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Commentary Last Updated: Aug 31st, 2007 - 02:31:45

Is Iraq's 'democracy' under threat?
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Aug 31, 2007, 02:29

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It appears that the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has loosened the strings that bind him to Washington. He no doubt sees the writing on the wall.

Little progress has been made in Iraq and the US president, George W. Bush, has lined up Al Maliki to take the fall.

The right-wing US media have dutifully adopted the drum beat, starting with the Washington Post's neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer.

"Fair-minded observers, both critics and supporters of the war, agree that the surge has yielded considerable military progress, while at the national political the Al Maliki government remains a disaster," he writes.

The "fair-minded observers" alluded to are senators, congressmen and members of think tanks who have returned from what Krauthammer calls "the battlefield" with glowing reports on their military's achievements.

In reality, those so-called experts were given a guided tour of the Green Zone, an upbeat lecture, courtesy of General David Petraeus, and a hearty meal before being driven in an armoured vehicle to the airport.

Wasn't impressed

One such Green Zone tourist who wasn't impressed was Rep.Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) She complained she only caught fleeting glimpses of Iraqis out of a helicopter or a speeding convoy and was appalled to hear from Petraeus that US troops would be needed in country for a further 10 years.

Other Democrats, in particular Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin, are happily playing the new blame Al Maliki game. They have both called for his ouster.

There's just one problem. Al Maliki is no willing patsy.

"There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages, for example Hillary Clinton and Karl Levin," he told a press conference. "They should come to their senses."

Last Sunday, he lashed out at American forces for operations in which civilians were killed. "When they want to detain one person, they should not kill 10 others," he said quoting Iraqi officials who "regularly report civilians killed in the raids."

These uncharacteristically outspoken complaints come hard on the heels of a warning delivered by the prime minister to the White House in answer to Bush's criticisms and the former chairman of and now second ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner's call for his replacement.

"Those statements do not concern us a lot," said Al Maliki. "We will find many around the world who will support us in our endeavour."

It seems the warning was heeded. Bush quickly backtracked calling Al Maliki a good guy with a difficult job.

Many argue Al Maliki has an impossible job. Is there anyone apart from a strongman dictator capable of unifying Iraqi groups with competing ambitions, sectarian allegiances and ideologies?

There is a candidate waiting anxiously in the wings who is being embraced by Bush's former Iraq envoy Robert Blackwill. This secular, no-nonsense tough guy is none other than the former Iraqi interim prime minister Eyad Allawi.

Better bet

The White House denies it supports Allawi's bid, but from its point of view Allawi, a pro-Western, ex-CIA asset, who harbours little love for Iran would be a better bet than the current incumbent.

"I want to save Iraq," Allawi told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "I want to save the mission of the United States."

That must be music to Washington's ear. Just one small difficulty though. As the result of elections showed, Allawi -- a former Ba'athist, who spends most of his time shuttling between London and Washington -- has very little support among the Iraqi people.

So even if Al Maliki's government collapses -- as it might, given the number of defections -- when presumably new democratic elections would be called, Allawi doesn't have a hope in hell.

Or does he?

Brigadier General John Bednarek, a senior member of the US Task Force Lightning operating in Diyala province may have provided a clue.

"Democratic institutions are not necessarily the way ahead in the long-term future," he said. His commander Major General Benjamin Mixon concurs. He advocates putting in place a "government that is really a partner with the United States. . . ."

According to CNN, some US commanders suggest privately that the entire Iraqi government must be ousted by "constitutional or non-constitutional" means and replaced with a stable "but not necessarily democratic" entity.

If this is, indeed, the plan one can only wonder how stripping Iraqis of their democratic rights would be sold to the American people and the world when democracy has been continuously and loudly trumpeted as the most important saving grace of the war?

The scene is already being set. The US is openly arming Sunni militias and, under new constitutional changes, ex-Ba'athists may be welcomed back into the government.

The danger is, of course, if Shiites see their grip on the country -- gained by sheer force of numbers -- slipping away, the US could be faced with a new and even deadlier insurgency.

One thing's for sure. This cakewalk gets gooier by the day.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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