Mar 29, 2006

The Karl Rove of Mesopotamia

The myth that the United States believes that Iraqis have the right to a government of their choice is exposed by a report in today's New York Times that says President Bush is the Karl Rove of Mesopotamia.

Or, at least thinks he is.

The American ambassador (Zalmay Khalilzad) has told Shiite officials that President Bush does not want the Iraqi prime minister to remain the country's leader in the next government, senior Shiite politicians said Tuesday.

It is the first time the Americans have directly expressed a preference in the furious debate over the country's top job, the politicians said, and it is inflaming tensions between the Americans and some Shiite leaders...

Mr. Khalilzad said Mr. Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, doesn't accept" Mr. Jaafari as the next prime minister, according to Mr. Taki, a senior aide to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Shiite bloc. It was the first "clear and direct message" from the Americans on a specific candidate for prime minister, Mr. Taki said.

The Shiite bloc, which won a plurality in the parliamentary election in December, nominated Mr. Jaafari last month to retain his post for four more years...

American officials in Baghdad did not dispute the Shiite politicians' account of the conversation, though they would not discuss the details of the meeting. A spokeswoman for the American Embassy confirmed that Mr. Khalilzad met with Mr. Hakim on Saturday. But she declined to comment on what was said.

"The decisions about the choice of the prime minister are entirely up to the Iraqis," said the spokeswoman, Elizabeth Colton. "This will be an Iraqi decision."...

The Americans have harshly criticized the Jaafari government in recent months for supporting Shiite militias that have been fomenting sectarian violence a
nd pushing Iraq closer to full-scale civil war.

Mr. Khalilzad has sharpened his criticism in the last week, saying the militias are now killing more people than the Sunni Arab-led
insurgency. American officials have expressed growing concern that Mr. Jaafari is incapable of reining in the private armies, especially since Moqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric who leads the most volatile militia, is Mr. Jaafari's most powerful backer.

Just last week, Ambassador Khalilzad was saying:

"I have been reduced -- and I am not complaining -- to an observer, which is a good thing," he said, dismissing the widely held belief that he is still the driving force for unity, cajoling rival groups to negotiate. "I think now I say that they are really politically moving toward a self-reliance."

It looks like someone was being diplomatic rather than truthful.

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