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Iraq's Maliki runs out of time

Before Maliki departs, it's important to appreciate the degree to which he failed -- and how he got this job in the first place.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki (L) looks on after a meeting U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office at the White House November 1, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki (L) looks on after a meeting U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office at the White House November 1, 2013 in Washington, DC.
The question wasn't whether Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's tenure in Iraq was up; the question was whether or not he'd go quietly. To the delight of nearly everyone, especially Obama administration officials, Maliki has agreed to hand power over to a successor.

In stepping aside Mr. Maliki agreed to end his legal challenge to the nomination of his replacement, which was made on Monday when Iraq's president nominated Haider al-Abadi, a member of Mr. Maliki's own Shiite Islamist Dawa Party. "Maliki steps down as prime minister in favor of Abadi," the state television said on its Arabic-language news crawler. Mr. Maliki's decision came after days of negotiations with his former Shiite allies, who urged Mr. Maliki to give up in the face of growing international opposition to his rule, including from the United States and Iran, and the sense among most Iraqi leaders that his removal was necessary to bring the country together in the face of an onslaught by Sunni militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

As recent developments make clear, a peaceful transition from Maliki's rule was hardly a foregone conclusion. As recently as a few days ago, the prime minister, relying on loyalists in the Iraqi military, dispatched security forces around Baghdad, raising fears that Maliki would fight to keep his power.
But it now appears that won't happen. Instead, Iraq appears poised for a peaceful transition from one elected prime minister to another -- a national first.
Before Maliki departs, however, it's important to appreciate the degree to which he failed. Zack Beauchamp noted the other day that his tenure has been "a disaster for Iraq," marked by "increasingly authoritarian rule and oppression" of Iraq's Sunni minority, which "bears no small amount of responsibility for the current Islamic State (ISIS) crisis, which is part of why the US and many others are pushing for him to go."
How exactly did Maliki even get this job? It's an interesting story, actually.
Beauchamp flagged a recent piece from Dexter Filkins, who documented the fascinating series of events. Eight years ago, the Bush/Cheney administration had lost confidence in then-Prime MInister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and U.S. officials set out to find a successor. Bush's Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, asked the CIA for help.

Frustrated, Khalilzad turned to the C.I.A. analyst assigned to his office, a fluent Arabic speaker whose job was to know Iraq's leaders. "Can it be that, in this country of thirty million people, the choice of Prime Minister is either Jaafari, who is incompetent, or Ali Adeeb, who is Iranian? Isn't there anyone else?" "I have a name for you," the C.I.A. officer said. "Maliki." Among the Americans, Maliki was largely unknown, though he served on the committee charged with purging the Iraqi government of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. "He's clean," the C.I.A. officer said; he wasn't corrupt, and he had no apparent connection to terrorist activities. "We haven't got any evidence on him." And, unlike Jaafari, Maliki was "a tough guy," seemingly able to defy the Iranian regime.

The Bush/Cheney administration knew practically nothing about Maliki -- they didn't even know what languages he spoke -- but the Republican White House backed him anyway, assuming the other possible candidates would be worse.
The results have not been pretty. Indeed, they serve as a reminder that the Bush/Cheney mistakes have carried consequences that linger long after their departure.