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Context of 'March 18, 2008: Many Refuse to Participate in Iraqi Reconciliation Conference'

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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

A close associate of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tells the Associated Press that certain US officials have warned al-Maliki that continuing White House support for his government is contingent on an end to sectarian violence and passage of the oil law (see February 15, 2007) by the close of this parliamentary session on June 30. “They have said they are frustrated that he has done nothing to oust the Sadrists, that the oil law has not moved forward, that there is no genuine effort on reconciliation and no movement on new regional elections,” the source says. Al-Maliki fears that without American support his government will be ousted. [Associated Press, 3/13/2006]

Entity Tags: Nouri al-Maliki, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

In a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, President George Bush reportedly says Iraq needs to produce “tangible results quickly” on the oil law and other legislation if it wants to count on continued support from the US government. [Associated Press, 5/22/2007]

Entity Tags: Nouri al-Maliki, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The Iraqi government holds a “national reconciliation conference,” but it does little more than highlight the deep divides between the various religious and ethnic factions in that country. The conference, promoted by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as a national “dialogue” that would bring Iraq’s disparate factions together to begin working through their differences, is boycotted by three of the most important political blocs. Few, if any, Ba’athists take part in the conference. Neither do members of the militias or representatives of the various insurgencies. These three groups are widely considered to present the largest obstacles to reconciliation. And Sheik Ali Hatem al-Suleiman, a leader in the Sunni Awakening movement, storms out of the conference after the opening speeches and threatens to leave the conference altogether. “People want answers from us,” he says. “We’re not going to sit here only to listen to speeches.” The Awakening opposes the Sunni-led insurgency within Iraq. Shi’ite leader Sheik Muhammed Fahman al-Rikahis wonders how any reconciliation can take place if key groups are not invited or fail to take part in the dialog. “We were hoping to see more people invited, people who really represent the Iraqi components,” he says. “So the question is, why wasn’t everyone invited?” Several Shi’ite and Sunni groups either were not invited or refused to participate in the conference, though the government insists that every major political bloc had been invited. [New York Times, 3/19/2008]

Entity Tags: Ali Hatem al-Suleiman, Nouri al-Maliki, Awakening (Iraq), Muhammed Fahman al-Rikahis

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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