Al-Maliki Criticizes U.S. Raid Against Sadr Militia

Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki has sharply criticized the U.S. military regarding a recent raid against the militias of al-Sadr.

Iraq’s prime minister sharply criticized a U.S.-Iraqi attack Monday on a Shiite militia stronghold in Baghdad, breaking with his American partners on security tactics as the United States launches a major operation to secure the capital.

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Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s criticism followed a predawn air and ground attack on an area of Sadr City, stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.

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Al-Maliki, a Shiite, said he was “very angered and pained” by the operation, warning that it could undermine his efforts toward national reconciliation.

“Reconciliation cannot go hand in hand with operations that violate the rights of citizens this way,” al-Maliki said in a statement on government television. “This operation used weapons that are unreasonable to detain someone — like using planes.”

He apologized to the Iraqi people for the operation and said, “This won’t happen again.”

Clashes of these sort are inevitable so long as the status quo prevails in Iraq. At this point, it’s pretty clear that al-Maliki isn’t quite the puppet that I’m sure elements of the Administration had hoped that he would be. In reality, though, that’s a good thing, and the best thing that the U.S. could do right now to shore up a unified Iraq would be to show deference to the Iraqi government in matters such as this.

It’s pretty clear that this point that with the exception of Kurdistan, most Iraqis are not happy about the presence of U.S. troops in their country. (And face it, it’s hard to blame them.) But as long as that’s the case, if the Administration is serious about helping to stabilize Iraq, this is something that can be used to our advantage.

In the coming months, the best thing we could do for Iraq’s current government is to show deference to them. Give them credibility by backing down. We should definitely be taking their lead in phasing out U.S. troops. Complying with the government in this manner accomplishes several things, all of which are beneficial.

First of all, going along with the government bolsters its credibility. By showing that it won’t back down to America and “do what it wants”, the government will distance itself from the unpopular American occupation and hopefully maintain popular support. Even in U.S. military operations, the Iraqi government should be consulted (at high levels) and they should be given a veto against those operations (unless American lives are specifically at risk).

Second, by showing deference to the government and phasing out U.S. troops on its timetable, we will help remove the most valuable recruiting incentive that the Iraqi insurgent groups have: fighting Americans. From my understanding, while sectarian violence is certainly a problem and will remain so after we leave, most of the people who’ve joined insurgent groups have done so less to fight for Islamism and more to fight against “foreign occupiers.” Phasing out U.S. troops and conducting operations in conjunction with and under the auspices of the Iraqi government would undermine that recruiting tool. Fewer American troops mean fewer reasons to fight, and deference to the current government makes it hard to argue that Americans are “occupiers.”

Another major benefit of showing increasing deference to the Iraqi government is that it bolsters American credibility. Time and time again during this war, Bush has claimed that we are not occupiers but liberators, and that we will leave if asked. Showing deference to the Iraqi government (a) shows respect for that government and (b) shows that America keeps its word. Both of these factors are invaluable for Middle East policy in the future, and in Iraq in particular. It shows that we are honorable and not out for power, and that can only bolster public opinion of America in the Muslim world.

Ironically enough, it may be that the best way to help Iraq is to “cut and run” after all–so long as we’re smart about it. As Sun-Tzu wrote, “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Middle East, National Security, World Politics, , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. LJD says:

    Ooohhhh, Alex. Don’t quit your day job. Unless, that job is writing propaganda for the anti-war left. So many false talking points in there, I lost count.

    I also like the way you smear all of our troops by the actions of a few:

    most Iraqis are not happy about the presence of U.S. troops in their country. ((And face it, it’s hard to blame them.)

    O.K. maybe they’re not happy, but it’s not because of one crime by a few soldiers. I would say getting blown up regularly probably goes a little further.

    Finally, I love you comparison of Sun-Tzu and Cut and Run. Actually got a little chuckle out of that one. Do you even know what you’re talking about?

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    Unless, that job is writing propaganda for the anti-war left. So many false talking points in there, I lost count.

    “False talking points”? I made what folks in my circle called “an argument”–and you never actually demonstrated why my argument was false. By all means, enlighten us with your brilliant military strategy for stabilizing Iraq.

    O.K. maybe they’re not happy, but it’s not because of one crime by a few soldiers. I would say getting blown up regularly probably goes a little further.

