Hamza Hendawi points out here, The Associated Press: Iraq's rebuff of US has element of posturing- that despite the tone of defiance from his government (i.e., the supposed rebuff of Joe Biden's semi-ultimatum that the Iraqis had better get their contending factions reconciled, and soon), al-Maliki still needs the US on his side - to help organize and fund Iraq's reconstruction, and to train and support Iraq's security forces. But al-Maliki needs to burnish his nationalist-centrist credentials as elections approach (scheduled for January 2010).
One major area where reconciliation is needed is, as Hendawi notes, the chasm between Maliki and the Kurdish leadership on the issues of oil and territory. That a Maliki aide says that they want the US to suspend the Kurdish constitution (thereby rejecting Kurdish territorial claims) does not augur well. It surely suggests that the two sides are making no headway on the issue, and that the Arab-Baghdad-centrist side feels it has no better resort than to ask the US to force the Kurds' hand somehow. Hardly a way to treat the group in Iraq that has sided the most consistently with the US over the last almost 20 years. And can anyone really expect the Kurds to abandon their constitution simply on a US dictate? Whatever leverage the US has is likely to be more than counter-balanced by decades of Kurdish nationalist striving as well as paranoia about the intentions of outsiders -be they Arabs, Turks, Persians . . . or Americans.
Another arena in which reconciliation is a must is the struggle between the Shiite parties that are the basis of Maliki's support and the Sunnis who once called the shots in Baghdad (including Baath party sympathizers, many of whom seem to be resurgent in the al-Hadba Sunni-Arab party that now controls local government in Ninewa province, which the Kurds want). What does it say for the progress of reconciliation when Maliki's government dictates that it will allow no more "organized" visits to the tomb of Saddam Hussein? There would seem to be no need for such an order if there wasn't still significant reverence for him as an unabashedly strong, anti-US, nationalist leader of what was once a strong and sovereign Iraq. By issuing such an order, al-Maliki only ties himself even more tightly to his American patrons - and undercuts his own standing as a legitimate nationalist.
And, by the way, as if Iraqis - especially former supporters of Saddam and the Baath - needed another focus for resentment of the US, here's a little news piece that will likely draw some ire: one of the prized exhibits of the new George Bush Library in Dallas is going to be . . . Saddam Hussein's very own pistol. Seems to be one of Dubya's favorite toys.
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