Columns » Ernest Dumas

Don’t blame Maliki

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The Iraqi government rarely gives anyone reason to cheer, but Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's frustrated rebuke of Sen. Hillary Clinton and other senators for demanding his ouster came close.

“There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages, for example Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin,” Maliki said, without mentioning the Republicans who were saying the same thing. “This is severe interference in our domestic affairs.”

It is worse than that. It implies that the destruction of the country and its civil society lies at the feet of the Maliki regime and not of the U.S. administration that put it there and has called every shot in the war, the reconstruction and the formation of the government. To blame the utter chaos that is the former Iraq on Maliki and his hapless central government relieves the Bush administration and eases Bush's case for continuing the most forlorn war policy in American history. If the Maliki government would simply follow the administration's and the military's advice, the theory goes, the war will succeed. Sen. Clinton said there was progress in the war.

That will be the report that the White House is writing for Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker next month, and Bush will stay the course with his war. While weakly defending Maliki — he is a “good guy” was all that the president could say about him last week — Bush is happy for Maliki to shoulder the blame. Thus do Democrats continue to share complicity in a cataclysm that the American people want ended about as much as Iraqis do.

What exactly did Maliki do to bring on the disaster? He brought the minority Sunnis, losers in the parliamentary elections, into the administration to only a slightly greater degree than Bush brought Democrats into his administration.

But Maliki made none of the dozens of fateful decisions that has made the country ungovernable and the occupation unwinnable and unending. Those all belong to George Bush.

There was the one that Colin Powell, Bush's erstwhile secretary of state, calls the fatal one, making Bush pal L. Paul Bremer the virtual dictator of Iraq after Saddam Hussein was toppled. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy for Iraqi politics, highly respected in Iraq and the region, was supposed to put together an interim Iraqi government but Bremer persuaded Bush to put him wholly in charge as the chief civilian administrator.

All that followed — the dismissal of the Iraqi army, the banning of the secular Baath Party from government participation, the canceling of provincial elections when the wrong people were going to win, the appointment of incompetent and often corrupt Bush supporters to key jobs, the privatization of rebuilding into the hands of dozens of favored American contractors and the massive corruption and incompetence that it produced — convinced Iraqis that Americans were occupiers, not liberators. The insurgency was born and the sectarian wars began.

Not even Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser at the time, had a role in that. It was Bush alone, maybe with Dick Cheney. When a shocked Colin Powell telephoned Rice to find out what happened with Bremer's appointment she said she was not consulted. When the cataclysm got under way, Bremer came home to collect from Bush his Medal of Freedom, which the president awards ritually to those who screw up biblically.

The Maliki government barely had a hand in the waste and theft of much of the $40 billion spent on reconstruction or on the misappropriation, loss or transfer to insurgents of massive amounts of materiel intended for U.S. soldiers and Iraqi security forces. The New York Times reported this week that 73 separate criminal investigations of bribery, bid-rigging, double-billing, product substitution and other forms of contract fraud in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait were under way and 20 civilians and military personnel, some of them Republican cronies, have been charged in federal courts. They all began after Sen. John Warner, R-Va., then chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked an independent federal oversight agency to investigate when equipment bought to outfit Iraqi soldiers seemed to have vanished.

Maliki had nothing to do with the payment of $73 million to a favored contractor to build a training center for Iraqi security forces that was uninhabitable upon its completion. The Iraqi government did not have to account for 110,000 AK-47 rifles, 90,000 pistols, 115,000 helmets, 80 pieces of body armor and other materiel that has disappeared into the Iraqi deserts.

Sen. Clinton and Levin said the Iraqi parliament should oust Maliki and choose another prime minister more amenable to the U.S. administration's suggestions. Who would that be?

What would be better for Iraq's and America's best interest is a parliamentary declaration that the United States should leave and let them run their own affairs. The strong will of the American people is not enough.

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