Bush visit may have downside for al-Maliki
Bush visit may have downside for al-Maliki
By PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press Writer Tue Jun 13,
3:26 PM ET
BAGHDAD, Iraq -
President Bush's trip to Baghdad comes at a pivotal
time for the new prime minister, as he tries to
convince Iraqis the country can stand on its own and
end violence if they unite behind him.
But instead of bolstering that effort, Bush's trip
could push away the very Sunni Arabs Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki is trying to court.
Bush and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad have made
much of the fact that al-Maliki and his national unity
government are the result of three years of democratic
progress. But it is an experiment in Middle Eastern
civics that has cost thousands of American and Iraqi
lives and arguably has been outpaced by the Sunni
"I appreciate you recognizing that the future of the
country is in your hands," Bush told al-Maliki as he
came to Baghdad to congratulate the prime minister for
finally assembling a Cabinet six months after
He lauded al-Maliki for bringing together Shiites,
Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Christians in a government he
hopes will convince insurgents of its impartiality.
"You've assembled people from all parts of your
country, representing different religions, different
histories and traditions. And yet the Cabinet here
represents the entire Iraqi people," Bush said.
But many Iraqis are already wary of the Cabinet
assembled from second and third choices to overcome
sectarian objections and bearing fingerprints of the
Khalilzad has often commented about the active role he
played in the negotiations to form the government;
many of those talks took place inside his residence.
"Bush does need to reinforce Khalilzad's efforts to
produce stable political compromises, include the
Sunnis, talk to the 'moderate' insurgents and prepare
to appoint an inclusive body to review the
constitution. U.S. pressure to reach a stable
compromise between factions is critical," said Anthony
Cordesman, an analyst at the Washington-based Center
for Strategic and International Studies.
Al-Maliki's political future may be bleak if he fails
to convince Sunni Arabs he is not a Washington puppet
and truly wants to disarm Shiite militias and death
squads blamed for hundreds of killings.
Many Sunni Arab and even some Shiite political parties
dismissed the visit as an attempt by Bush to associate
himself with positive developments in
Iraq formation of the new government and last week's
killing of al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi. Bush's political standing portends a
difficult election for fellow Republicans in
November's congressional elections.
"This visit carries a lot of meanings, but this visit
means nothing to the Iraqi street. There will never be
any benefits from such a visit and the only one to
benefit from this visit is Bush himself and his troops
here, not the Iraqi people," said Hassan al-Robaie, a
lawmaker loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada
Baghdad University political science professor Nabil
Mohammed Selim said Bush's trip also was a bid to show
the world that he has achieved something in Iraq.
"In fact, nothing has been achieved in Iraq, hundreds
of innocent Iraqis are being killed daily because of
the chaos," Selim said.
On June 28, Iraq celebrates two years since the
restoration of its sovereignty. In that time it has
seen some success: three governments, two elections
and a referendum on a constitution.
It has also seen a catastrophic failure to restore
security and, more importantly, move the country away
from sectarian killing and forced relocations that
threaten to divide Iraq.
In Baghdad, dozens of people are blown up, shot or
beheaded by sectarian gangs every day. Islamic
extremists attack liquor stores, order women not to
drive and shoot men for wearing shorts.
The city of 6 million has become so dangerous that
al-Maliki plans to restore security by flooding its
streets with 75,000 Iraqi and American troops.
Some Sunnis think the success of the Bush visit can
only be gauged on al-Maliki's ability to persuade the
U.S. president to start pulling some of the 130,000
American troops from the country.
"We hope that al-Maliki persuades Bush to announce a
timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, otherwise
the visit is of no relevance to Iraqis," said Zafer
al-Ani, spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front the
main Sunni Arab partner in al-Maliki's government.
Patrick Quinn is Chief of Southeast Europe News for
The Associated Press and has reported frequently from
Iraq since 2003.