prime minister's office have had problems in terms of its use of command authority to favor Shiites over Sunnis — its reluctance to act against sectarian cleansing," Cordesman tells Renee Montagne. "I also heard it from Iraqi officers who often blame the prime minister's office for delays in everything from pay to ammunition. So this is not simply a U.S. reaction."

In an interview with Montagne, Cordesman discusses the complicated relationship between Maliki and U.S. commanders in Iraq.

There have been questions about Maliki's leadership for rather a long time. The distinction here seems to be that the criticisms are being voiced by military people. What has changed?

Well, one problem is that people keep referring to the surge. And what's really changed is not a relatively limited increase in U.S. troops, but you now have very aggressive operations in the field by troops that stay in the field that don't simply win but hold. You have Iraqi and U.S. commanders who are much more dependent on getting a rapid response from the Iraqi government.

You also have had over this last four months this sudden surge of support in Anbar and elsewhere against al-Qaida and being able to take that awakening, these anti-al-Qaida groups and bring them into the police force, bring them into local security forces — sort of cement what has been an anti-al-Qaida movement as a pro-Iraqi government movement — has been blocked time and again by failures on the part of the prime minister's office to act. And to go out and put your life on the line, or the life of your troops on the line, every day and get no real active response is not something you ignore.

Is the idea that Maliki is too weak, or that he's actively working against political compromises and reconciliation?

I think that there are elements of both. Depending on who you talk to, people are often careful to use the term "the prime minister's office," rather than blame the man. But people do see him as too reluctant to act, to take chances to move forward, particularly in dealing with the Sunnis. Others see his office as tied to Shiite sectarian cleansing. They see him as reluctant, as blocking promotions of Sunnis. You also see a particular concern that this awakening by the tribes is something that has to be cemented and that it's really the prime minister's office that's blocking this.

Although is there an argument that the prime minister and the prime minister's office has some legitimate foundation for being concerned down the road that this awakening in Anbar could turn on them or the government?

I think that no one can deny in Iraq that the other factions might turn on them. This isn't even a matter of Arab Sunni, Arab Shiite and Kurd. Down in the southeast, you see the Shiites feuding with the Shiites. So everyone fears everyone else, and that's one of the problems in moving forward.

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