    LJD, if you read an Iraqi blog or two, you would know that the rape by U.S. soldiers that I referred to has pretty much outraged the entire population. And not just in Iraq–in Turkey there was actually a movie about it (in which the evil American soliders were defeated by heroic Turks).

    That said, I’m sure that getting blown up all the time doesn’t endear us to the population, either.

    Finally, I love you comparison of Sun-Tzu and Cut and Run. Actually got a little chuckle out of that one. Do you even know what you’re talking about?

    There’s a reason why I put “cut and run” in quotes. Look, if we just pulled out our troops now, that would be a disaster. But I think that the best way to stabilize Iraq is to slowly phase out U.S. troops while simultaneously giving operational deference to the Iraqi government while Iraqi forces slowly take the lead.

    In the end, the only people who can end the sectarian violence are Iraqis. America can’t do it. At least, not without a brutal, brutal occupation.

  3. LJD says:

    O.K.

    Defer to the iraqis, back down?
    Yes, tie our hands a little tighter so more troops can get killed. If we had dealt with Al Sadr before, we wouldn’t be having this trouble now.

    Yes, it is clear most Iraqis are not happy with the presence of the U.S. Of course they would be that way regardless of our actions. We cannot wage the war in Iraq with popularity polls (as we have done in the U.S. with predictable results). What we do see, though, is that the Iraqi officials are not asking us to leave.

    The Iraqi government needs to bolster its own credibility by getting out there and maintaining security. They bolster their credibility by removing the corruption they are plagued with. NOT by telling U.S. troops what to do- especially when it’s contrary to the mission. Veto power on operations by the Iraqis is not just dangerous to our troops, its suicidal.

    On removing the terrorists’ incentive to fight, well as I said before, these killers act pretty much regardless of what we do. As far as phasing the troops out, it’s already in progress. You don’ get credit for a new idea there.

    On American credibility, given all that we have done in the positive, and our own media’s take on things, I would say regardless of what touchy-feely program we initiate, they will find something wrong. You cannot fight a war on credibility in the papers, while ham-stringing our boots on the ground.

    In the end, the only people who can end the sectarian violence are Iraqis. America can’t do it. At least, not without a brutal, brutal occupation.

    That’s the most sense you’ve made all day. We are losing the war of propaganda. Quick decisive action will solve the problems. Killing the violent criminals in Baghdad will end the violence. Not talking to them. Not appeasing them. Perhaps Maliki needs a better understanding of his mortality without U.S. protection.

  4. Pug says:

    It’s pretty clear the US would like to take on al-Sadr’s Mahdi army, but al-Maliki is uncomfortable with that strategy, for good reason. A fight with al-Sadr probably makes him a dead man. What you outlined, deference to the guys we installed and a gradual withdrawal of US forces (maybe to Kurdistan), might be the only thing that will work. Unfortunately, we will leave behind a Shiite dominated government with close ties to Iran and the intention to create an Islamic state. Not exactly what we intended.

    A fight with the Shiites would be a real problem for the US, but allowing al-Sadr’s Shiite militia free rein isn’t a very good option either. It seems good options are in short supply in Iraq.

    You are right about the rape case. It has outraged Muslims throughout the Middle East and hurt the image of Americans as much or more than Abu Ghraib.

    LJD offers no answer, only the obligatory shot at the “anti-war left”, which is rapidly becoming most of America. “Cut and run” and “stay the course” aren’t policies or strategies, but only empty slogans. It’s time to figure out a way out of this mess and salvage the best situation we can.

  5. legion says:

    In reality, though, that’s a good thing, and the best thing that the U.S. could do right now to shore up a unified Iraq would be to show deference to the Iraqi government in matters such as this.

    I quite agree, Alex. Unfortunately, I cannot imagine that actually happening. Independence is not something this administration has ever valued – the entire philosophy of GW’s policy, both foreign and domestic can be summarized as ‘dance with who brung ya’. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the WH briefing room these days – I’d wager good money that any ‘own opinions’ al-Maliki expresses will be seen as spitting in the US’ collective face (at least by Bush and Cheney).

    O.K. maybe they’re not happy, but it’s not because of one crime by a few soldiers. I would say getting blown up regularly probably goes a little further.

    That’s brilliant, LJD. Agree with Alex’s statement, then make up a completely non-sequitor reason for him to have that opinion, and then insult the reason he has the opinion you agree with. Wow, your brain works funky.

