Thursday, January 31, 2019

US Was So Unsure Of Maliki’s Support Of The Surge It Eavesdropped On The Iraqi Premier

(White House)
In the winter of 2006 the Bush administration finally realized that its strategy in Iraq was not working. After a few weeks of review the White House decided it would increase the number of troops and employ new tactics, which became known as the Surge. The U.S. needed its Iraqi partner the Maliki government to come through as well by deploying troops, ending its protection of militias, and carrying out a number of legislative benchmarks. The problem was Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki resisted the Surge initially, but then agreed. That led the Americans to spy on the premier to make sure he was really committed to the new U.S. operation.

Buried in a January 2007 article in Newsweek was the little tidbit that American intelligence was eavesdropping on PM Nouri al-Maliki’s conversations. That was because the U.S. wasn’t sure that the prime minister was committed to the Surge or not. They found out that he was telling his advisers that he would back the U.S. as promised to President Bush. This covert operation was authorized because the White House had major concerns about the Iraqi leader.

Questions about Maliki started when the administration began its Iraq policy review at the end of 2006. On October 30 Bush’s National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley visited Baghdad and met with the premier. He wrote a memo, which was later leaked to the media saying that while Maliki seemed like he had good intentions he was either ignorant about what his government was doing or lying about it. Maliki claimed he wanted to cooperate with Sunni and Kurdish parties, and stand up to the other Shiite lists, which was what the U.S. wanted to hear. The reality was Sunni areas were not getting services, Maliki was stopping raids upon militias, removed good Iraqi commanders who were not Shiite, and was attempting to create a Shiite majority within the ministries. For all of the prime minister’s talk of not being sectarian, he was trying to shore up and increase Shiite control of the government and security forces. Hadley questioned whether Maliki could change his ways and be the partner the administration was looking for. That would mean making deals with other ethnosectarian groups in parliament, and stop protecting militias, so the U.S. could try to quell the civil war that was exploding in central Iraq.

Maliki’s rhetoric in the following months did not improve American skepticism. On November 30 Maliki and Bush met in Jordan. There National Security Adviser Mowafaq Rubaie told the president that Maliki had come up with his own security plan. That would reduce the U.S. presence in Baghdad and leave the province to the Iraqi forces. They would go after insurgents instead of the militias, while Maliki attempted a political deal with Sadr to get him to pull back his Mahdi Army. By January, spokesmen for the prime minister were telling the press that he opposed the Surge, that he still believed the Iraqi forces should run security in Baghdad, and that he appointed a relatively unknown General Aboud Qanbar to head the new Baghdad Operations Command, which the U.S. took as another example of Maliki picking Shiite loyalists over competent officers. The premier finally backed the Surge, but given this history the Americans were unsure about his level of commitment. That led to the tapping of his communications.

In the end, Maliki did support the Surge. He allowed the Americans to go after Sadr, and pushed through some of the legislative benchmarks the Bush White House wanted. At the same time he never gave up his sectarian politics, and continued his moves to ensure Shiite supremacy over the state. Bush tended to ignore that as he became enamored with the Iraqi leader, holding regular phone and video conversations with him. Ironically, the success of the Surge, which Maliki initially rejected, opened the door for him to become an autocrat in his second term.


Burns, John, “U.S. and Iraqis Are Wrangling Over War Plans,” New York Times, 1/15/07

Gordon, Michael, “U.S. adviser reports doubts on al-Maliki,” New York Times, 11/29/06

Gordon, Michael and Tavernise, Sabrina, “Iraq Army Plans for a Wider Role in Securing Baghdad,” New York Times, 12/13/06

Hirsch, Michael and Wolffe, Richard, “Bush and Maliki: With Friends Like These…,” Newsweek, 1/28/07

New York Times, “Text of U.S. Security Adviser’s Iraq Memo,” 11/29/06

Partlow, Joshua, “Maliki Stresses Urgency In Arming Iraqi Forces,” Washington Post, 1/18/07

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “Premier Wants U.S. Forces to Target Sunni Insurgents,” Washington Post, 12/20/06

Tavernise, Sabrina and Burns, John, “Promising Troops Where They Aren’t Really Wanted,” New York Times, 1/11/07

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