Monday, October 23, 2006

The End of Maliki? Will a Coup Unravel Iraq? Robert Dreyfuss and Raed Jarrar Discuss the War in Iraq

With Amy Goodman

"On Saturday, President Bush met with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and top U.S. commanders including General John Abizaid and General George Casey to discuss Iraq. The meeting came amid reports the US is losing confidence in Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki"s ability or willingness to stem the violence.

President Bush said his weekly radio address the US strategy in Iraq remained unchanged. He said "We will not pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete." But the New York Times reported on Sunday the Bush administration is for the first time drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government to address violence and assume a larger role in securing the country. According to the Times, officials said that Iraq would likely be asked to agree to a schedule of specific milestones, like disarming militias, or face political "penalties."

Some analysts say the plan is also an attempt to pre-empt the findings of the independent commission on Iraq led by former secretary of state James Baker. In an interview with President Bush this weekend, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked about Baker’s plan to develop a strategy for Iraq that is “between ’stay the course’ and ‘cut and run.’” Bush responded, "We’ve never been stay the course, George."

Robert Dreyfuss joins me now from Washington DC. He has written extensively about Iraq for numerous publications and is author of the book, "Devil”s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam." I am also joined by Iraqi blogger and architect Raed Jarrar. He is the Iraq Project Director for Global Exchange and runs a blog called "Raed in the Middle."

AMY GOODMAN: You have written a very interesting piece about the possibility that Maliki could be forced out and that there could be a coup that would unravel Iraq. Can you lay out the evidence and what is supporting your argument?

ROBERT DREYFUSS: Well, you know, last week we saw the extraordinary development where Prime Minister Maliki called President Bush on the phone and asked him for reassurances that he was not going to be ousted. This is the same Iraqi prime minister who came to office just a few months ago, again, after months of wrangling, following last December's elections. He came to office with great acclaim that he was going to be the salvation force who would bring order and stability and political reconciliation to Iraq, and of course, he has totally and utterly failed.

I think everybody across the political spectrum knows that the Iraqi government has no power outside the Green Zone. It’s really a coalition of militias and paramilitary gangs that supports the current government in Baghdad. And asking Maliki to crack down on the militias is truly asking the fox to guard the henhouse, because it’s those exact militias that support his government and make up the main force of his police and paramilitary units. Even the Iraqi army is made up, to a certain extent, lesser than the police and Interior Ministry forces, of those same militias: the peshmurga Kurds and many of the Shiite forces. So, of course, it’s a nonstarter to even think that Maliki could crack down on these militia forces.

So that asks the question, what does it mean when we hear all these warnings that Maliki has only two or three months -- and these are warnings coming from everybody, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and generals in Iraq and leading senators and so forth -- that he has only two months or so to right the ship in Iraq? It can’t be righted. It’s virtually a hopeless situation. And so, now there are rumors all over the place, in Washington, in Baghdad, in other places, that there are forces trying to come up with a non-democratic solution, some sort of coup d'etat, some sort of military takeover that would oust the elected government. It could be done under a constitutional fig leaf, let's say, if Maliki were to resign in favor of some junta of national salvation. It could be done in the middle of the night by some enterprising colonel or general, where the United States would look the other way.

I don’t think any of this could happen without American support, but I do know that there are a number of people inside the Baker commission, within the U.S. government, in the CIA and elsewhere, who are thinking about this. And just the other day, I spoke to Salah al-Mukhtar, who is a Baathist and former Iraqi official, who said that there are rumors all over Jordan that the CIA has been going around looking -- the military going around looking for a general or two, who could take over in the event of a coup d'etat in Baghdad.

I think the idea that the reason this makes it tempting -- and, you know, desperate times sometimes can call for desperate measures -- it’s tempting because it seems like a cut-the-Gordian-knot-type of solution, where you sweep in with some strongman army guy, who could then use, I guess, the main force of the Iraqi army to crack down on some of these Shiite death squads and others.

It raises, though, far more questions than it would answer. I don’t think it would be a good solution, by any means, tempting though it is for, I’m sure, many people in the U.S. military and in the CIA, especially in the realist camp, the people who are frustrated and angry at the way Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Ambassador Khalilzad have handled the war in Iraq over the past couple of years. They’re looking for some sort of solution that would work, and I think they’re at least considering this as maybe the least bad one of the many horrible options that they have for Iraq, short of leaving, just, you know, so-called “cutting and running,” which is increasingly, I think, really the only logical choice that’s facing the United States."

Read the Transcript of the Rest of Today's interview

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