Michael Totten

We Are Not at War with Nouri al-Maliki

Robert Spencer, founder and lead writer for Jihad Watch, has a bit of trouble telling the difference between friend and foe in Iraq and still thinks, despite everything, that “the United States is losing the war”:http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/026887.php.
Instead of referring to me by name, he sarcastically dismisses me as a “learned analyst,” “as he does with President Barack Obama”:http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/026904.php and his advisors, while scoffing at “a long dispatch I published last week”:http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/2009/07/the-future-of-i-2.php. “No insurgent or terrorist group can declare victory or claim Americans are evacuating Iraq’s cities because they were beaten,” “I wrote”:http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/2009/07/the-future-of-i-2.php. Spencer acknowledges that Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki isn’t the leader of an insurgent or terrorist group. But “he maintains that my statement”:http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/026887.php is “breathtaking in its disconnect from reality” because Maliki declared the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq’s cities “a great victory.”
We are not, and never have been, at war with Prime Minister Maliki. Everyone with even a pedestrian familiarity with events in Iraq during the last couple of years knows that American soldiers and Marines have fought alongside Maliki’s Iraqi soldiers and police against common enemies — Al Qaeda in Iraq and the various offshoots and branches of Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.
Not even in an alternate universe have Maliki’s men fought Americans and forced them to withdraw. They fought, bled, and died alongside Americans. The United States military recently withdrew from most of Iraq’s urban areas as stipulated by the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration, but they’re still training and working closely with Iraqi security forces.
Maliki’s “great victory” statement was an attempt to suck up to the anti-Americans in his electoral constituency who are unhappy with his close relationship with the United States. Iraq’s most sectarian Sunni Arabs regularly accuse Maliki of being an Iranian puppet prime minister when they aren’t contradicting themselves by joining radical Shias and saying he’s an American puppet prime minister. Maliki is closer to Iran than Americans and Iraq’s Sunnis would like, but he’s much closer to the United States where it counts most. He has never sent his men into battle against Americans. But he did order his soldiers into battle alongside Americans last year against Iranian-backed Shia militias in Sadr City and Basra. He also put the Sons of Iraq — whom he used to decry as an anti-Shia Sunni militia — on his government’s payroll.
I don’t know if throwing a rhetorical bone to Iraq’s most strident anti-Americans to shore up his nationalist bona fides is a good idea or if it isn’t. Either way, it’s not hard to see that’s what he’s doing. And it’s frankly ridiculous for Spencer to write as though I have no idea what’s going on in Iraq when he thinks a political speech for domestic consumption overrides the fact that for years Maliki has been at war not against us but with us against our mutual enemies.
Does Spencer believe that, all of a sudden and for no apparent reason, Maliki sympathizes with the terrorists and insurgents he recently crushed?
“In any case,” Spencer writes, “any ‘victory’ the Americans won in Iraq was sure to be undone as soon as the troops were gone, and we are already seeing that. Sunni will go after Shi’ite and vice versa, the Iranians will press forward to create a Shi’ite client state, the non-Muslims will be victimized more than ever…”
Iraq has made a fool of just about everyone, including me, who has claimed to know in advance what the future would look like. The entire Middle East makes fools of its prophets. Most of us who work there eventually learn this the hard way. Nobody can know what’s going to happen in Iraq now that the U.S. is pulling back.
Spencer’s view might by chance be correct. Around half the Iraqis and half the Americans I’ve spoken to in Iraq think the country is more likely than not to disintegrate. The other half don’t. And the optimists who live and work over there, just like the pessimists, know more about Iraq than Robert Spencer and I do combined.
UPDATE: Maliki was “interviewed a few days ago”:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124715056156618319.html?mod=googlenews_wsj in the Wall Street Journal:

WSJ: What message do you want to convey during your visit to America, especially since it comes after the June 30th withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraqi cities?

Mr. Maliki: The message will be to ensure the basis of our relations and our friendship, which is a long-term strategic relationship. There are many parts to that, like trade and investment. I will convey the wish of Iraq for friendship with the U.S. We have a combined victory against terrorism, and there have been sacrifices from both sides that brought fruitful results and democracy to Iraq. Also, we will emphasize the two agreements, the strategic framework agreement and the withdrawal [security] agreement. Also, I’ve met a lot of officials from the U.S. but I still need to meet many of them because friendships must be clear. If we increase the number of meetings and we have questions in our minds, we can ask them and answer them in person so that our friendship is clear.