Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal Al Maliki is in Washington on an important mission: seek US aid to battle terror at home, in the form of additional weapons and intelligence. “We shed blood together,” he said in an animated speech at the United States Institute for Peace in Washington, referring to the nine-year Iraq war. “We came to Washington to consolidate the partnership; we want an international war, a global war against terror.”
These are sweet words, and definitely saleable when the word terrorism can terrorise any nation into action. But Maliki must realise that he has undertaken a tough mission not because he is asking too much but because his credibility has suffered huge damage in recent years. If he wants weapons to stop terrorist attacks at home, the unfortunate truth is that many consider him responsible for the surge in violence at home. This year has been bloodiest for Iraq since 2008, with an average of nearly 70 car bombings a month. Almost 1,000 people were killed in September alone. Many in the US and our region think that much of this violence is the direct result of the authoritarian and sectarian style of Nouri Al Maliki. What Iraq needs is not more weapons and aid to fight terrorism on its streets, but a steely resolve on the part of rulers in Baghdad to root out terror and sincere efforts to heal the sectarian wounds and a crackdown on sectarian and divisive forces. In a country where Sunni-Shia tensions are deeply entrenched in the social and religious psyche, nothing can be more disastrous than having a prime minister who is seen as siding with one side to the detriment of others.
Maliki needs to mend his ways if the nation is to be rescued from disintegration. He has all but torn up a political powersharing agreement the Americans negotiated with the Sunnis, and driven many of their number into the camp of Al Qaeda. This in turn has led to the remobilisation of Shia militias.
The situation in Iraq is extremely dangerous. General David Petraeus, who led the troop surge credited by some with quelling the last sectarian explosion in Iraq, warned in a Foreign Policy article that the situation was now so dire that the past sacrifices of US troops could be squandered. And it will be difficult for Obama to help Maliki without receiving some guarantees in return. Washington has been upset at Maliki’s closeness to Iran and Syria, which runs counter to US policies and has been scuppering its engagement plans in Syria.
Obama must use the Iraqi leader’s visit to warn him against his partiality politics. What Iraq needs now is not more weapons and intelligence, but an able, efficient government that treats all its citizens equally•