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Jul 12

Written by: Diana West
Sunday, July 12, 2009 6:00 AM 

More from the Boston Globe on what may turn out to be the evolution of an Iraqi strongman, noted earlier here. Seems that Iraqi prime minister Maliki, whose reputation for "weakness" and malleability helped secure him his leadership post back in 2006, is concentrating powers, arresting and threatening rivals, and generally not showing all that much respect for what  Charles Krauthammer likes to refer to in Iraq as "the institutions of a young democracy."

The Globe reports:


Although Iraq’s parliamentary elections are not until January, the campaign has already begun, and Maliki has shown a determination to fight with a tenacity and ruthlessness borrowed from the handbook of Iraq’s last strongman, Saddam Hussein. From Diyala, where men under Maliki’s command have arrested and threatened to detain a host of his rivals, to Basra, where security forces have swept up scores of his opponents since January, the message is: cooperate or risk his wrath.

While Iraq’s sectarian war has largely ended, and the Sunnis feel they lost, another struggle for power, perhaps no less perilous, has begun in earnest. Maliki has resorted to a more traditional notion of politics in which violence is simply another form of leverage.

To allies, he is what Iraq needs, a proponent of law in a state still without order.

“Is al-Maliki a strongman, personally and through the constitution? Or is he a dictator?’’ asked Sami al-Askari, an aide to the prime minister. The former, he answered.

“Al-Maliki has a strong personality. The constitution gives him great powers, but if he was not a strongman, he would not have done what the constitution allows him to do.’’

Get ready for the Constitutional Strongman, courtesy US legal-eagles.


Maliki’s ascent has become a familiar narrative in Iraq. In 2006, a reputation for weakness helped secure him the post. Opponents deemed him malleable. Since then, he has concentrated power in the hands of what critics call “the impenetrable circle’’ and taken command of military units that delivered him and his Dawa party what they had lacked since 2003: men with guns.

But the narrative still tells only part of the story of how complicated Iraq is these days. Everyone seems to be looking for an angle, in pursuit of the coalition they think can triumph in the January elections. Everyone has a grievance, no less pronounced.

Maliki’s Shi’ite rivals - followers of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq - have fought for primacy in the southern province of Qadisiyah. Another group, known as Sahwa or Awakening, filled by former Sunni fighters and long backed by the US military, is hopelessly divided. Maliki has cracked down on some of its leaders, especially in Baghdad.

An Iraqi official said Maliki had ordered the arrests of at least six of the party’s candidates a week before the January elections. The official said he was stopped only after General Ray Odierno, the commander of US forces in Iraq, personally intervened.

A spokesman for Odierno declined to comment on the report.

I hope this isn't what Gen. Odierno had in mind when he boosted all the progress being made in Iraq. Meanwhile, so much for Krauthammer's "young democracy." Or did he mean young thugocracy?


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