The New York Times is serving as an outlet for some powerful Bush administration messages on Iraq.
First, someone in the intelligence community leaked word to the Times of links between Sadr’s Mahdi Army and Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement. Did that one come from Right Arabist anti-Iran hawks at the CIA or DIA? Or did it come from Cheney’s office? In either event, it was arguably a clear shot at James Baker’s idea of direct dialogue with Iran.
Now, an “administration official” has provided the Times with the full text of an extraordinary Memo by Bush’s National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, reviewing the “political front” of US policy in Iraq and US relations with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.
Was this memo “leaked” against the wishes of the administration? Or was it released? It makes a difference. As an accurate indicator of administration views, I would give far more weight to a leaked memo than one “approved” for public consumption as part of an initiative of some kind–especially on the eve of Bush’s meeting with Prime Minister Maliki.
Either way, read the full text of the Memo. It is an incredibly clear, concise discussion of some very big issues.
Here is the stand out section on domestic Iraqi politics (aside from an equally important but passing reference to “the current four-brigade gap in Baghdad”:
Bring his political strategy with Moktada al-Sadr to closure and bring to justice any JAM [Jaish al-Mahdi’s, the Arabic name for the Mahdi Army] actors that do not eschew violence…
Pushing Maliki to take these steps without augmenting his capabilities could force him to failure — if the Parliament removes him from office with a majority vote or if action against the Mahdi militia (JAM) causes elements of the Iraqi Security Forces to fracture and leads to major Shia disturbances in southern Iraq…
[W]e could help [Maliki] form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other communities. Ideally, this base would constitute a new parliamentary bloc that would free Maliki from his current narrow reliance on Shia actors. (This bloc would not require a new election, but would rather involve a realignment of political actors within the Parliament). In its creation, Maliki would need to be willing to risk alienating some of his Shia political base and may need to get the approval of Ayatollah Sistani for actions that could split the Shia politically. Second, we need to provide Maliki with additional forces of some kind…
[S]upport Maliki himself as he declares himself the leader of his bloc and risks his position within Dawa and the Sadrists…
If Maliki seeks to build an alternative political base:
• Press Sunni and other Iraqi leaders (especially Hakim) [Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Maliki rival] to support Maliki
• Engage Sistani to reassure and seek his support for a new nonsectarian political movement.
All of this assumes that Maliki is the guy to do the deed. The Memo doesn’t really focus on that issue. But the US policy of seeking a political realignment is the news, whether it proceeds with Maliki or without him.
This political realignment matches on advocated by Charles Krauthammer in a recent column, discussed in a previous post.
Note that Hadley does not think that Sistani has become irrelevant.
Much of the political realignment turns on the idea of splitting the Shia, dumping Sadr, and replacing his bloc with Sunni forces in parliament.
What does this do to the question of regional autonomy in the Shiite south? Sadr and his bloc oppose SCIRI plans for southern autonomy. Does this political realignment aim to free Hakim to pursue such a plan? Or is Hadley convinced that Hakim was bluffing about autonomy and the issue is a dead letter?