Thirty Days of Night Part 3
The Daily Telegraph reports that Iraqi PM Minister Maliki demanded the relief of General Petraeus because he used Sunni forces to fight al-Qaeda, but the demand was refused.
Relations between the top United States general in Iraq and Nouri al-Maliki, the country's prime minister, are so bad that the Iraqi leader made a direct appeal for his removal to President George W Bush.
Although the call was rejected, aides to both men admit that Mr Maliki and Gen David Petraeus engage in frequent stand-up shouting matches, differing particularly over the US general's moves to arm Sunni tribesmen to fight al-Qa'eda.
One Iraqi source said Mr Maliki used a video conference with Mr Bush to call for the general's signature strategy to be scrapped. "He told Bush that if Petraeus continues, he would arm Shia militias," said the official. "Bush told Maliki to calm down."
At another meeting with Gen Petraeus, Mr Maliki said: "I can't deal with you any more. I will ask for someone else to replace you."
Well, we already know what the answer to that question is. See my previous post, which (thanks to an alert reader, saw early signs of this story) and speculated on the connection of recent attacks on Shi'ite militias in Baghdad with the political situation.
But the American power game is apparently aimed not only at influencing the political alignment within Iraq, but also within the region as a whole. More from the Telegraph.
The New York Times claimed yesterday that Saudi Arabia was refusing to work with Mr Maliki and has presented "evidence" that he was an Iranian intelligence agent to US officials. "Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia's counterproductive role in the war," it reported.
Alongside the firm support of Mr Bush, Mr Maliki also enjoys the backing of Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador and his predecessor, Zalmay Khalilzad, now America's representative at the United Nations.
Mr Khalilzad took a swipe at Saudi Arabia in an editorial published earlier this month that was widely seen as an appeal for a larger UN role in stabilising Iraq.
This news, in connection with the sources I cited in the previous post claiming that America is negotiating with Iran or at least going through the motions of doing so, shows that the US is finally playing both ends against the middle, with the Kurds apparently sitting in the bleachers in bemusement. Perhaps both the Sunnis and the Shi'ites, in supporting armed groups in Iraq, have provided the US with the perfect knife. America can threaten them with each other. But to successfully do this, Petraeus needed to dominate operations in the field so that he could essentially carom the sides off each other. The Surge may have concealed a deep political game and may have been in every sense, a combined arms campaign.
To make things more interesting, the US is opening talks in Syria over Iraq with Saudi Arabia sitting it out. Here are the details from the IHT.
Iraq's deputy foreign minister urged his country's neighbors Wednesday for genuine support and said he hoped a meeting here on Iraq's deteriorating security would produce real results instead of broken promises.
But key regional power player Saudi Arabia was absent from the first meeting of the newly created Security Committee for Coordination and Cooperation on Iraq. A U.S. delegation, headed by Washington's top diplomat in Syria, Charge d'Affaires Michael Corbin, attended the two-day meeting, as well as representatives of Iraq's other neighbors, including Iran, the Arab League, Bahrain and Egypt and U.N. Security Council permanent members.
But Saudi Arabia's decision not to participate cast doubt on how effective the meeting would be. Its absence was likely due to its bad relations with the Syrian government. Saudi officials would not comment, but the kingdom and Damascus have been deeply divided over Syria's ties to Iran and the Shiite Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon.
A Sunni Muslim country, Saudi Arabia also has been keeping Iraq's Shiite-led government at arms length — but under U.S. pressure to be more cooperative, it is now considering reopening an embassy in Baghdad.
My guess is that none of this flurry is accidental. We are watching cards long hoarded being played, some I think, under compulsion. But whether the cards laid are conforming to the calculation or miscalculation of the American players remains to be seen. One question that runs through my head is if any of this would be possible if the US had acceded to the demands to unilaterally announce a rapid withdrawal schedule a few months ago.