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Context of 'February 27, 2009: Most Iraqis Welcome News of US Drawdown'

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Nouri al-Maliki.Nouri al-Maliki. [Source: Truthdig.com]The first permanent government in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is sworn in to office. Iraq’s prime minister is Shi’ite leader Nouri al-Maliki (sometimes known as Jawad al-Maliki), the Bush administration’s choice to run the new Iraqi government. Sunni lawmakers and leaders largely refuse to participate in the new government, and many Sunnis walk out of the installation proceedings. Al-Maliki has appointed mostly fellow Shi’ites to run the various ministries of government, a makeup that reflects the strong Shi’ite majority of votes cast in the December 15 parliamentary elections. President Bush says the US government is fully supportive of the new government: “The United States and freedom-loving nations around the world will stand with Iraq as it takes its place among the world’s democracies and as an ally in the war on terror.” The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, says the new government is expected to spur change that might “allow adjustments in terms of size, composition and mission of [US] forces.” While US forces may undergo occasional “tactical increases here and there,” Khalilzad says, the new government will have a “positive effect.… Strategically, we’re going to be in the direction of downsizing our forces.” [CNN, 5/20/2006] Reactions from US political and military observers are mixed. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius writes that the biggest difference between al-Maliki and the former interim prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jafari, is that even though both are from the same Shi’ite faction, the Dawa party, al-Maliki can be expected to show some independence from Iran. Iran tried mightily to keep al-Jafari in office, Ignatius writes, and the new government’s choice of al-Maliki as prime minister shows that Iraq’s political leaders are “standing up for a unified Iraq.” However, “[t]o succeed, Maliki must mobilize that desire for unity to break the power of the militias and insurgent groups.” Khalilzad celebrates al-Maliki’s independence from Iran, and notes that even though al-Maliki spent some years in exile in Iran, “he felt he was threatened by them” because of his political independence, and later moved to Syria. “He sees himself as an Arab” and an Iraqi nationalist, Khalilzad explains. Kurdish leaders cautiously welcome al-Maliki as the new government’s leader, and predict, somewhat optimistically, that Sunni leaders will eventually welcome al-Maliki as well. The decisive factors in choosing al-Maliki over al-Jafari as prime minister, Ignatius writes, were three: US support; the endorsement of Iraq’s most influential Shi’ite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani; and the insistence of non-Shi’ites that al-Jafari and his overtly sectarian government depart. It must be remembered, Ignatius notes, that al-Maliki is a follower of Lebanese Shi’ite leader Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the original spiritual adviser of Hezbollah, who later left the group in part because he viewed it as too close to Iran. [Washington Post, 4/26/2006] Former Defense Intelligence Agency official W. Patrick Lang will give a different view in March 2007. Al-Maliki is far more sectarian than Bush officials are willing to admit, Lang will write. “They want him to be George Washington, to bind together the new country of Iraq,” he will say. “And he’s not that. He is a Shi’a, a factional political leader, whose goal is to solidify the position of Shi’a Arabs in Iraq. That’s his goal. So he won’t let them do anything effective against [Moqtada al-Sadr’s] Mahdi army.” And former NSC official Gary Sick, an expert on Iran, says that Bush’s support of al-Maliki is perhaps a form of brinksmanship in the administration’s efforts to destabilize Iran. “What has happened is that the United States, in installing a Shi’ite government in Iraq, has really upset the balance of power [in the Middle East],” Sick will say. “Along with our Sunni allies—Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt—[the administration is] terribly concerned about Iran emerging as the new colossus. Having created this problem, the US is now in effect using it as a means of uniting forces who are sympathetic [to us].” Bush must reassure America’s regional allies that they will be protected if the Iraqi conflict spreads throughout the region. “[T]his is a very broad strategy,” he says. “It has a clear enemy and an appeal to Saudis, to Israelis, and has a potential of putting together a fairly significant coalition.” But, Sick warns, the policy steers dangerously close to provoking a conflict with Iran. “Basically, this is a signal to Maliki that we are not going to tolerate Shi’ite cooperation with Iran. This could lead to the ultimate break with Maliki. But once you start sending these signals, you end up in a corner and you can’t get out of it.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]