  6. LJD says:

    Pug, your partisanship has apparently affected your reading comprehension.

    We cannot wage the war in Iraq with popularity polls (as we have done in the U.S. with predictable results).

    The Iraqi government needs to bolster its own credibility by getting out there and maintaining security. They bolster their credibility by removing the corruption they are plagued with.

    As far as phasing the troops out, it’s already in progress. You don’ get credit for a new idea there.

    Killing the violent criminals in Baghdad will end the violence. Not talking to them. Not appeasing them.

    However I’m glad you brought up the rape again because I forgot to comment on that. My earlier point, and the reason for my scathing comment to Alex was not about the incident or it’s affect on the Iraqi people. Rather the way in which it was referenced.

    It’s pretty clear that this point that with the exception of Kurdistan, most Iraqis are not happy about the presence of U.S. troops in their country. (And face it, it’s hard to blame them.)

    I read here that the Iraqis, regardless of how unfounded the claim, are justified in distrusting all of our troops because of the actions of a few. Perhaps this is my take on a poorly worded sentence, but it does seem to go to the heart of anti-war and anti-american sentiment. I would have expected something more accurate and less inflammatory, for example: Iraqis are not happy with the presence of U.S. troops, in part due to recent rape allegations against them.

    He then goes on to say that we ought to use this to our advantage. i.e. drag this out on the nightly news, repeatedly punishing ourselves, wallowing in self-loathing, so that we can highlight our deference to the Iraqi government? Wow. I just don’t see that as a posiitve strategy.

    Just in case you couldn’t comprehend from this post what my strategy would be, let me paraphrase:
    We ought to be kicking ass and taking names. Al Sadr is a problem precisely because of our deference, and political unwillingness to deal with him years ago. It seems you want to repeat the same mistake by tying our hands further.

    Now please, take my words and turn them into some lame argument about sound bites.

  7. LJD says:

    Legion, as usual, you totally miss the point.

    Keep supporting the troops, you big partriots, you.

  8. legion says:

    I read here that the Iraqis, regardless of how unfounded the claim, are justified in distrusting all of our troops because of the actions of a few.

    Yes, LJD. They are justified. That’s exactly why the actions of a few slimeballs does affect the reputation of the whole group – because after the number of ‘bad apples’ and tragic incidents reaches a certain tipping point, your reputation goes to sh*t, and Iraqis no longer know, when troops come to their door, if they’re getting ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’. They mistrust all of them because if they trust unwisely they wind up dead.

    Our troops must be held to a very high standard; those in situations like Iraq even more so. I would submit that your position is even more insulting to and less supportive of those troops, since you appear to have a much higher tolerance for those slimeballs that do commit crimes. Wanting those jerks to be held accountable is not anti-trooops or anti-American.

    Just in case you couldn’t comprehend from this post what my strategy would be, let me paraphrase:
    We ought to be kicking ass and taking names.

    Umm… so how would you characterize what Bush has had the military doing for the last 4-5 years?

  9. LJD says:

    They mistrust all of them because if they trust unwisely they wind up dead.

    A much better chance, and verifiable statistic, of ending up killed by violent criminals than by U.S. troops. This, the result of your propaganda.

    Our troops must be held to a very high standard; those in situations like Iraq even more so. I would submit that your position is even more insulting to and less supportive of those troops, since you appear to have a much higher tolerance for those slimeballs that do commit crimes. Wanting those jerks to be held accountable is not anti-trooops or anti-American.

    1. They are.
    2. If saying they deserve to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (which is as much liberty your type seems to prescribe for the terrorists) is ‘tolerance’, then I am proud to be guilty.
    3. Never said anywhere they should not be accountable. Make sure you know who you are throwing mud at.

    Umm… so how would you characterize what Bush has had the military doing for the last 4-5 years?

    Pandering to popularity poll idiots. As I said before, we cannot win on popularity, especially when our own media is waging an effective propaganda war to satisfy their political convictions. We should have levelled Sadr City years ago. Now these idiots are talking about what an atrocity Fallujah was. How can we possibly battle this horse-pucky?

    I’m not at all for cut and run, but if you guys want to sacrifice our troops by having them stand around taking orders from Iraqis, by having them let the bad guys go repeatedly, then by all means,lets get them home right now.

