About Bush Adviser's Memo Cites Doubts About Iraqi Leader
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Bush Adviser's Memo Cites Doubts About Iraqi Leader info
November 29, 2006
By Michael R. Gordon
WASHINGTON, Nov. 28 — A classified memorandum by President Bush’s national security adviser expressed serious doubts about whether Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had the capacity to control the sectarian violence in Iraq and recommended that the United States take new steps to strengthen the Iraqi leader’s position.
The Nov. 8 memo was prepared for Mr. Bush and his top deputies by Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and senior aides on the staff of the National Security Council after a trip by Mr. Hadley to Baghdad.
The memo suggests that if Mr. Maliki fails to carry out a series of specified steps, it may ultimately be necessary to press him to reconfigure his parliamentary bloc, a step the United States could support by providing “monetary support to moderate groups,” and by sending thousands of additional American troops to Baghdad to make up for what the document suggests is a current shortage of Iraqi forces.
The memo presents an unvarnished portrait of Mr. Maliki and notes that he relies for some of his political support on leaders of more extreme Shiite groups. The five-page document, classified secret, is based in part on a one-on-one meeting between Mr. Hadley and Mr. Maliki on Oct. 30.
“His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change,” the memo said of the Iraqi leader. “But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.”
An administration official made a copy of the document available to a New York Times reporter seeking information on the administration’s policy review. The Times read and transcribed the memo.
The White House has sought to avoid public criticism of Mr. Maliki, who is scheduled to meet with Mr. Bush in Jordan on Wednesday. The latest surge of sectarian violence in Baghdad and the Democratic victories in the midterm elections are prompting calls for sharp changes in American policy. Such changes are among options being debated by the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel led by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton.
A senior administration official discussed the memorandum in general terms after being told The New York Times was preparing an article on the subject. The official described the document as “essentially a trip report” and not a result of the administration’s review of its Iraq policy, which is still under way.
He said the purpose of the memo “was to provide a snapshot of the challenges facing Prime Minister Maliki and how we can best enhance his capabilities, mindful of the complex political and security environment in which he is operating.”
The American delegation that went to Iraq with Mr. Hadley included Meghan L. O’Sullivan, the deputy national security adviser, and three other members of the National Security Council staff. The memo, prepared after that trip, has been circulated to cabinet-level officials who are participating in the administration’s review of Iraq strategy.
There is nothing in the memo that suggests the Bush administration is interested in replacing Mr. Maliki as prime minister. But while Mr. Bush has stated that he has confidence in the Iraqi leader, the memo questions whether Mr. Maliki has the will and ability to establish a genuine unity government, saying the answer will emerge from actions he takes in the weeks and months ahead.
“We returned from Iraq convinced we need to determine if Prime Minister Maliki is both willing and able to rise above the sectarian agendas being promoted by others,” the memo says. “Do we and Prime Minister Maliki share the same vision for Iraq? If so, is he able to curb those who seek Shia hegemony or the reassertion of Sunni power? The answers to these questions are key in determining whether we have the right strategy in Iraq.”
In describing the Oct. 30 meeting between Mr. Hadley and Mr. Maliki, it says: “Maliki reiterated a vision of Shia, Sunni and Kurdish partnership, and in my one-on-one meeting with him, he impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so.” It said the Iraqi leader’s assurances seemed to have been contradicted by developments on the ground, including the Iraqi government’s approach to the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia known in Arabic as Jaish al-Mahdi and headed by Moktada al-Sadr.
“Reports of nondelivery of services to Sunni areas, intervention by the prime minister’s office to stop military action against Shia targets and to encourage them against Sunni ones, removal of Iraq’s most effective commanders on a sectarian basis and efforts to ensure Shia majorities in all ministries — when combined with the escalation of Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) killings — all suggest a campaign to consolidate Shia power in Baghdad.”
Among the concerns voiced in the memo was that Mr. Maliki was surrounded by a small group of advisers from the Shiite Dawa Party, a narrow circle that American officials worry may skew the information he receives.
The memo outlines a number of short-term steps Mr. Maliki could undertake to establish control. The Iraqi leader has recently indicated his intention to take some of those steps, like announcing his intention to expand the size of the Iraqi Army and declaring that Iraq will seek an extension of the United Nations mandate that provides for the deployment of the American-led multinational force in Iraq. The United Nations Security Council voted on Tuesday to extend that mandate.
The memo also lists steps the United States can take to strengthen Mr. Maliki’s position. They include efforts to persuade Saudi Arabia to use its influence with the Sunnis in Iraq and encourage them to turn away from the insurgency and to seek a political accommodation.
Addressing Mr. Bush, the memo said one option was for the president to “direct your cabinet to begin an intensive press on Saudi Arabia to play a leadership role on Iraq, connecting this role with other areas in which Saudi Arabia wants to see U.S. action.” Although the memo did not offer specifics, this appeared to be an allusion to a more active American role in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Recently, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has reached out to the Palestinians and has said he wants to move ahead with peace talks. But the memo’s authors also contemplate the possibility that Mr. Maliki’s position may be too tenuous for him to take the steps needed to curb the power of Shiite militias, to establish a more diverse and representative personal staff and to arrest the escalating sectarian strife.
In that case, the memo suggests, it may ultimately be necessary for Mr. Maliki to recast his parliamentary bloc, a step the United States could support by pressing moderates to align themselves with the Iraqi leader and providing them with monetary support.
The memo refers to “the current four-brigade gap in Baghdad,” a seeming acknowledgment that there is a substantial shortfall of troops in the Iraqi capital compared with the level needed to provide security there, in part because the Iraqi government has not dispatched all the forces it has promised. An American brigade generally numbers about 3,500 troops, though Iraqi units can be smaller. While Democrats have advocated beginning troop withdrawals as a means of putting pressure on Mr. Maliki, the memo suggests that such tactics may backfire by stirring up opposition against a politically vulnerable leader.
“Pushing Maliki to take these steps without augmenting his capabilities could force him to failure — if the Parliament removes him from office with a majority vote or if action against the Mahdi militia (JAM) causes elements of the Iraqi Security Forces to fracture and leads to major Shia disturbances in southern Iraq,” the memo says.
The memo lists a number of possible steps to build up Mr. Maliki’s capability. They include asking Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander, to develop a plan to strengthen the Iraqi leader.
This could involve the formation of a new National Strike Force, significantly increasing the number of American advisers working with the Iraqi National Police, a force that has been infiltrated by Shiite militias, and putting more Iraqi forces directly under Mr. Maliki’s control.
In addition, the memorandum suggests that Mr. Bush ask the Pentagon and General Casey “to make a recommendation about whether more forces are needed in Baghdad.”
The administration appears to have already begun carrying out some of the steps recommended in the document. Among them were a trip over the weekend by Vice President Dick Cheney to Saudi Arabia as part of an effort to seek help from Sunni Arab powers in encouraging Sunni groups in Iraq to seek a political compromise with Mr. Maliki.
The senior administration official who agreed to discuss the memo would do so only on condition of anonymity. The official said some of the steps projected in the document were being carried out.
The official also stressed that the administration retains confidence in the Iraqi leader. “What we are seeing is that he had the right intentions and is willing to act,” the senior official said. “Our own review has opened a consultative process on where Maliki wants to take the government. A successful strategy has to be one that is driven by the Iraqis.”
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