"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

New York

Iraq's Nouri Maliki breaking free of U.S.

From the Los Angeles Times.

Once dependent on American support to keep his job, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has consolidated power and is asserting his independence, sharply reducing Washington's influence over the future of Iraq.

Iraq's police and army now operate virtually on their own, and with Washington's mandate from the United Nations to provide security here expiring in less than four months, Maliki is insisting on imposing severe limits on the long-term U.S. military role, including the withdrawal of American forces from all cities by June.

America's eroded leverage has left Iran, with its burgeoning trade and political ties, in a better position to affect Iraqi government policies.

Ned Parker provides a very interesting read in this Los Angeles Times article. As the American surge of forces allowed Iraqi forces to build capacity resulting in PM Maliki strengthening his position, American influence has wained.

However, a few points which Ned Parker washes over allow the US to retain influence on PM Maliki. First and foremost, is air power and logistics. Iraqi Security Forces need assistance from the US with building their airforce and also current air power capabilities. In addition, while logistics have improved in the Iraqi military, US support is still needed.

Secondly, PM Maliki will have to treat the Sons of Iraq correctly or these folks will melt back into the insurgency. Right now, the US is seen as the arbiter of these forces. If not treated correctly, these forces can quickly turn on Iraqi forces.

Thirdly, Iraqis, whether Sunni or Shia, do not want a theocratic state in Iraq that is subservient to Iran. The Shia coalition will faulter rapidly if this is the is seen as the future of the Iraqi state.

Finally, provincial elections and upcoming national elections are a concern for all parties involved and will significantly change the dynamics in Iraq. Free and fair elections will result in a drastic change in Sunni leadership both at the local and national level which can function as an effective opposition party, especially when united with the Kurds. Provincial elections will result in a more secular focus at the local level resulting in this bottom up movement reaching the Iraqi parliament -- very similar to the bottom up reconciliation which resulted from the Anbar Awakening movement.

PM Maliki is aware of all these issues and is trying to maintain a strong, vibrant coalition which he has built up in the last few months through the elections. His new found strength is dependent upon US forces present in his country providing air cover, logistics, internal security, and limiting external influences. PM Maliki must balance his yearning for independence against his military's capacity, which while able to maintain internal control (with assistance), cannot by any means thwalt an external threat from Iran nor maintain internal control if the Coalition leaves. If he fails to maintain his strong man persona and does not provide for his electorate (which has become the immediate concern), he too will find himself being replaced in upcoming elections.

The US can let both of these events happen if he becomes too unruly by letting him founder militarily or by not providing essential services for the populous. PM Maliki knows this and this fact still allows the US the needed influence over him.

However, I do agree with Ned Parker. Our influence is waning, but wane it should. We gave Iraqis a democracy. It is truly up to them to continue their democracy or resort to something else. We can help guide, but we cannot give them something they are not willing to fight for. I have to believe the events of the last several years will make Iraqis fight for the hard won democracy they now have. I believe, PM Maliki understands this fact.

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