Dexter Filkins offers breathtaking reporting on Maliki and the thugocracy that is Iraq

REUTERS/Handout/Iraqi government office
As portrayed by Filkins, Maliki has led his country into the Iranian orbit, which seems kinda ungrateful of him, since he owes his job to the United States.

Saddam Hussein was a monster. But, as portrayed in a breathtaking achievement of reporting, the new post-American Iraq, the one the United States created under the slogan of “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” is a thugocracy and kleptocracy in a state of perpetual sectarian conflict and violence.

This cruel joke against the benefits of democracy is led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was elevated and installed by the United States.

Dexter Filkins covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the New York Times, shared a Pulitzer, and now writes for the New Yorker, which sent him back to Iraq to describe (and this is the title of the piece) “What We Left Behind.

Maliki has held office eight years now, although his re-election was blemished by the fact that another candidate got more votes. As a member of the Shiitte majority that was oppressed horribly by Saddam, Maliki had a hard early life, much of it lived in exile in Iran. As portrayed by Filkins, Maliki has led his country into the Iranian orbit, which seems kinda ungrateful of him, since he owes his job to the United States. But Maliki is no grateful American stooge. As Filkins writes:

By the time Maliki returned to Baghdad, in April, 2003, he had come to regard the United States with profound animosity, friends and associates say. Over the years, the U.S. government had supported nearly all of his enemies — most notably Saddam — and opposed his friends, especially the revolutionary regime in Iran. “Maliki was known as an anti-American,” Dia al-Shakarchi, a Dawa activist in the eighties, said. “Even after 2003, his stance was very aggressive toward Americans.”

One thing about being an American is that we get used to the idea of our special role as the one superpower in a one-superpower world and lose sight of the obvious fact that we are constantly doing things to other countries that we could never imagine any other country doing in ours. Like overthrowing their governments and putting in governments we like better.

As Filkins tells it, in early 2006, with Iraq still in the midst of a bloody civil war, a new election had been held and a coalition of Shiite parties, led by the incumbent Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, had won the most votes. But “Jaafari had infuriated {President George W.] Bush with his indecisiveness, amiably presiding over the sectarian bloodbath that had followed the recent bombing of a major Shiite shrine.”

The U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, was “summoned to a videoconference with … Bush and [British] Prime Minister Tony Blair. … During the videoconference, Bush asked Khalilzad, ‘Can you get rid of Jaafari?’ ‘Yes,’ Khalilzad replied, ‘but it will be difficult.’ ”

Filkins got this straight from Khalilzad. Khalilzad got Jaafari to withdraw on condition that the Americans allow someone from his party to take over. The best candidate who fit that description had to be vetoed because his father was an Iranian.

Frustrated, Khalilzad turned to the C.I.A. analyst assigned to his office, a fluent Arabic speaker whose job was to know Iraq’s leaders. “Can it be that, in this country of thirty million people, the choice of Prime Minister is either Jaafari, who is incompetent, or Ali Adeeb, who is Iranian? Isn’t there anyone else?”

“I have a name for you,” the C.I.A. officer said. “Maliki.”

… Khalilzad emphasized that he did not choose Maliki; he had merely exerted American leverage to maximum effect. “We were trying to bring Iraqis together,” he said. Maliki has said repeatedly, and often angrily, that he did not need American support to get what he wanted from Iraqis. For him, the Americans were just one more overweening foreign power.

You gotta love the modesty. He didn’t choose Maliki, he said; he exerted American leverage to maximum effect.

Most of the story is not about how Maliki came to power but about what he has done with it. It isn’t pretty. It’s a long, sad, authoritative piece, but once I started it, I couldn’t stop and I urge you to read it.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/25/2014 - 11:40 am.

    The almost-corpse sliced open
    innards spilled out
    smells, chaos and ordure
    it’s time to make the new from the old
    stuff in the loose loops
    bloody hands
    some dirt, leaves and questing worms
    can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs
    big, black stiches
    all better now
    stood up and sent on it’s way

    The New Yorker can’t be beat.

