Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Puppets and Their Masters

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This is the problem with puppet governments: They agree to your demands because you are the puppetmaster, not because they are capable of meeting them. So when they don't keep their promises -- that's what you get for striking a bargain with a puppet:

THE sooner President Bush can get his extra troops for a “surge” in Iraq, the sooner he will be able to announce that all American troops are coming home because of the inevitable failure of the Iraqi government to “live up to its side of the bargain.” In fact, in the run-up to the surge proposal, it is unlikely that there was any real two-sided bargaining before Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki was induced to issue promises — particularly in terms of government troops taking on Shiite militias — that he cannot possibly fulfill. Mr. Maliki, it seems, simply agreed to whatever was asked of him, to humor the White House and retain American support for a little while longer.

For the Iraqi Army and police to disarm the Shiite militias, the prime minister would have to be a veritable Stalin or at least a Saddam Hussein, able to terrorize Iraqi soldiers and policemen into obedience. Mr. Maliki, of course, has no such authority over Iraqi soldiers or police officers; indeed he has little authority over his own 39-person cabinet, whose members mostly represent sectarian parties with militias of their own.

Actually the situation is even worse than that, because only the Kurdish militias unfailingly obey their political leaders — one is the president of Iraq no less, Jalal Talabani — while for the rest, it may be more true to say that Iraqi militias have political leaders to represent their wishes. The largest and most murderous of the Shiite militias, the Mahdi Army, which is invariably described as belonging to the truculent cleric Moktada al-Sadr, is actually divided under a bevy of local commanders, some of whom obey Mr. Sadr some of the time.

In sum, the most that Prime Minister Maliki can do is not to interfere when American troops arrest suspects and fight militias, as he has done in the past.

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