Entity Tags: Nouri al-Maliki, George W. Bush, Gary G. Sick, David Ignatius, Bush administration (43), Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Ibrahim al-Jafari, Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, Patrick Lang, Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr orders his militia, the Mahdi Army, to suspend offensive operations for six months following the deaths of over 50 Shi’ite Muslims during recent sectarian fighting in the holy city of Karbala. “I direct the Mahdi army to suspend all its activities for six months until it is restructured in a way that helps honor the principles for which it is formed,” al-Sadr says in a statement issued by his office in the nearby city of Najaf. The statement continues, “We call on all Sadrists to observe self-restraint, to help security forces control the situation and arrest the perpetrators and sedition mongers, and urge them to end all forms of armament in the sacred city.” Asked if the unexpected order meant no attacks on American troops, as well as a ban on Shia infighting, a senior Sadr aide says, “All kinds of armed actions are to be frozen, without exception.” [Daily Telegraph, 8/31/2007] Just three weeks before, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno talked of the US concerns over heavy casualties inflicted on US troops by Shi’ite militia fighters using new roadside bombs called explosively formed penetrators (EFPs). [New York Times, 8/8/2007] US, British, and Iraqi officials are apparently surprised by the sudden announcement, and military officials are cautious about accepting the truth of al-Sadr’s ceasefire order. British military spokesman Major Mike Shearer says, “We don’t know how real this is and I suspect it will take some significant time to see if violence against us does diminish as a result.” But, two days after the announcement, the US military puts out a statement that calls the ceasefire order “encouraging,” and says it will allow US and Iraqi forces to “intensify their focus on al-Qaeda in Iraq… without distraction from [Mahdi Army] attacks.” It adds: “Moqtada al-Sadr’s declaration holds the potential to reduce criminal activity and help reunite Iraqis separated by ethno-sectarian violence and fear. [The ceasefire] would also be an important step in helping Iraqi authorities focus greater attention on achieving the political and economic solutions necessary for progress and less on dealing with criminal activity, sectarian violence, kidnappings, assassinations, and attacks on Iraqi and coalition forces.” Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubbaie is carefully optimistic: “I will see on the ground what is going to happen. It is good news if it is true. If it happens it will reduce violence in the country a great deal.” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office says, “This initiative is an encouraging step toward consolidating security and stability throughout the country and an opportunity for the suspension of the work of the rest of the militias in various political and ideological affiliations to preserve the unity, independence and sovereignty of Iraq.” Al-Sadr does not control all of the Shi’ite militias in the country; those groups do not follow al-Sadr’s lead in suspending hostilities. However, the Mahdi Army is considered by the Pentagon to be the biggest threat to stability in Iraq, even more so than al-Qaeda. In recent months, Mahdi-inflicted casualties have dropped in and around Baghdad, as al-Sadr’s fighters have left the capital to avoid the military crackdown, and gone to Shi’a-dominated southern Iraq. [Daily Telegraph, 8/31/2007; CNN, 9/1/2007] In the weeks and months that follow, US casualties indeed drop; administration and military officials do not credit the ceasefire, but instead showcase the drop in casualties as proof the surge is working (see Early November, 2007).

Entity Tags: Mahdi Army, Mike Shearer, Mowaffak al-Rubbaie, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Raymond Odierno, Nouri al-Maliki, Moqtada al-Sadr

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Many Iraqi officials and citizens hail the decision by US President Obama to withdraw most American forces from Iraq by August 2010 (see February 27, 2009). Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki endorses the plan; an Iraqi government spokesman says: “We welcome such a decision and support it. We consider this as a good-faith sign from the American administration toward Iraq and Iraqis.” Some Iraqi political factions want the Americans to leave sooner, particularly the powerful Mahdi Army led by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But some factions, mostly made up of minority Sunnis, are nervous that a US drawdown will leave them vulnerable to a resurgence of sectarian violence against them. And the commanders of Iraq’s security forces worry that US logistical support will fade as the soldiers leave. “It’s really necessary for the American troops to remain now,” says Yousef Aboud Ahmed, a Sunni volunteer fighter with a militia supported by US forces in Baghdad. “If we had a nonsectarian government in power, then yes, it would be a good idea for the American forces to go. They should go one day. But not in this situation.” “All Iraqis want the Americans to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible,” says Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi. “We’re just afraid of the vacuum that this withdrawal may cause.” Mohammed Faris, a car salesman in Mosul, says: “I wish it [the withdrawal] could happen more quickly, but it is the beginning of the end of the US occupation. I think Iraq is getting stronger by the day.” Interior Ministry spokesman General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says: “We will be ready to take over when the Americans leave. There is no doubting the improved performance of Iraq’s security forces. We are even now taking on and beating al-Qaeda and the militias.” Former Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafez calls the withdrawal timetable “wise,” and says the US must continue using its diplomatic influence to solve thorny issues such as the debate over the control of the northern city of Kirkuk. Of the plan, al-Hafez says: “It is a realistic and responsible plan. It represents a recognition that Iraq must take matters into their own hands and deal with those huge challenges as an independent country.” American soldiers are more than ready to leave. Army Captain Matt van Stavern, whose unit is stationed in Mosul, says: “My boys are ready to go home. And the Iraqi people will be ready.” [Time, 2/27/2009; Guardian, 2/27/2009]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Faris, Al-Qaeda, Adnan al-Dulaimi, Abdul-Karim Khalaf, Barack Obama, Matt van Stavern, Mahdi Army, Mahdi al-Hafez, Moqtada al-Sadr, Nouri al-Maliki, Yousef Aboud Ahmed

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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