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Maliki's 'Grand Compromise': Can the Grid of the Iraqi Government be Unlocked?

BAGHDAD, IRAQ – The Iraqi federal government has been under increasing fire for appearing unable to work together on key issues, or to make progress in securing and governing its own country. Called “non-functional” by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the Shi’a led administration has been hamstrung by its own attempts at unilateral policymaking, as well as by a minority party which has refused to accept its new, post-Saddam status.

However, within days of Sens. Levin and Hillary Clinton calling for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ouster – a move which resulted in Maliki’s telling them to “tend to their own villages,” thereby showing that the Iraqi leader is not, as so many liberals have claimed, simply a US puppet – the embattled Prime Minister held a long-awaited and apparently productive summit with opposition and minority parties.

In a windfall that Reuters reported as being “a rare positive political development,” Maliki – castigated by Iraqis and Americans for being “ineffective” – was able to reach an accord, at least in principle, with sectarian representatives within his own government on several key issues that had been being debated since early this year.

Earlier this week, Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi joined the Shi’a Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, and Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani in announcing that the groups had finally reached an agreement on issues including a long-awaited law on oil revenue distribution. This piece of legislation was extremely important to Sunni representatives, in large part because the Sunni-heavy areas of Iraq have the least access to oil, Iraq’s biggest source of income.

Further, terms for releasing thousands of detainees being held without formal charges were agreed upon – another important step in bringing the deeply divided government together as many of the detainees in question are Sunni Arabs, whose fellow Sunni view the Shi’a-led federal government as waging a war of persecution against them.

Finally, a ‘re-Ba’athification’ process was agreed to in principle, a long-awaited undoing of the ‘de-Ba’athification’ carried out under former Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer, who instituted a policy prohibiting former members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling party from holding government jobs.

This last point has been an extremely controversial topic for some time as – like much of what Bremer did while in charge in Iraq – the policy of de-Ba’athification has been scrutinized and second-guessed ad nauseam. While it is much simpler now to look at what Iraq has become and to rationalize that membership in Saddam’s party – which was a requisite, regardless of actual belief, for success in pre-2003 Iraq – should not be a disqualifying factor on its own and without evidence of further wrongdoing (especially when the unique skills that many of those individuals possess are sorely needed for infrastructural and bureaucratic reconstruction in this country), an objective look at what the CPA was facing in 2003 makes it difficult to outright condemn Bremer for taking that measure in the first place.

At that time, the US was trying to construct A World Without Saddam – and banning the entirety of his party followers from government service, with the knowledge that, while some relatively innocent bystanders would be caught up in the move, so too would the die-hards who had the potential to create big problems in postwar Iraq, can credibly be understood to have sounded like a good idea at the time.

Meanwhile, despite these sudden breakthroughs in policy compromise, spokesmen for the Iraqi government’s Sunni bloc – known as the Accordance Front – said Monday that they are still in no hurry to rejoin Maliki’s government.

A lack of progress on these topics had been the purported reason for six Sunni members of Maliki’s government leaving their ministerial posts at the beginning of this month. “Yesterday's agreement covered a number of issues,” said Saleem al-Jubouri, an Accordance Front Member of Parliament, “but we are waiting for action on the ground.”

Only time will tell whether these agreements, hammered out between groups which have long been at odds over these and any other issues, will actually be implemented – as well as whether the minority parties, who may perceive this win to be a result of their obstructionism, decide to try that tactic again and again in hopes of achieving further gains.

This close to General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker’s testimony to Congress regarding political and military progress in Iraq, even a verbal commitment to compromise on such important issues should send a signal that, while the federal government of Iraq is still deeply flawed, they are not gridlocked beyond hope.

Added to this positive development was Wednesday’s announcement by an aide to radical Shi’a ‘cleric’ Muqtada al Sadr that Sadr’s Mahdi Army (the Jaisch al Mahdi, or “JAM”) would be ordered to stand down “in order to rehabilitate it in a way that will safeguard its ideological image within a maximum period of six months”

One of the most violent and notorious organizations in postwar Iraq, members of the Shi’a, JAM – which has splintered into many separate cells – have been directly implicated in attacks on civilians and military alike, including an incident in Karbala over the weekend, in which civilian pilgrims visiting the holy site were targeted by sniper rifle and other means.

Given Sadr’s precarious position as a clerical leader – a rank for which he lacks the credentials, both religious and educational (trading instead on his martyred father’s good reputation) – this call for the JAM to stand down, whether made in an attempt to clean up their image, or simply to reunify and ‘reload,’ should be an interesting opportunity for the coalition to gauge just how much influence he still has over the ‘army’ he calls his own.

Regardless, simply between this development and the sudden, lurching steps that the federal government has suddenly begun to make in the direction of progress on key issues, the political and security situation in Iraq cannot be said to be without some positives, however faint they may be. Combined with the increasing evidence that the ‘Surge’ is working militarily, as well, it is entirely possible that the status quo in Iraq may be soon left behind.

As with everything, only time will tell.

Jeff Emanuel, a special operations veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a director of conservative weblog, is currently embedded with the US military on the front lines in Iraq. His mission is 100% funded by reader donations, and his reports can be seen at

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At 6:07 PM, Blogger The Historian said...


The emerging consensus seems to match your conclusion: "Wait and see" in the midst of some progress of sorts. Thanks for what you do.

At 1:53 AM, Blogger BrianFH said...

2 points;
1) Isn't one of the Sunni bigshots accused of the deaths of Alusi's family? Charges which the Maliki gov't has declined to drop? While the perp hides out?

2) Oil; Sunni are poor in proven reserves, but suppressed seismic records show probable oil fields "strung like pearls" thru Anbar, totaling ~100 bn bbl. That would/will make each Sunni 3X oil-richer than other Iraqis. Hardly poor cousins.

Changes perspectives a bit, if you think about those two points.


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