Some time ago I wrote about the problem of a US military presence in Iraq when it is in the process of establishing a government. In order for a government to be effective it must have legitimacy among the people governed. The Maliki government in Iraq is stuck with the PR problem of having been established at the barrel of an American gun. This is a significant obstacle to legitimacy and a major obstacle to the probability of self rule in Iraq.
Maliki, meanwhile, has a tight balancing act to maintain. On the one hand, his power rests in the confidence that he can invoke in the Iraqi people. The most effective tool in establishing that confidence is to stand firm against the American presence. However, the American presence is the only thing keeping Maliki in power. So he must acquiesce to US demands to remain. At the same time, he is a Shi’ite trying desperately to build a consensus with Sunni’s and Kurds who have no reason to trust him.
The relative “peace” that is vaunted by the Bush Administration as proof that the surge has worked is, in fact, a fragile detente between the Maliki government and Sunni militants. As it stands, the Sunni’s have held their hands up against the tide of growing resentment of ethnic Sunni and Kurds toward the American presence and a Shia majority. How long can this tissue thin truce last? And what compromises must be made to make it so.
Well, so far Maliki is keeping his balance. He can claim that he has stood firm against America and squeezed a compromise out of the Bush Administration in the latest SOFA negotiations. The US is pacified by being able to legitimately maintain its presence despite the UN Resolution that expires in December. The US, according to Maliki has agreed to end its detentions, close its detention centers and stop unauthorized searches of Iraqi homes in exchange for their continued support for the fledgling Iraqi security forces.
We’ll see how that works out. We know that the Bush Administration does what it wants. Even without the renegotiated SOFA agreement it was unlikely that American forces would have just picked up their marbles and left. But there’s a new sheriff in town come January, wo we shall see how that works out. We assume that the Obama Administration will place more emphasis on the rule of law and the moral lessons of an ill advised war…but that remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, what kind of man is Maliki to be holding such a fragile fabric together? Well, he is the head of what Transparency International describes as the third most corrupt nation in the world. Judge Radhi al-Radhi, the head of the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity has called for the removal of al Maliki. As the head watchdog for corruption in Iraq he was forced to flee. Thirty of his employees were assassinated, their families tortured.
In the meantime, Maliki and his cronies are busily hoarding billions of dollars in Swiss accounts, likely including over $13 billion US tax dollars that have been “lost.” Maliki has cancelled corruption probes into his ministries and have fired investigators. He has demonstrated no commitment to ending the corruption that is endemic to the Iraqi government. Imagine that, a corrupt government established by a corrupt government…could they have corrupt purposes?
If hope for the Iraqi future rests in the lap of al Maliki, this does not bode well.