  2. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 04/25/2014 - 05:36 pm.

    Thanks, Eric, for the link to this terrific article.

    So, once again, it raises the questions:

    1. Why, really, did we invade Iraq ? Let’s not even have any talk about WMD in this context. What was the real reason ? Corporate profits ?

    2. What have we gained ? Anything besides corporate profits ?

  3. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 04/25/2014 - 06:53 pm.


    Why did we invade Iraq? Because its dictator seemed to be dangerous to the US and its neighbors (we can’t eliminate WMD from this answer because they were the answer). And again, for those who do not remember, all major intelligence services thought that Iraq had WMD.

    What have we gained? Nothing but only because we screwed up initial war success with ridiculous attempts to build a democracy there.

    • Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 04/25/2014 - 10:12 pm.

      Neocon lies

      I can’t believe all these years later we’re still hearing these neocon lies. No, not all major intelligence services thought Iraq had WMD. Remember how few joined us? Those with their own intelligence knew Bush was full of it. Those who agreed were getting Bush’s cherrypicked intelligence. The only people who believed Iraq had WMD were those foolish enough to ignore that the Bush administration’s claims didn’t hold up to scrutiny.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/26/2014 - 07:56 am.

      ….we screwed up initial war success with ridiculous attempts to build a democracy there….

      Read the article.

      You might see how we worked against a genuine democracy there.

      ….all major intelligence services thought that Iraq had WMD…

      Stove-piped information, “curve ball”, phoney “WMD trucks”. Purveyors of accurate information dismissed, demoted, threatened. Inspectors reports ignored.

      No they didnt.

  4. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 04/26/2014 - 12:16 pm.

    Actually, not that few joined America. But it is irrelevant because countries did not join for political and economic reasons not because they thought Saddam was innocent (do you remember that British parliamentarian who was defending Saddam all the time?) I repeat: All major intelligence agencies (Western Europe, Israel, even Russia) thought that there was something fishy in Iraq. Read old papers.

    Iran’s example is very similar. The world has resisted the sanctions against Iran for political and economic reasons only until they finally got it that there was no other way. With Iraq at the time of invasion those political and economic reasons still governed.

    I have no doubt that current Iraqi regime is not much better than the old one. But that is exactly what I meant: Bush had to defeat Saddam and then let Iraqis to their own fate. In this case, whoever would have become Iraq’s next leader would have remembered Saddam’s fate and tried not to antagonize America (and Maliki does not have that fear after all these years of failed nation building attempts which were impeded by attempts to be nice and gentle).

    It’s amazing how quickly we forget history if it serves our political purposes. Of course, it is also interesting that all those who accuse Bush of invading Afghanistan and Iraq, were quiet or even supportive of bombing Serbia and Libya. Talk about hypocrisy.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/26/2014 - 08:37 pm.

      Wrong, wrong, wrong…


      Remember that Karl Rove insisted “everybody in the West” agreed. But what of these reports?

      The Guardian reported on October 12, 2002 that, “Vladimir Putin yesterday rejected Anglo-American claims that Saddam Hussein already possesses weapons of mass destruction … With a tense Mr. Blair alongside him at his dacha near Moscow, the Russian president took the unusual step of citing this week’s sceptical CIA report on the Iraqi military threat to assert: ‘Fears are one thing, hard facts are another.’”

      The BBC reported on February 11, 2003, that, “France, Germany, and Russia have released an unprecedented joint declaration on the Iraq crisis, demanding more weapons inspectors and more technical assistance for them . . . ‘Nothing today justifies a war,’ Mr Chirac told a joint news conference with Mr Putin. ‘This region really does not need another war.’ He said France did not have ‘undisputed proof’ that Iraq still held weapons of mass destruction.”

