The first thing that jumped out of this morning’s joint press conference for President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was Maliki’s expressions of contempt for Moqtada al-Sadr.
Asked about his relationship to Sadr and his outlaw militia, Maliki said:
“My coalition is not with only one entity…. Mr. Sadr, the Sadrists are just one component that participates in the government.”
Theocracy no. Sadr, fighting for a Shiite theocracy in Iraq, had threatened to withdraw his screwed-up disciples from Maliki’s unity government if Maliki met with Bush today to discuss saving Iraq’s democracy. Maliki seemed to say today: Sadr, take your thugs and go to Hell.
Bush didn’t say why he thought Maliki hadn’t dismantled Sadr’s illegal “Mahdi Army,” but he implied it was because Maliki does not yet have a regular army strong or effective enough to subdue Sadr.
Acknowledging reports that the U.S. is frustrated with Maliki’s inaction, Bush said Maliki’s complaint is that “I [Bush] have been slow to give him the tools” to secure Iraq.
‘Stop holding me back.’ Said Bush:
“We have a prime minister saying, ‘Stop holding me back. I want to solve the problem.’”
Bush promised to do everything possible to accelerate raising Iraq’s army to a point at which it can defend Iraq’s new democracy on its own. I suppose we’ll know when it’s powerful enough when we see Sadr under arrest.
Democratic realism. Today’s press conference also had put-downs for people other than Sadr.
* Bush again said U.S. forces will stay in Iraq “until the job is complete,” until Iraq is secure and free, and withdrawal will not follow a “graceful exit” timetable unrelated to progress. As if to smack the “realists” of the Iraq Study Group, Bush said, “This business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all.”
* Maliki dismissed the suggestion of an Al-Arabiya TV reporter that Iraq is dealing with “almost complete Iranian control of Baghdad.” Al-Arabiya is based in predominantly Sunni Dubai, which fears Shiite Iran is taking over predominantly Shiite Iraq. Maliki told the reporter he had “wrong information … propaganda” intended to provoke sectarian strife.
* Bush said Iran’s theocracy, by funding violence against freely elected authorities in Lebanon and Palestine, was revealing its weakness. “I believe that the Iranians fear democracy,” he said.
Hopeful understanding. Bush and Maliki appear to have reached a constructive understanding. Bush has to push quicker training and equipping of Maliki’s army, and Maliki has to accept responsibility for building a democracy dedicated to the rule of law and freedom for all.
It was an encouraging image. Now get the job done.