Al-Sharq al-Awsat carried an article on December 15 about the behind the scenes conflicts between US President Barack Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. My guess is that a Maliki staffer leaked these conflicts. The piece was translated by the USG Open Source Center and I’m using their rendering when quoting in English below.
1. Obama wonders if al-Maliki can and will provide security to the 16,000 American diplomatic & aid personnel who will remain. Al-Sharq al-Awsat notes:
” Media outlets have previously quoted Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki as saying that he will not maintain the protection of American businesspeople and companies in Baghdad’s Green Zone, and that he may even abolish the Green Zone altogether.”
Obama is said to have attempted to impress on the Iraqi Prime Minister that “he would not neglect the defense of the Americans in Iraq.”
2. Obama is worried about the safety of Iraqi Sunnis in light of al-Maliki’s pledge to “strike at his enemies” now that US troops are out. Al-Sharq al-Awsat writes,
“Obama questioned al-Maliki’s ability to protect the leaders and members of the now outlawed Baathist Party. The source said that the Baathist Party, under the new democracy in Iraq, should be given the right to express its opinion freely, organize its ranks, stand for elections, adding that even if this party represents a minority (the Sunnis), the majority (the Shiites), must respect their rights.”
Obama thus wants ex-Baathists to be rehabilitated and re-admitted to Iraqi political life. This is probably a protest against the interference of the debaathification Commision in the March 2010 elections and the subsequent marginalization of Ayad Allawi’s secularist Iraqiya party, which attracted 80% of the Sunni vote and is the largest single party in Parliament.
3. Obama is worried about a “secret alliance” between al-Maliki and fundamentalist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has threatened violence against any US troops who remain in Iraq (Sadrists are unconvinced that the US will really relinquish military control of Iraq, and I just saw a couple of them on cable satellite maintain that the Americans wearing civilian clothes at the embassy are actually military personnel). Muqtada al-Sadr lambasted al-Maliki for making the trek to Washington as a sign of political weakness and of a humiliating subordination, as well as an insult to the Iraqis who gave their lives fighting to remove foreign troops from Iraq.
4. Obama is worried about al-Maliki’s links with Iran, “saying these are far stronger than the Iraqi prime minister has publicly admitted.” In another article, al-Sharq al-Awsat said that al-Maliki came to the US on Emirates Airlines instead of the Prime Minister’s jet because the latter had been given to him by Iran.
5. Finally, Obama pressured al-Maliki to withdraw support from the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. He said he understands that the Iraqi and American positions on Syria were owing to “tactical differences.” Al-Sharq al-Awsat writes,
“the White House source revealed that the US president had strongly pressured al-Maliki on this issue during their meeting. The source revealed that Obama had stressed that he did not understand why al-Maliki refused to put pressure on al-Assad, particularly as the Syrian president is a dictatorial leader as authoritarian as former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who al-Maliki himself personally suffered under.”
In the subsequent news conference, al-Maliki said it was not his place to call for the leader of a neighboring country to step down.
The article is drawn from a single alleged source “in the Obama White House” (I think it is more likely a source in al-Maliki’s entourage whose identity is being protected by this fiction). So it is hard to hang too much on it. But it has the ring of truth, and certainly lays out the points at issue between the two governments now and for the foreseeable future.