Saddam Lite: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is outflanking friends and enemies, consolidating power and looking more like a strongman every day. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)
Nouri al Maliki started off as Iraq's prime minister two years ago as a perceived novice, supposedly easily malleable by the Bush administration because of his lack of executive experience and what, at the time, seemed like an undistinguished past.
On Nov. 8, 2008, Stephen Hadley, then Bush's national security adviser, wrote a five-page memo decrying al Maliki as ineffective and potentially harmful to American interests. "Do we and Prime Minister Maliki share the same vision for Iraq? If so, is he able to curb those who seek Shia hegemony or the reassertion of Sunni power?" the memo went. “His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change,” it went on. “But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.”
Now we know that Hadley was writing more about the Bush administration than about Maliki, who not only proved to know better than almost anyone in authority what the reality of the Baghdad streets were, but also proved more able to outflank Bush, Iraq's radical Shiites and its Sunnis all in one. He defeated Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi army, dictated the terms of American withdrawal from Iraqi cities and, eventually, from Iraq.
And he's kept an iron grip on Sunnis, whose hopes of power-sharing he dashes while paying lip service to the constitution he helped write--and has been re-writing since.
Power is going to his head.
Maliki's latest trick? A set of laws that would put restrictions on the media, ban internet sites deemed "harmful" to public morals and security, and require publishers to consider censoring books for the same reasons. It looks like Iraq's brief years of free expression are coming to an end.
Maliki's more nefarious designs are taking shape through the so-called State Ministry for National Security, which Maliki established in 2005, before becoming prime minister. He wants the ministry to have a "political crimes directorate," giving it authority to snoop around political parties and non-governmental organizations, according to a proposed ill going around the Iraqi parliament. Maliki's party, al Dawa, dominates parliament. What Maliki wants, Maliki often gets.
What next? Political prisoners? Torture chambers? One-party rule? Saddam Hussein, whose nemesis Nouri al Maliki was for two decades, must be grinning in his grave.
Here's a complete new profile of Nouri al Maliki.
- Iraq: Country profile
- Al-Maliki Dictates Terms on US Troops Status in Iraq
- Iraq's Unremarkable Provincial Elections
- Iran Pulls Triggers as US Troops Pull Back in Iraq
- Iraq War Guide