      Finally, what about the international agencies tasked with actually carrying out inspections in Iraq? These were, after all, the people in the best position to know. What were they saying?

      The International Atomic Energy Agency declared in 1998 that Iraq’s nuclear program had been completely dismantled. The UN Special Commission on Iraq estimated then that at least 95 percent of Iraq’s chemical weapons program had been similarly accounted for and destroyed. Iraq’s potential to develop biological weapons is a much bigger question mark, since such a program is much easier to hide. However, UNSCOM noted in 1998 that virtually all of Iraq’s offensive missiles and other delivery systems had been accounted for and rendered inoperable.

      Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, told the U.N. Security Council in late January 2003 that, “We have to date found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear weapon program since the elimination of the program in the 1990’s.” He also “put the kibosh” on the administration’s charge that Iraq was seeking aluminum tubes for nuclear weapon development. Eleven days before the invasion, he repeated his assertion that there was absolutely no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program.

      Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said in 2003 of his inspections leading up to the invasion, “The commission has not at any time during the inspections in Iraq found evidence of the continuation or resumption of programs of weapons of mass destruction or significant quantities of proscribed items, whether from pre-1991 or later.”

      Scott Ritter, who was chief weapons inspector in Iraq in 1991 and 1998, added this, about the world’s intelligence agencies: “[W]e knew that while we couldn’t account for everything that the Iraqis said they had destroyed, we could only account for 90 to 95 percent, we knew that: (a) we had no evidence of a retained capability and, (b) no evidence that Iraq was reconstituting. And furthermore, the C.I.A. knew this. The British intelligence knew this; Israeli intelligence knew this; German intelligence. The whole world knew this.”

      So, in short, the claim that “everyone agreed” that the evidence of Iraqi WMD was incontrovertible is simply false. It’s another example of the kind of lazy, gullible reporting in the face of a campaign of deliberate deception that got us into this horrific mess in the first place.

      (end quote)

      The right wing propaganda machine wants its hook, line and sinker back. They need it for the next war.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/26/2014 - 10:31 pm.

      Afghanistan / Iraq vs. Serbia / Libya


      Do you have any idea of the difference in scope and nature of those operations?

      Of course Bush pushed the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. It not something he is accused of–it’s actually something he did. Years and years of war with millions displaced and hundreds of thousands dead. Troops on the ground. Actual significant American troop casualties. Cost in the trillions of dollars.

      Now tell us again how they are just like the Balkan and Libyan involvements.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/27/2014 - 10:29 am.

    And Iraq/Iran…

    Saddam was an evil person, but, from a real-politic viewpoint…

    How smart was it to overthrow the only government that actual fought Iran in a face-to-face war?

    How smart was it to overthrow the only secular party and unleash a religious war?

    How smart was it to overthrow a Sunni-aligned government and the be surprised by the rise of a Shiite-aligned party?

    Dumb and dumber.

  6. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 04/27/2014 - 10:39 am.


    Everyone Mr. Rovick quoted were against the Iraq war for political reason and would never agree to that no matter what. As I mentioned, both Russia and France had too much connection to Saddam. See how Russia defends Assad now – for the same reason; it still did not acknowledge that Assad used chemical weapons. Does it mean that Assad did not use it? And of course the web reference is from an extremely left wing site…

    Serbia and Libya involvement were much worse than Iraq and Afghanistan for the simple reason that no American interests were involved there – period. None whatsoever. We just killed people there for no real reason. And humanitarian reasons could be comparable in all cases (actually, Saddam was much worse than Milosevic). It is not about the extent of involvement since no one knew how much it would take in Iraq. It is about the pretext for involvement and that is what makes people on the left hypercritical.

    And once more, it was not a war in Iraq that cost us lives and money – it was attempts to build a democracy there… Apples and oranges.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/27/2014 - 03:45 pm.

      your exact words…

      ….. all major intelligence services thought that Iraq had WMD….

      and that was wrong, then, now and forever.

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