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Al-Maliki quashed peace efforts

Joel Brinkley

If any one person holds primary responsibility for the fresh rush of carnage in Iraq, it is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Consider the suicide bombers’ targets last week: a Shiite Islam shrine and a gaggle of Iranian travelers coming to Iraq for worship – all direct or indirect constituents of al-Maliki, the protector of Iraq’s Shiite majority. Al-Maliki had betrayed the perpetrators.

Do you remember the goals behind the so-called surge of American troops last year: to reduce the level of violence in Baghdad, and to set the table for national reconciliation? Well, the American troops did their part. Al-Maliki shirked his.

It’s hard for any thinking person to hold sympathy for Iraq’s Sunni minority. Saddam Hussein was Sunni. During his 24 years in power, he and his Sunni enforcers mercilessly oppressed and slaughtered tens of thousands of Iraqi Shiites. So it came as little surprise that when Iraq held general elections in December 2005, Shiite politicians won a majority of seats in Parliament and chose one of their own to be prime minister, first Ibrahim al-Jaafari and then, in April 2006, al-Maliki.

His primary goals in office have been to protect the nation’s Shiite citizens while enriching himself and his aides.

Well, in the last couple of years, the Sunnis have gone a long way toward redeeming themselves. They participated in the provincial elections in January and have become political players. And last year, 94,000 of them, primarily from the Sunni triangle, dropped their allegiance to insurgent groups that were planting roadside bombs and killing civilians. Instead, they joined forces with the United States. These were the soldiers of the Awakening Councils, armed and financed by the U.S. military to fight al-Qaida.

For all the talk about the success of the Bush administration’s surge, the Awakening Councils were equally responsible for the drop in violence. From the very beginning, however, the Americans told the Sunni soldiers the day would come when the U.S. would leave Iraq, and they would have to join Iraq’s national security forces.

That started early this year, as the U.S. began scaling back its operations. Al-Maliki assured the Americans the Awakening Council soldiers would get government jobs. But the jobs never appeared. Al-Maliki’s government suddenly argued it was short of cash and had no money to pay the Sunni recruits.

Now, just how stupid is al-Maliki? Most of the Sunni soldiers are former insurgents who were dedicated to killing Shiites (and Americans). And in recent weeks they have been perfectly clear about their alternatives. They have explained that if the Iraqi government will not hire them, al-Qaida is eager to take them on. Al-Maliki knows this.

But consider a distressing story in the New York Times describing American-led mediation efforts between al-Maliki and former generals in Saddam Hussein’s army. The generals wanted to return to Iraq and help stabilize the country. Al-Maliki would have none of it. Saddam Hussein’s former officers, he howled, are “filled with hate from head to toe!”

Reconciliation? Forget it.

On April 23, three bombings killed at least 80 people. Most were poor Shiites and Iranian tourists. Sunni leaders endlessly complain al-Maliki is too close to Iran. When Saddam Hussein was in power, Iran was the enemy.

Last Friday, two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Imam Musa al-Kadhim Shiite shrine, killing more than 60 people. For several days after, the city was relatively quiet. Sunni militants had left their message. Al-Maliki’s response? He ordered the arrest of two policemen in charge of protecting the shrine and set up a committee to investigate the attack.

What’s there to investigate? Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani blamed al-Qaida. Didn’t those Awakening Council members say al-Qaida had been trying to recruit them once al-Maliki abandoned them?

Prime Minister al-Maliki, if you want to find out who is to blame for the attacks, you don’t need a committee. You have only to look in the mirror.

Joel Brinkley is a former foreign correspondent for the New York Times. His e-mail address is
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