  10. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    All of you who think it is a good idea to leave Iraq with standing armed militias, raise your hands. How about ones lead by a leader who hates the U.S., is aligned with Iran and who has committed murder though never punished for it? How many of you think it is funny how freedom increases outrage at crime? When Saddam and Son were raping, no one seemed to notice. When such a crime is allegedly committed by a few U.S. Troops, those who formerly turned a blind eye are now outraged.

  11. anjin-san says:

    Right LJD, the govt. in Iraq needs to end corruption to be credible. And of course, we are in a position to tell them this because there is no corruption in our own government.

    >They bolster their credibility by removing the corruption they are plagued with.

    >Killing the violent criminals in Baghdad will end the violence. Not talking to them. Not appeasing them.

    Of course! If you want to end violence, just kill some people! I mean, look at how well this has worked out over the years for Israel, and they are almost as good at kicking ass as we are.

  12. Jim Henley says:

    So, LJD. You say we should have used lots more violence but that the Bush Administration has fought the war with more attention to opinion polls than to doing what needs to be done. Fair enough. It’s not my purpose to argue whether you’re right that more violence – levelling Sadr City etc. – would have solved all our problems then or will solve it now.

    Here’s the thing. The Republicans, America’s nationalist party, control the executive branch, both houses of Congress and, in terms of party affiliation, the Supreme Court. America’s nationalist party has Fox News, most of talk radio and a majority of the top dozen blogs. It enjoys a political predominance that comes only rarely, and isn’t likely to come again. It enjoyed for several years public deference as an aftershock of 9/11, including a pretty widespread desire to “fight back.”

    So if this Administration won’t fight the war “the way it needs to be fought,” then how likely is it that the American Republic as currently constituted will ever produce a government that will? It seems to me that if you’re a hardcore hawk then the political moment just now passing is, as Jack Nicholson had it in that movie, “as good as it gets.”

    If this administration trimmed its war policy to suit public opinion then one or both of two things would seem to be true: 1) This Administration is a shamefully weak and irresponsible steward of the nation’s security; 2) The American people are not suited to sustain a foreign policy that requires sustained counterinsurgency warfare and massive destruction abroad.

    In other words, you would appear to have a choice to make: Change American policy to rely less on foreign war and occupation; OR, Change the American political system to one more suited to prosecuting wars “the way they need to be fought.” Since you identify the problem as the executive paying too much attention to public opinion, that would seem to mean changing to a system that was less representative and less tolerant of opposition to our rulers, at least when they are conducting foreign wars.

    So which do you pick?

  13. LJD says:

    Unfortunately, I would say the American people are not suited to sustain a foreign policy that requires sustained counterinsurgency warfare and massive destruction abroad. Mostly concerned with taking it easy, fattening up, catching the newest movie, or driving the latest new car. We see time and time again with even natural disasters, basic survuval is the furthest thing from the collective minds of americans.

    Unfortunately, that’s the only type of war we’re going to get anymore. The alternative being inaction, ingoring a festering problem, and being picked away at in repeated attacks, a la Israel.

    Unfortunately, the world is a more crowded place and we are a world power frequently sought after to impose international ‘will’. Isolationism simply does not work in a global economy.

    And unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot more civilian casualties right here in mainland USA to convince people otherwise.

  14. Jim Henley says:

    So LJD, are you saying you want to change the American political system? Somehow get a critical mass of those Americans unsuited to pursuing foreign wars OUT of the political system? Or just wait until events – say, future attacks, harden our will to fight wars the way you think they need to be fought?

    Your previous post restates your complaints, but it doesn’t offer your preferred solution to what you identify as the problem.

  15. LJD says:

    Come back to the planet Earth a minute Jim.

    The point of this post, and my comments, is that the troops should not be restricted in their mission by politics or politicians with axes to grind. That’s it. I think there’s plenty of recent history to show the problem with it.

    The problem is not that I don’t offer a solution, rather that you cannot accept it as a viable alternative (or you just plain can’t read).

  16. Jim Henley says:

    No, LJD. The problem is that you’re not thinking it through. You’re not really grappling with why the troops are “restricted by politics or politicians with axes to grind.” The reason is that, under our system, troop deployment and engagement rules are always going to be subject to politics because of the nature of the American system. So you have to decide which is worth more to you, the American system or war without restrictions.

    Honoring OTB’s civility policy in the breach by personally insulting me is just dodging the issue.